The nature and scope of Outdoor Education in South Australian schools 1999-2017

Author: Scott Polley

Polley, Scott, 2021 The nature and scope of Outdoor Education in South Australian schools 1999-2017, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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This thesis explores the relationship between social fields, schools and teachers in the provision of Outdoor Education, which is a non-compulsory school offering in South Australian secondary schools. Through a mixed methodological approach, the study investigates influences on the practice of non-compulsory fields of education, such as Outdoor Education, for South Australian schools. The underpinning research provides important empirical data from 93 secondary schools and allows for the comparison with similar research conducted in 1999. The findings highlight that Outdoor Education has a sustained history in South Australian secondary schools and is predominantly taught by atypical Physical Education teachers with Outdoor Education expertise. Outdoor Education is offered by most South Australian secondary schools and is growing in all sectors. Indeed, increase in participation in Outdoor Education is evident in residential outdoor programs, youth at risk, year 9 transition programs and senior secondary Outdoor Education.

The data from this research indicate that Outdoor Education programs emphasise similar educational outcomes in 2017 as they did for 1999. These include a broad range of objectives related to personal and group development, health and wellbeing, social justice, sustainability and environmental learning, where teachers rated all these objectives as ‘very important’ or higher. Teachers continue to experience challenges in delivery of Outdoor Education associated with broader social, cultural and political issues including funding, qualifications, resources, timetable and curriculum all within the context of heightened issues associated with risk and litigation. Rich descriptive qualitive research in the form of five focus group interviews with 46 teachers and outdoor leaders using guided questions were conducted in addition to the broad-based survey. Inductive thematic analysis of the focus groups reveal that Outdoor Education teachers are firm in their belief that Outdoor Education is relevant in contemporary society as it can support students in managing a rapidly changing sociological environment including those associated with mental health, physical health as well as environmental and social justice issues. Outdoor Education teachers identify their role as central to delivery of Outdoor Education and perceive themselves increasingly as pedagogues guiding students through schooling rather than knowledge agents. Outdoor Education teachers practice ‘strategic conduct’ (Giddens 1984) to socially position themselves and the discipline of Outdoor Education to maximize their level of agency within the school, particularly with school leadership, to either maintain or enhance the possibility of students undertaking this discipline at their site. The research highlights the central role that teachers play in schools in determining what is learned in schools that may not be explicit in curriculum documents.

Keywords: Outdoor Education, teachers, South Australian schools, strategic conduct

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Murray Drummond