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Do Forest Schools increase young people’s self-confidence and self-esteem?


1021857big.jpgForest Schools offer a unique educational experience using the outdoor environment of the forest as a classroom. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) evaluated two schools to highlight how they can provide learning opportunities for children who typically do not do as well in the classroom. NEF also created a self-appraisal methodology for leaders and teachers from other Forest Schools to assess their performance.

Key findings

The evaluation suggests Forest Schools make a difference in the following ways:

  • Confidence: children had the freedom, time and space to learn and demonstrate independence
  • Social skills: children gained increased awareness of the consequences of their actions on peers through team activities such as sharing tools and participating in play
  • Communication: language development was prompted by the children’s sensory experiences
  • Motivation: the woodland tended to fascinate the children and they developed a keenness to participate and the ability to concentrate over longer periods of time
  • Physical skills: these improvements were characterised by the development of physical stamina and gross and fine motor skills
  • Knowledge and understanding: the children developed an interest in the natural surroundings and respect for the environment


  • Using participatory evaluation with stakeholders as a useful way to learn from each other about the benefits and problems of running and evaluating Forest Schools
  • Making Forest School more widely available by giving a greater number of schools the opportunity to make this part of children’s overall education
  • Continuing evaluation and self-appraisal to track children over a longer period of time to see whether any improvements last in the long term after the child has stopped attending
  • Promoting Forest School to educationalists, environmentalists and parents to give them a better understanding of what Forest School is about, the impact it can have and how learning takes place
  • Considering school access in the creation of new woodland, exploring distance from and accessibility to local schools


Funders and partners

Commissioned and funded the Forestry Commission

The research was undertaken by the New Economics Foundation and managed by Forest Research




Liz O’Brien

Jake Morris

Education and learning – Evaluation of forest schools: Phase 1 – Wales


Forest school is a unique educational experience using the outdoor environment of the forest as a classroom. Young people involved in Forest School will use them on a regular basis over an extended period of time such as six months to a year.

An evaluation by the New Economics Foundation of two forest school projects in Wales highlights how they can increase young people’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Forest School provides opportunities for learning particularly for those who do not do as well in the school classroom environment.

Research findings

Forest School Evaluation Project Report – Study in Wales (PDF-1807K)

From the evaluation of two Forest Schools in Wales some of the success factors for running Forest School were identified and include:

  • Prepare and establish site where all the sessions could be delivered
    This allows children to become familiar with the same site and see the changes that take place over the seasons.
  • Good access to the Forest School
    Transport to and from Forest School needs to be reliable and travelling time should not be to long.
  • Link activities to the school curriculum
    If activities can assist teachers in delivering parts of the curriculum there is more likely to be support for Forest School.
  • Use familiar routines and structures to sessions
    Familiar routines are good for discipline, safety and the confidence of the children who may be in an unfamiliar environment.
  • Enjoyment by the Forest School leaders and teachers
    There is personal reward in seeing a child achieve something new. Being able to recognise positive results and celebrate achievements is key for a Leader’s motivation.
  • Parent and carer involvement in Forest School activities
    Strengthens the relationship between the school and community it serves by involving parents in Forest School.

About forest schools

Forest School is an approach to education that seeks to shape teaching to an individual’s learning style. It is not only focused on the acquisition of knowledge but shows that if learning is enjoyable and fulfilling a person grows and gains self-esteem through experiencing the process.

Forest School is a way of teaching that is attracting attention amongst education professionals. There is anecdotal evidence from teachers and others who have come into contact with Forest School that it can have a profound and positive effect on the way children and young people relate to each other and the world around them.

In the United Kingdom Forest Schools are still in an experimental stage and the impact of this different way of learning on a child’s academic performance, behaviour and general well-being is only just beginning to be explored.

Evaluation of Forest School: Phase 2 – England



Phase 2 of the Forest School evaluation focused on three case study areas in England: Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire. The objective was to explore the benefits and impacts of Forest School on children over an extended period of time. The key features and themes of Forest School that emerged from an analysis of the data are outlined below.

The evaluation was participatory and involved workshops with key stakeholders who developed six specific positive outcomes that related to children’s self esteem, ability to work with others, motivation to learn, language development, skills and knowledge and physical skills’ development.

Twenty-four children were tracked over an eight-month period as they attended Forest School. Forest School Leaders and teachers used a self-appraisal template to record changes in the children focusing on the positive outcomes mentioned above.


‘Such enthusiasm – a joy to see’ – An evaluation of Forest School in England – report (PDF-891K)

‘Such enthusiasm – a joy to see’ – An evaluation of Forest School in England – appendices (PDF-436K)

Key features of Forest School

  • edal_fun.jpgThe use of a woodland setting that is framed by strict safety routines and established boundaries that allows the flexibility and freedom for child-initiated learning and other innovative approaches to learning to take place in a low-risk environment.
  • A high adult to pupil ratio allows for children to undertake tasks and play activities that challenge them but do not put them at undue risk of harm.
  • Learning can be linked to the national curriculum and foundation stage objectives whilst setting those objectives in a different context, and it is not focused just on the natural environment.
  • The freedom to explore using multiple senses is fundamental for encouraging creative, diverse and imaginative play.
  • Regular contact for the children over a significant period of time at least one morning, afternoon or day per week or fortnight from two to twelve months or more.

Key evaluation themes

Themes 1 to 6 below relate to the impact of Forest School on the children studied. Themes 7 and 8 are concerned with the wider impacts of Forest School on parents and teachers.

  1. Confidence
    This was characterised by self-confidence and self-belief that came from the children having the freedom, time and space, to learn, grown and demonstrate independence.
  2. Social skills
    The children demonstrated an increased awareness of the consequences of their actions on other people, peers and adults, and acquired a better ability to work co-operatively with others.
  3. Language and communication
    The children developed more sophisticated uses of both written and spoken language prompted by their visual and sensory experiences at Forest School.
  4. Motivation and concentration
    This was characterised by a keenness to participate in exploratory learning and play activities as well as the ability to focus on specific tasks for extended periods of time.
  5. Physical skills
    The children developed physical stamina and their gross motor skills through free and easy movement round the Forest School site. They developed fine motor skills by making objects and structures.
  6. Knowledge and understanding
    Increased respect for the environment was developed as well as an interest in their natural surroundings. Observational improvements were noted as the children started to identify flora and fauna.
  7. New perspectives
    The teachers and practitioners gained a new perspective and understanding of the children as they observed them in a very different setting and were able to identify their individual learning styles.
  8. Ripple effects beyond Forest School
    The children brought their experience home and asked their parents to take them outdoors at the weekend or in the school holidays. Parent’s interest and attitude towards Forest School changed as they saw the impacts on their children.


The work was undertaken by the New Economics Foundation and Forest Research. For further information contact:

Liz O’Brien

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Liz O'Brien

Principal Social Scientist