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Senior School: Beyond the Classroom

S3 Projects
  • Senior School

Learning at George Watson’s College is about so much more than simply being in the classroom. 

We encourage pupils to immerse themselves in outdoor education as a means to boost confidence, social skills, communication, motivation, physical skills, knowledge and understanding. Following research carried out by the University of Edinburgh, it was found that learning in the fresh air not only boosts pupils’ self-esteem and self-confidence, it also improves their ability to work cooperatively whilst engaging a positive attitude to learning. Skills that are crucial to their social and academic development.

One of our most renowned outdoor education opportunities is that of our S3 Projects. The programme was specifically designed in 1962 to extend pupils’ learning beyond academia, sport and extracurricular activities. S3 Projects comprises elements of adventure activities, field studies, community life and cultural experiences for groups of twelve pupils (and three staff) over a period of 10-14 days in a residential setting away from Edinburgh. To accommodate pupils who cannot be away from Edinburgh, there is one group based locally.

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Each individual residential excursion is led by staff who have been fully trained and are highly experienced in outdoor education. The pupil groups are carefully selected to maximise social interaction and activities are graded to ensure that everyone experiences success. Universally, former pupils look back on S3 Projects as the highlight of their Watson’s education and often as an experience that has shaped their future lives for the better.

Over the years, our pupils have described how important their experiences on S3 Projects has been:

  • “Projects was an important milestone for us all - experiencing adventure and being away from home. It was a time for growing up and gaining confidence.”

  • “Projects was surprising and I didn’t know if I was looking forward to it but it is the best experience the school provides and you wish you had more time.”

  • “When it came to night time and we were in our tent, ready for bed, we popped our heads out the bottom and watched the stars - it was mesmerising.”

  • “Projects was an experience that I will continue to think and talk about forever!”

With the programme now a firm favourite in the academic calendar, it is clear the benefits have transcended over the years. Pupils continue to show more motivation in school and have demonstrated a greater self-assurance and sense of achievement, while relationships with peers, and teachers have also improved. S3 Projects has been running in more-or-less the same format since its inception, recognising the value of project based learning and its lifelong benefits.


However, the advantages of outdoor education does not simply stop at S3 Projects. 

Throughout the academic year, the Senior School Adventure Learning programme also includes Duke of Edinburgh, S1 Orientation, Adventure Club and Rock Climbing Club.

Much like S3 Projects, our S1 Orientation encourages pupils to immerse themselves in the wild outdoors on an action packed two day camp. While they are away pupils sleep overnight in classic bell style tents with only basic facilities, work on bushcraft skills, develop their teamwork aptitudes and of course, a particular highlight from last year - watching staff filleting a whole salmon which was then ponassed in backwoods style over an open fire! This introduction to outdoor learning offers the perfect springboard to their impending S3 Projects experience, just two years down the line.

In a similar vein, our Adventure Club offers enrichment opportunities ranging from night hikes in the Pentlands, evening kayaking, winter mountaineering weekends, annual sea kayaking excursions and developing skills in operating Kelly Kettles for fires - most popularly to make hot chocolates!

Our Climbing Club keeps equally as busy, attending coaching at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena one day a week throughout the year. Senior pupils also have the opportunity to use the fantastic bouldering facilities at Eden Rock during S5 and S6 enrichment periods. This culminates in a 3 or 4 day climbing trip in the summer holidays which is always well attended. Climbing is a popular extracurricular activity that boosts a unique combination of physical and mental health benefits - from improving pupils’ coordination (due to the puzzle solving elements of the sport) to helping combat anxiety and improve confidence. The Club is open to all regardless of abilities and is a welcome hub for new and existing pupils. 


For the ever popular Duke of Edinburgh programme, around 200 of our S3 pupils complete their bronze expeditions with around 180 continuing onto Silver and over 60 pursuing Gold. The majority of expeditions are completed on foot but we support pupils who opt to complete their routes on bikes, canoes and kayaks. All excursions are supported by an excellent group of volunteer DofE assessors, all of whom are part of the wider GWC community (former pupils, parents of current and former pupils, friends of the school). Their involvement keeps the broader school network connected and proves how imperative valued relationships are across the years. It is safe to say our DofE activity could not be run to such a scale without our esteemed supporters. 

One of the more recent additions to our Outdoor Education programme is our Outdoor Nurture Sessions (working mostly in the school allotment) in collaboration with the Nurture Hub. This initiative offers a holistic approach to nurturing young minds while honing practical outdoor skills and every session is an opportunity for personal growth. The GWC Outdoor Education team hope to develop this further as they approach the next academic session.

Outdoor Education is a key focus to life at Watson’s as it enhances pupils’ personal and social development whilst encouraging them to learn how to overcome adversity and increase their resilience. Learning outwith the classroom enriches the academic curriculum as it caters towards diverse learning styles and abilities, ensuring all pupils can benefit from a deeper connection with nature that empowers them to make a difference, both now and in the future.



  • Outdoor Education