Creativity in the wild at West Rise Junior School

This school embraced ‘moving out of the comfort zone’ as a way of expanding children’s minds

West Rise is a Primary school situated next to an Eastbourne council estate with some 450 pupils.

A few years ago it did something truly creative and leased 100 acres of floodplain next to the school from the local council.

Not content with this act of creative bravery, headteacher Mike Fairclough decided to use the land to look after a herd of Asian water buffalo!

For its extraordinary vision West Rise was TES Primary School of the Year in 2015.

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The school also has a bee and reptile sanctuary as well as farm animals including sheep, ducks and chickens.

The headteacher’s welcome on the school’s website explains:

Our students experience and benefit from a unique school experience. This includes:

  • artists in residence
  • Shine Radio Station
  • a Bronze Age village
  • Forest School
  • water buffalo
  • a school farm with chickens, sheep and ducks and 120 acres of marshland.

Creative adventurers

Children love to have adventures, to experience new things and to explore. West Rise’s activities, which take place on the marsh, facilitate this by allowing the children to roam freely across the land and to connect with the natural environment.

Pupils learn to light a fire and to cook over flames. They forage for edible plants, use knives, bow saws and bill hooks to make objects out of wood, and learn about the marsh’s diverse fauna and flora. During these times, the children are self-directed in their learning and the adults support them, if required. This cultivates a genuine sense of freedom and a zest for learning.

Teachers are very clear from observations and discussions with their pupils that the outdoor learning environment, and specifically the natural world, offers them immense inspiration for creativity. Everything from the tiniest insect discovered within the reeds to the larger migrating water birds as they take flight across the lakes will ignite enquiry and spark the imagination.

Outdoor learning

Teachers are encouraged to integrate the natural world, and specifically the school’s marshland habitat, into their curriculum planning. There are numerous opportunities through the science curriculum (plants and living things), geography (hills, streams, rivers and settlements) and history (everything from the Stone Age through to the Second World War) which can be explored while learning outside. The children also regularly write stories and poems about the marsh and its wildlife and make artwork inspired by the environment.

Mike Fairclough sums up his approach to developing children’s creativity:

“The concept of ‘moving out of the comfort zone’ as a way of expanding children’s minds and building resilience is another important educational tool embraced by the school. When a child has moved out of their comfort zone, through enduring extreme weather conditions, engaging in a challenging activity or facing their fears (such as creepy crawlies or large farm animals) they will expand.
The first thing that will expand is the child’s sense of possibility and their perception of what they are capable of achieving. For example, a child who has managed to successfully light a fire in sub-zero temperatures or torrential rain will have battled against the elements and won. They will never believe again that this is an impossible task, beyond their skill and capabilities. Equally, the enhanced resilience and feeling of empowerment transfers to the classroom.
Resilience cultivated through outdoor learning supports academic and emotional resilience. This can happen in numerous ways. One opportunity for this is offered by the school’s own bees. Dressed in protective clothing, the pupils inspect the beehives with trained beekeepers. A child who may have had a tendency to run away from a single bee in the playground will be covered in thousands of them when opening the hives. Each time they do this, the children will emerge from the experience wide-eyed and feeling electrified.
They will have stepped out of their comfort zone and expanded their awareness and understanding of the bees.
Such creativity in the wild breeds confidence and nurtures children’s imagination.”

Room 13

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Room 13 is a student-run art studio at West Rise Junior School. It is part of a worldwide network of student-run studios in schools and the community.

Room 13 is open at least once a week, for pupils to be creative.

Pupils explore a wide range of projects In Room 13. For example, they wrote and published a poetry book about West Rise Marsh and produced a CD of songs. Some are ongoing like a project involving the magical land of ‘Sharm Cazam’. More recently the children have been taking part in a project run by a creative company called ‘Leap then Look.’ A lot of the sessions for this project have taken place on the marsh.

See more on the school website

View some of our original animations made by Room 13:

The Brian Stent Story >

The Lost Friend >

A Child’s Life >


While there is no other school quite like West Rise Junior, this case study invites us all to think about how we can use the outdoors creatively even if this is your school’s small grounds. Here are some helpful links:

Learning Through Landscapes

Developing creativity through outdoor physical activities

Designing School Grounds

    • Type
    • Case studies

    • Interest
    • Leadership

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The 100 acre wetlands site leased by West Rise Junior School