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Hands On Learning

Want to give disengaged students a chance to fulfil their potential?

A school-based programme committed to preventing exclusion and early school leaving by creating opportunities for young people to discover their talents and experience success through hands-on learning.

HundrED 2018


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2018

Web presence






September 2017
All kids learn differently and Hands On Learning changes the way you think about school.

About the innovation

What is Hands On Learning?

Traditional schooling does not always allow the flexibility to caterfor every young person’s talents and interests. It can be easy for those who do not fit neatly into the system to become disillusioned and disengaged. Students who do not feel they have control over their education are likely to have low levels of self-determined motivationand this can cause them to dropout of school early. Sadly, students who do not engage with school are often labelled as ‘problem’ students and can end up being excluded from classes. Early school dropout can impact negatively on young people’s future opportunitiesin life and denies them the chance to explore their full potential.

The Hands On Learning programme, which recently merged with Save the Children, was developed to re-engagedisengaged studentswith meaningful, real-world projects. A small group of students work collaboratively for a full day each week on projects such as building a mud hut in the school grounds, creating a playground for a local women’s refuge, constructing decks orbridges, and a range of other hands-on tasks. Students engage in creative, meaningful projects and are able to give back to their community. This changes the way they think about themselves, boosts their self-esteem and shapes how they relate to school, as well as giving them a chance to explore new skills and hidden talents.

The project aims to meet the needs of the young people in a holistic way. Many of the young people involved have a challenging family livesand this can impact on their engagement at school. The programme ensures that basic needs, such as having breakfast in the morning, are met. It also supports the students’ emotional wellbeing by providing adults, in the form of expert artisans, who are not traditional ‘teacher’ figures and who have the time and space to listen, advise and nurture a trusting relationship. The programme is supported by Focus Plans, which facilitate reflection and target specific areas of student behaviour, enabling students to make important connections between their success in Hands On Learning and their overall education outcomes.

Focus Plans are developed and measured with students' input each morning and afternoon to identify the main issues that they will face that day and plan how they intend to approach them. Crucially, the artisan teachers do the same and this helps to build relationships, model responsibility and show that self-development is a life-long process.

Students are organised into small cross-age groups of 10 who meet for a full day each week. Groups comprise students who have come to the programme for a range of reasons, such as low attendance, challenging behaviours or kinaesthetic learners who don’t often have their needs met in the classroom. Having a mix of ages and backgrounds and ensuring that the Hands On Learning takes place mostly on site means that the students are less likely to be labelled and stereotyped. Spending a whole day each week as a small group helps to build a strong sense of community, so the students feel they have a place they belong and people to belong to. The students cook and eat together to further their sense of community and trust. Importantly, the length of time students participate in Hands On Learning is not prescriptive, allowing students to remain in the programme as long as it is beneficial to their educational journey.

Parents are encouraged to engage with the process and are invited to attend family evenings where they see the work their children are doing, give feedback and encouragement and perhaps share a meal.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Hands On Learning is about being brave enough to try something that isn’t traditional schooling for at least one day a week.


Independent research found that HOL students in Australia had a 76% chance of being employed after graduating school, versus 45% for non-HOL students. There was also a 21% increase in literacy and numeracy, a 28% increase in interpersonal skills and 83% decrease in behaviour-related detention noted in participating schools.


Currently operating in Australia and the United Arab Emirates, regional schools are linked up to enable professional development, quality assurance and the sharing of ideas.

Implementation steps

Contact Hands On Learning
Organising a visit to see Hands On Learning in action is a great way to find out more about how it works.

Even if a visit is not possible, training is available to supportthe daily running of the programme and the use of Focus Plans to faciliate reflection.Hands On Learningcan also provide support documentation covering administration, occupational health and safety, projects and professional development.

Secure school-wide commitment
Hands On Learning works best when the whole school embraces the benefits of catering for the different ways in which students can learn and achieve.

School leadership should facilitateawareness of the programme and enablea strong connection between Hands On Learning and the entire school. There should be commitment across the whole school to run Hands On Learning effectively. This includesreferringappropriate students,funding resources for real and meaningful projects,and providingsupport to translate the new skills developed by studentsin Hands On Learning back into the classroom.

Allocate resources to Hands On Learning
It is crucial that Hands on Learning has the resources to offer students a place to belong and people to belong with.

The most important resources aretwo talented artisan teachers who will build strong relationships, act as mentors and support students to learn by doing and achieve at school. It is also critical to identify and secure a physical space at the school that becomes a place for students to belong.Allocating appropriate resources to get the people and place right is key.

Build partnerships
Identify and foster opportunities to partner with staff across the school and external community organisations.

It's important to cultivate partnerships that will deliver opportunities for students to be involved in authentic, meaningful projects that focus on doing. The students should be given opportunities to make valuable contributions to their school and community.Schools also benefit when linked up as regional clusters to foster collegiality andthe sharing of ideas. Hands On Learning can support schools to work together within clusters.

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