Reflections on the sustainable estate

Event attendees from the Learning Places Scotland Conference sitting at stage 1 for the introduction session.
Published: 28/11/2022

This year’s 2022 Learning Places Scotland conference theme is Scotland’s Learning Estate – ‘Connected Learning Shaping Connected Futures’. Our team spoke at the Sustainable Estate session chaired by our Chief Executive Officer, Jim MacDonald.

During the session, we heard from Duncan Zuill, Teacher at Levenmouth Academy and Patrick Boxall, Lecturer in Initial Teacher Education from Queen Margaret University and Danny Hunter, Principal Architect from Architecture and Design Scotland.

The session focused on ‘Making a Place for Outdoor Learning’, providing a talk that explored the methodologies, challenges, and benefits of creating an outdoor space for learning.

Levenmouth Academy, Fife: rewilding for a healthier school

Since Levenmouth was opened in 2016, outdoor learning projects have simultaneously adapted the school grounds to support nature and reduced maintenance costs.

Duncan shared how outdoor learners can, as part of a more creative educational experience, take charge of the school environment and create a healthier and more natural school environment.

Duncan Zuill on stage speaking about the Bats Wood project at Levenmouth Academy.
Duncan Zuill talks about the Bats Wood project and shows the change in landscape throughout the years.

The session highlighted:

  • There is a gap between policy that states that a school’s grounds should be as carefully designed for learning as the built environment and the present school environment which is designed for easy maintenance.
  • The UN Decade on Biodiversity Restoration (2021-30) will be an important theme in the coming years and our school grounds offer an opportunity to support biodiversity restoration.  
  • Skills for Work courses can use the school grounds as a place to practice meaningful work, restore nature, learn skills and care for their local and wider environment.
United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 logo with a heart and three curved lines underneath it.
Image credited to United Nations

By allowing pupils, teachers and communities to take responsibility for their school grounds we create relevant work experiences and meaningful engagement with the places where we live.

Nothing changes the world like a health intervention, by framing a project as an effort to create a healthier place, we also gain the permissions required to affect an impactful approach to sustainability.

We would like to congratulate Duncan and Levenmouth Academy on winning Highly Recommended in the ‘Innovation in the Delivery of a Sustainable Learning Space’ at this year’s awards ceremony.

You can watch this video for more information or visit their website.

Outdoor learning

Introducing this part of the session was Danny Hunter from Architecture and Design Scotland. He spoke about our vision, aims and how we can work together to design learning estates for Scotland’s next generation of learners.

Danny Hunter shows a slide of how Architecture and Design Scotland can help at the Learning Places Scotland Conference.
Danny Hunter explains how Architecture and Design Scotland can help to design learning estates across Scotland.

He shared examples of our Tests of Change projects such as Our Lady of the Missions and Craigbank Primary School, which trials out new ways of working in existing learning environments or inspire the creation of new spaces.

This led to the introduction of outdoor learning as a new exploration of the way we work towards designing outdoor learning spaces due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

We have supported and continue to support several outdoor learning space projects with landscape architects by facilitating workshops with pupils and teachers from schools across Scotland. These projects include:

  • Ferryhill Primary School, where we worked with Aberdeen City Council and Mike Hyatt Landscape Architects
  • Monquitter Primary School, where we worked with Aberdeenshire Council and Urban Pioneers
  • Mearns Primary, working with East Renfrewshire on a recently completed feasibility study
  • Skene Square, working with Aberdeen City Council on developing an outdoor strategy

Outdoor learning hub and the Wee Forest

In 2021, we supported Queen Margaret University (QMU) to undertake the Outdoor Learning Hub project at QMU campus in Musselburgh.

During the session, Patrick Boxall, Lecturer in Initial Teacher Education at QMU gave an overview of the project, exploring the methodologies, benefits and the newly publicised Making Places for Outdoor Leaning Master’s Module


Patrick Boxal shares the partners involved in the Outdoor Learning hub at the Learning Places Scotland Conference.
Patrick Boxall sharing the partners involved in the Outdoor Learning Hub.

The aim of the Outdoor Learning Hub is to develop a space on QMU campus that will create access to different environments for learning activities, community engagement and professional development.

You can read more about this project here on our website.



Our work with the learning estate

The work we’re doing with QMU campus is just one of the examples of projects we’ve done to date to bring people together to make better learning environments for everyone. Read on below to find out more projects and opportunities related to learning environments.

Climate Ready Schools Grounds

The Climate Ready School Grounds project is being delivered in partnership with Learning through Landscapes, the UK's leading outdoor learning and play charity. Together we are supporting a collaborative approach to designing and creating spaces within school grounds that support outdoor education and are adapted to the local changing climate.  

On completion, the project will provide examples and guidance on how to create new spaces or adapt existing spaces to tackle the impacts of climate change within school grounds. 

You can read more about our work on the Climate Ready School Grounds project here.

Carbon conscious places support the learning estate

Tackling the climate emergency is central to Scotland's Learning Estate Strategy. The Learning Estate Investment (LEIP) aims to deliver enabled, low-carbon (new and refurbished) schools and campuses that are inclusive and welcoming places which meet the needs of the whole community.

We are here to help local authorities, schools and communities to work together to achieve those goals. We are offering free early-stage place planning and design support to education authorities, national partners and schools in Scotland, which includes:

  • design advice and support to education authorities to assist in briefing and option stages of school investment and design
  • use of the Designing for a Changing Climate: Eight carbon conscious principles to frame discussions to identify Inclusive Net Zero Economy Outcomes
  • outdoor Learning design advice informed by our current action research with Learning through Landscapes and Queen Margaret University
  • placemaking support for projects that are aiming to achieve design focused objectives of the Net Zero Public Sector Building Standard

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