Are you applying to universities? | SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE Are you applying to universities? | SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE

Embedding outdoor learning into special school culture

   Vice Chancellor's PhD Studentships

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Prof M Moreau, Dr Sara Spear, Dr Elsa Lee  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and particularly those with complex, severe, profound, and multiple learning disabilities (CSPMLD), are more likely to experience poor wellbeing (Gutman et al., 2010), lower achievement, and difficulties transitioning to adulthood, compared to their peers (DfE, 2011). Being outdoors can have a positive effect on children’s wellbeing (McCormick, 2017), and the literature on outdoor learning in schools shows a range of benefits for pupils (Nielsen et al., 2016). However, there is little research on the use and influence of outdoor learning in special schools and for pupils with CSPMLD. It is important to understand outdoor learning within the special school context, including the kinds of school cultures that influence that shape that context, to identify the potential benefits and challenges for both staff and pupils.

The successful candidate for this project will investigate the following:

  1. How outdoor learning is used in a selection of special schools for pupils with CSPMLD.
  2. Whether participation in outdoor learning influences the mental wellbeing, and communication, social, and independence skills of pupils with CSPMLD.
  3. How the provision of outdoor learning can be embedded into special school culture.

The research will take a case study approach, utilising special schools for pupils with CSPMLD who self-report different degrees of outdoor learning. A qualitative research approach will be adopted, to gain in-depth insight from staff and pupils. Data collection methods will include semi-structured interviews with classroom staff, to capture their views on outdoor learning and its use within their school; observation of outdoor learning within the schools utilising creative, participative methodologies with pupils, to reflect on outdoor learning.

The research is expected to:

  1. Contribute to knowledge in outdoor learning and special education, evidencing the influence of outdoor learning on mental wellbeing, communication, social, and independence skills for pupils with CSPMLD, shared via academic and practitioner journals and online teacher networks.
  2. Make recommendations on the use of outdoor learning for pupils with CSPMLD and how this can be embedded into school culture, disseminated through a policy briefing paper.
  3. Create interdisciplinary collaboration through the supervisory team to further research collaborations around including neuro- and physical diversity in the drive to reconnect humans with nature, and promote biodiversity and environmental sustainability.

The successful candidate will be supported by an expert team with strong experience in doctoral supervision. They will be invited to join and contribute to CERII, the Cluster for Education Research on Identities and Inequalities at ARU. Marie-Pierre Moreau is Professor in Education and CERII Director, and her research focuses on education and inequalities. Marie-Pierre has extensively published in this area, and has advised the European Commission on various matters, including research, education and inequalities. Dr. Sara Spear’s research focuses on promoting health and wellbeing, and recent projects include exploring physical activity culture in primary schools and enhancing parental engagement in special schools. Dr. Elsa Lee is an experienced researcher in the environmental sustainability education field with a growing publication record in wellbeing, outdoor engagement, and art.

If you would like to discuss this research project please contact Dr Sara Spear (sara.spear(@)

Candidate requirements

Applications are invited from UK fee status only. Applicants should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum upper second-class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in a cognate discipline. A Masters’ degree in a relevant subject is desirable.

Applicants must be prepared to study on a full-time basis, attending at our Cambridge campus. The Vice Chancellor’s PhD scholarship awards are open to Home fee status applicants only.

Application Procedures

Applications for a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship are made through the application portal on our website:

We will review all applications after the submission deadline of 27th February. We will contact shortlisted applicants in the week commencing 14th March. Interviews will be held between 21st March – 1st April. The interview date for this project can be found on our website.

If you have any queries relating to the application process or the terms and conditions of the scholarships, please email vcphdscholarships(@)

Documentation required

You will need the following documents available electronically to upload them to the application portal (we can accept files in pdf, jpeg or Word format):

  1. Certificates and transcripts from your Bachelor and Masters degrees, (if applicable)
  2. Your personal statement explaining your suitability for the project
  3. Passport and visa (if applicable)
  4. Curriculum Vitae

Funding Notes

This successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s scholarship awards which covers Home tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship Terms and conditions which can be found on our website:
Search Suggestions
Search suggestions

Based on your current searches we recommend the following search filters.

PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs