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Supporting the wellbeing of young people in curriculum-focused environmental education

1 October 2022 - 31 October 2023

PI/s in Exeter: Rachel Manning

Research partners: Field Studies Council

Sponsor(s): ESRC

About the research

Many students in the UK benefit from curriculum-based environmental education (EE) (A-level and GCSE biology and geography fieldwork) which is provided by organisations such as the Field Studies Council (FSC). However, this provision is too focused on a narrow, reductionist curriculum and neglects a key component of health and wellbeing (Alsop & Dillon, 2018).

A large body of literature exists supporting the notion that young people derive both physical and psychological benefits from spending time in natural environments and developing a connection to nature (Mayer et al., 2009). As such, the concept of connection to nature has been a prominent feature in educational theory, and environmental education is commonly attributed as one of the main strategies for facilitating a connection to nature (Fletcher, 2017). However, details of the relationship between curriculum-based EE and wellbeing remain unclear. There has been little insight into the impact of curriculum-based EE on the wellbeing of young people and reveals little of the everyday emotions experienced within pedagogically based experiences of the natural environment.

This project seeks to enhance the understanding of young people’s wellbeing in curriculum-based EE, and in broader settings of education. This project will encourage stakeholders across education settings to think about the wellbeing aspects of educational initiatives and the importance of seeking views from young people about wellbeing in education. It will also allow researchers and stakeholders to share the best practice and enhance knowledge exchange.

Research that will be carried out within this project will capture practitioners’ understanding of supporting young people’s wellbeing in curriculum-based EE, and the perceived opportunities and challenges that exist. As practitioners are tasked with delivering curricula and interacting with young people, it is vital that their experiences are understood, and findings will be used to further support the wellbeing needs of young people. The research will be used to identify professional development and resource needs across outdoor education providers, practitioners, health professionals and schools to ensure programs are designed in an inclusive and impactful manner that focuses on the wellbeing of young people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

The main aims of the project are to:

  • Contribute to the fields of education and wellbeing by disseminating research to a broad audience; to academics through published journals and conferences, and to practitioners and policymakers through a series of targeted online resources.
  • Bring together researchers, EE practitioners and providers, teachers, and school staff to create an interdisciplinary research agenda regarding wellbeing in curriculum-based EE by hosting a series of roundtables drawn from multiple disciplines.
  • Further understanding of how wellbeing can be supported in curriculum-based EE, by exploring practitioners’ perspectives. Whilst there has been attention to young people’s experiences of EE, little attention is given to practitioners’ perspectives on Supporting the wellbeing of young people wellbeing. This project will carry out research with practitioners to draw from their perspectives of facilitating wellbeing to explore barriers and enablers. This research could be used to identify key skills training and resource needs for current practitioners and health providers to effectively support the wellbeing of young people in EE.