Field Notes: Crunching through the data

Inclusion manager Lucy Sparks reflects on how our John Muir Award is unlocking the benefits of wild places in Scottish education

Woods   screenshot detail

While a flurry of colourful leaves glides through the air outside, in the John Muir Award offices there's similar flurry of activity around data crunching.

School terms and an array of alternative curriculum approaches are now well underway, and it's a good time for Scotland's John Muir Award team to reflect on how the Award is being used in the education sector.

Our annual summaries of Award activity in Scotland’s schools and colleges help us identify key trends, and share stories with funders and partners, to demonstrate the Award’s impact on learners and education establishments.

Another bumper year

Headlines for 2018-19 include: 19,430 Awards achieved by school pupils and staff, delivered through 519 schools across Scotland. 59 per cent of Scotland’s colleges have also been involved. 421 college students and staff achieved their Awards, 81 per cent of which were gained by individuals facing some form of disadvantage, illustrating the Award’s effectiveness as a tool to engage those who face barriers to learning.

 Example headlines of JMA activity 18-19

Example headlines of John Muir Award activity in Scottish schools 2018-19

19,851 individuals spending quality time enjoying wild places and having their achievements recognised and celebrated… That’s a lot of energy, hard work and enthusiasm unleashed over the last academic year and a whole range of benefits that have been accessed by students, teachers, lecturers and support staff – as well as local partners, volunteers, helpers, supporting families, and friends. Not to mention all the improvements made to Scotland’s wild places, from school and college grounds, to community projects, canals, parks, shorelines, hills, woods and National Parks.

Nature crisis

With increasing awareness of the importance of the natural environment for people’s wellbeing and for our planet, we see many schools and colleges using the John Muir Award to offer a personal learning context for exploring sustainability through direct experiences of nature.

From youth climate action and campaigning, to taking STEM outdoors and becoming citizen scientists – it’s fantastic to see the passion learners bring to making a positive difference for wild places and their local communities. Providers frequently tell us about the impact that connecting with and caring for nature has on both pupil and staff mental health, seeing how their activities and valuable recognition through an achievement award helps to create ‘a positive sense of self, with young people feeling happier, more resilient.’ (Paul Ross, Youth Worker, Inverclyde Academy)

Perhaps what we love the most is the time to reflect on the personal stories that bring the data to life:

  • Of the pupil who overcame anxieties about getting dirty hands to hold a minibeast
  • Of the teacher who enjoyed the effect that being in calm, open greenspaces had on dynamics, offering valuable opportunities to talk to and get to know students better
  • Of the college students who were inspired to form their own volunteering group to tackle local litter issues
  • Of the young person who put voice to why youth awards can make such a difference for individuals who learn best outside of the classroom.

Encouraging people from all walks of life to connect with nature is key to our work. It’s brilliant to see the Award being used to unlock the benefits of wild places for the education sector each year, showing the passion for high quality outdoor learning, delivering Learning for Sustainability and the value placed on recognising learners’ achievements.


We’re also aware of the need to match our capacity with growing demand for the Award – a positive challenge to be faced with. We are asking Award Providers to consider supporting the John Muir Trust through our autumn newsletter, and continue to seek support for our John Muir Award Fund to help keep the Award free and accessible to all.

Want to know more?

To request a copy of the John Muir Award Scotland Education Report 2018-19 (school activity), contact Scotland Education Manager Rebecca Logsdon.

Read Award highlights from Scotland’s College sector in 2018-19, including how students have been putting Learning for Sustainability into practice.

Image at the top taken from our Young People and Nature film by Martin MacLeod.