Local Hubs for Outdoor Learning Research and Practice - Terms of Reference

  • Enhancing quality, frequent and progressive learning outside the classroom in natural environments

Note: Learning Outside the Classroom in the Natural Environment (LINE) and Outdoor learning (OL) are used interchangeably in this document.


Enabling a national research approach: Strategic Research Group - LINE

The Strategic Research Group for Learning in Natural Environments (SRG LINE) was established in 2012 to support the advancement of policy and practice in this area by facilitating a more integrated and strategic approach to research, evaluation and use of evidence. The SRG LINE has a membership of over 20 research institutions and works closely with the Outdoors for All SRG which has a focus on inclusion.

The SRG LINE approach and work programme has enabled significant outputs, including: the development and delivery of new national indicators for the scale and scope of children’s access to natural environments; scoping and delivery of large scale demonstration projects such as Natural Connections; and events and resources to improve access to the latest research/evidence and to promote links between research, practice and policy, such as the 2015 international conference ‘Lessons from Near and Far’ and published evidence summaries.

Enabling a national practice approach: National LOtC Sector Working Group

In 2015, a national Sector Working Group (SWG) was established by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) to provide a more unified voice for the many different networks of practitioners with an interest in Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) and across the 7 sector partnerships that CLOtC represents. (These are Natural Environment, School Grounds,

Adventurous Activities, Farming and Countryside, Access to Farms, Heritage,

Study, Sports & Cultural Tours and Expeditions.)

Together, the SRG LINE and SWG are leading the development of integrated sector partnership work to support Learning Outside the Classroom. Their first integrated programme will focus on supporting the delivery of high quality, frequent and progressive learning outside the classroom in natural environments (LINE or Outdoor Learning - OL) for children and young people. The SRGs and the SWG are facilitated and supported by Natural England, Historic England and CLOtC.

Informing and extending national reach: the need for local research-practice hubs

The collective impact of the services to support outdoor learning remains limited, both nationally and locally, by lack of integration across and within research and practice communities. The SRG and SWG have started to address this at a national level, however there is a clear need to enable a far more integrated approach to research and practice at the local level too, so that this can respond to and inform the national approach. A number of recent reports[1], initiatives and organisations[2] have identified or confirmed the need for the establishment of regional/local hubs to enable this integration.

Role of local research-practice hubs

Local research-practice hubs will be tasked with enabling active collaboration between research and practice at a local level, to support delivery of high quality, frequent and progressive OL experiences and to help to raise the standards of professional delivery in OL research and practice.

The hub network will extend the SRG and SWG infrastructure by amplifying effort and insight on local research and delivery priorities, to enable these to both inform and respond to national priorities. Therefore, the hubs will inform, align to and augment national SRG and SWG strategy, for example by building the evidence base for OL through testing ways to evaluate and collate data from small scale studies so that they can inform a national evidence base. This is illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: relationship between Local Research –Practice Hubs, SRG LINE, LOTC SWG and other stakeholders


The hubs will be tasked with:

  1. Building links between local research-practice communities
  2. Capturing the scope of research and delivery projects in their area
  3. Creating plans for supporting amplification of delivery in areas of national priority (such as school based OL)
  4. Creating plans to support evidence gathering in areas of national priority (such as understanding the role of nature connection in delivering outcomes)
  5. Disseminating information about evidence and good practice within their hub area, among the network of pilot hubs and with the SRG LINE and SWG.


During 2017, three research-practice hubs will be established as a pilot, one in the South West, one in the North West and one in Scotland. The pilot phase, which is likely to last at least 2 years, is intended to build understanding on how best to manage and resource effective links between local research and practice to support more frequent and progressive outdoor learning. Hubs will enable a local action research approach, to support amplification of delivery and gathering of evidence to improve the local quality of outdoor learning at practitioner, organisational and inter-organisational levels.

During the pilot, hubs will work to develop plan/s and recommendations for achieving their objectives, such as plans for disseminating evidence and good practice, for amplifying delivery, and for building evidence in priority areas. These plans will identify the scale and scope of resources needed to enable hubs to meet the various objectives going forward. For example, the hubs will establish the level and type of demand for training required to enable more frequent and progressive local outdoor learning.

The local hubs will be supported by a local hub research coordinator based at the University of Cumbria and funded by the IOL. The coordinator will assist specifically with gathering, collation and analysis of local evidence into useful national data sets that can support development of strategic interventions in policy and practice. They will work with the hubs and the SRG to identify themes arising from the aggregated data and to disseminate information between the hubs, the SRG and SWG and other interested networks and groups including the IOL professional development group and the Centre for Youth Impact. This coordination role responds to findings in the review of the evidence base for outdoor learning funded by the Blagrave Trust in 2014/15.

The Governance Group will create guidance to assist hubs with planning. For example, principles for planning will include the need to focus on using existing infrastructure more effectively and the need to test self-sustaining approaches where possible. (Existing infrastructure is likely to include the IOL regional infrastructure, LOtC Mark and Badge holders and Sector Partnership Groups, the Outdoor Education Advisers Panel, school academy chains etc.)


Delivery of the local hub pilot will be led jointly by the Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL) and University of Cumbria (UoC), on behalf of the SRG and LOtC SWG. The IOL and UoC staff leads are SWG and SRG members respectively. The lead for overall pilot project management will be the governance group outlined below.

A Governance Group will support and direct the local hub pilot and ensure effective links with SRG and SWG, for example, the Governance Group will agree an approach to reporting, evaluation and dissemination. Members will comprise:

  • Institute of Outdoor Learning (Andy Robinson)
  • University of Cumbria (Chris Loynes)
  • Development Officer for the SRG LINE (Anne Hunt)
  • Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (Elaine Skates)
  • Natural England (Martin Gilchrist)
  • Other members will be considered as and when needed

Local hub membership

  • The chair of each Local hub will be a member of the national SRG LINE
  • Research / evaluation staff from local academic and other institutions
  • Local OL practitioners including providers, teachers and others
  • Local funders and enablers as appropriate

Local hub research coordinator

  • A local hub research coordinator will be based at the University of Cumbria. Resource for this role is being provided the Institute for Outdoor Learning.


  • An approach to support the network has been made to NERC.
  • The Learning Away Consortium has offered some funding over 2 years to support the development of regional research-practice hubs as there is complementarity with their aim of enabling research collaborations to strengthen the evidence base for residentials.

[1] Malone, K. and Waite, S. (2016) Student Outcomes and Natural Schooling. Plymouth: Plymouth University. Available online: Robinson, A. and Healey, M. (2016) Perspective. Horizons 74; Fiennes, C., Oliver, E., Dickson, K., Escobar, D., Romans, A., & Oliver, S. (2015). the Existing Evidence-Base about the Effectiveness of Outdoor Learning. Retrieved from

[2] The Learning Away Consortium, led by CLOtC; Heritage Schools; Outward Bound; The Venture Trust and; John Muir Award Association; Heads of Outdoor Education Centres (AHOEC); Field Studies Council (FSC); The Centre for Youth Impact; The Ernest Cook Trust