Founded in 2001, Releasing Potential began as a free-wheeling Outdoor Education outreach service designed to engage children who had been excluded from mainstream education. With humble beginnings in a spare room belonging to our founder and CEO, Mike King, the organisation now employs a large team of teachers, mentors, outdoor instructors and academic researchers. We use the outdoors in a range of exciting ways to help the most marginalised young people in the UK to make breakthroughs in their learning and social-emotional progress.
In 2016, we began the long (and torturous) process of registering to become a school. We faced a number of difficult hurdles but the greatest of these was our bespoke curriculum. Unlike almost all schools in the UK (alternative or otherwise) we had chosen not to follow the National Curriculum. We knew, instinctively and anecdotally, that our alternative curriculum—rooted in outdoor education and practical, vocational skills—worked for the sorts of children who most needed our support. For those unable to cope with the restrictive environment of the traditional classroom, or those whose behaviour or factors outside of school meant that sitting for a raft of GCSE exams seemed unlikely, the outdoors offered us a powerful vehicle to bring about real change. But how, we wondered, could this change be quantified, measured, explained to parents and funders, or justified to the Department for Education?
It has been a slow and, at times, difficult process, one that tested our people, our values and our organisational culture. Why, we asked ourselves, would we willingly invite bureaucratic scrutiny and potential restrictions to our practices that might risk outcomes for our students? Why would we want or need OFSTED to inspect us – how could they understand who our students are and how we work with them?
Notwithstanding our many reservations, in May this year we had our first 3-day OFSTED inspection as Releasing Potential School. Having never been tested against national norms, our unusual approach passed muster and the results can be seen in the full report. Despite the challenges, the process of becoming a school has helped us to nail down what we are: an organisation that, at its core, believes in the right of every child to an education that best meets their needs. As a consequence of our journey, we know now, more than ever before, what works for our students, how we can start to evidence this, and–if we can evidence it–share our findings with others and influence education more broadly. We are deeply committed to finding ways of using outdoor learning as a stepping stone to a better life and increased inclusion for those most at risk of being forgotten in our education system.
Most excitingly, thanks to some very creative work alongside our technical partners, Huis Technologies, we have been tracking the impact of our outdoor curriculum on behaviour, social-emotional progress, self-awareness, attendance, academic achievement and outcomes for students at 3,6, 9 and 24 months post-graduation. This first year of data will give us the fullest picture of how outdoor education impacts both student progress—in particular the number of children Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)—there has ever been in the Alternative Education sector. We are proud and thrilled to be leading the way in this exciting research, and hope you will follow us on the journey!”
–Alex Gray, Releasing Potential Institute
To read our OFSTED report see: