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Published: 19 Oct 2021

John Muir Award: wellbeing and equity in education

In general, children living in disadvantaged areas have poorer educational outcomes. Lorna Sloan, the Trust’s John Muir Award & Attainment Project Officer, shares how local wild places are being used as an intervention to improve health and wellbeing for pupils in some of our most deprived communities to improve educational equity. 

John Muir Award Hillhead PrimaryUsing local wild places such as school grounds and/or local greenspaces for John Muir Award activity allows pupils to develop a sense of belonging through regular visits which in turn encourages respect and the want to care and protect wild nature. Recently Hillhead Primary school as part of their Discovery Award planted a small woodland in their school grounds, the sense of pride and respect of their wild place was immediately evident – listen to one pupil comment here.

Hillhead Primary is situated next to busy roads and litter is blown into the grounds making it appear untidy and unloved. This could not be further from the truth; I have had many conversations with young people on how much better they feel having spent time making a difference through Award activity in what can seem to others to be a scrappy piece of ground. Perhaps it takes a deeper connection to care and protect places which are not postcard perfect, it is not always about the natural beauty of a wild place, but often more about what it means to the individual.

Recently a class teacher and I visited a local park, at times the group were challenging to engage. We spent the morning exploring the area and after lunch and a boisterous game of barefoot tig I suggested some poetry. The teacher was sceptical but pleasantly surprised to see pupils tuned in and engaged.

She contacted me later that day saying some pupils had said it was their favourite part of the day. Hand on heart I know had I tried this earlier in the day before our wonderful natural world had worked its magic with “a tricky class” it would not have gone down well. Connecting with the surroundings impacted positively with these pupils. Allowing time to just sit under a tree and breathe without the stresses and challenges that many young people face in everyday life is something I believe can and does support young people’s wellbeing.

Class teacher, Abbie Cardie, said:

The John Muir Award was really helpful during lockdown; it allowed our families to 'reset' whilst in the outdoors and more importantly gave them a break from screens. When checking in and catching up with families the Award was often the most popular topic of conversation. I could just tell how much the families were enjoying it and some families relying on it. It could not have come at a better time.


The John Muir Trust are in partnership with East Ayrshire Council funding a John Muir Award officer to support schools to use the Award to tackle inequity. This is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s agenda, supporting every young person to reach their full potential in learning, life, and work. East Ayrshire is known as a Challenge Authority due to a high concentration of deprivation. The project officer’s role is to support schools to use the Award to improve the wellbeing of some of our most in need pupils and families. 

John Muir Award Hillhead Primary lost words