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23 September, 2014

Local teacher wins award for teaching in nature

A local teacher has received recognition for taking the classroom outdoors and improving the learning experiences of her pupils.

Catriona MacPhail of Sandbank Primary in Dunoon was awarded Professional Recognition in Outdoor Learning from the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).

Catriona and her class have been working with Kilmun Mausoleum and GUARD archaeology as part of their history topic ‘Scotland in the last 300 years’.

The children have undertaken graveyard research and taken part in an archaeological dig at the drover's road and inn at Glendaruel. Their work will be on show at an open weekend organised by Strachur and District Local History Society this weekend.

Catriona is very experienced in outdoor learning, having taken part in Scottish Natural Heritage’s (SNH) Teaching in Nature project in 2010 while teaching at Salen Primary School in Mull.

The Teaching in Nature project puts teachers in touch with local experts on special places, such as nature reserve managers and countryside rangers, and supports them to use these places with their pupils.

Since taking part Catriona has been involved in supporting other teachers through the project, as well as continuing to take her pupils outdoors as often as she can.

Sharon Cunningham, SNH’s Outdoor Learning Officer and manager of the Teaching in Nature project said: “Although Outdoor Learning is considered an important part of the Curriculum for Excellence, some teachers need support to embed it in their practice.

“The Teaching in Nature project has been shown to help teachers feel more comfortable in the outdoors and more confident in their ability to provide valuable learning experiences outdoors. Our site managers are benefiting too, as the project enables pupils to access their reserves with minimal input from them, freeing them up to do other valuable reserve work.”

Catriona said “Many curricular areas, such as map reading, compass work, local history studies, science (to name but a few) are more relevant, meaningful and have a real life context when taught outdoors. This is further enhanced when teachers and pupils learn together from members of the community who are highly skilled in those areas either through using them in their job or in their leisure pursuits and interests. In my experience, children who learn outdoors on a regular basis also develop a higher level of social skills through team bonding, working together, problem solving and learning to manage their own health and safety.”

Sandra Clarke, the Head Teacher at Sandbank Primary stated “We are delighted that Catriona has received this well-deserved recognition for her exceptional work – she is an inspiration to those wanting to take learning outside in a focused and structured way and develop invaluable life skills. Catriona’s impact here at Sandbank means that staff, children and parents are moving forward with this important agenda. She always goes that extra mile and is clearly passionate about leading learning in this way.”

Professional Recognition is awarded by the GTCS to teachers who develop their knowledge, understanding and practice in a particular area to the benefit of their pupils. Catriona joined around 30 other teachers from across Scotland at the GTCS headquarters in Edinburgh to celebrate her achievements and be awarded her certificate of Professional Recognition in Outdoor Learning.

Notes to editors

Teaching in Nature supports groups of teachers to work together to use a nearby place special for nature to plan, implement and evaluate challenging and fun outdoor learning experiences for their pupils. It combines collaborative, practical and online learning to support teachers through the next stage in their outdoor learning journey.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) is the independent professional body which promotes and regulates the teaching profession in Scotland.

GTCS Professional Recognition provides the opportunity teachers to focus on and develop their professional learning in particular areas of interest and/ or expertise and gain recognition for enhancing their knowledge, understanding and practice.

Contact information

SNH Media

NatureScot is Scotland's nature agency. We work to enhance our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. Our priority is a nature-rich future for Scotland and an effective response to the climate emergency. For more information, visit our website at or follow us on Twitter at

’S e NatureScot buidheann nàdair na h-Alba. Bidh sinn a’ neartachadh àrainneachd na h-Alba agus a’ brosnachadh dhaoine gu barrachd suim a chur ann an nàdar. Tha e mar phrìomhachas againn gum bi nàdar na h-Alba beairteach agus gun dèilig sinn gu h-èifeachdach le èiginn na gnàth-shìde. Tha an tuilleadh fiosrachaidh aig no air Twitter aig


Catriona MacPhail receives her certificate from Derek Thompson (Convener GTCS) GTCS Outdoor education 03/09/14: Catriona MacPhail receives her certificate from Derek Thompson (Convener GTCS) GTCS Outdoor education 03/09/14

Catriona MacPhail receives her certificate from Derek Thompson (Convener GTCS) GTCS Outdoor education 03/09/14

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