An outsider to a school such as St Bartholomew’s might feel it would be a tall order to grow anything, given that, at first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a single blade of grass. This didn’t phase the school’s teachers, who knew that with the help and support of the Royal Horticultural Society they could develop an attractive kitchen garden and that growit could be a focus for pupils becoming directly involved in developing the school site.
“There had been a gardening club and some ideas for developing the playground. As DT and ICT were part of my responsibilities, and I had already written a school environment policy, taking on the coordination of Open Futures seemed natural. As a team, we could see how all of the strands could be a catalyst for so many of the things we wanted our curriculum to offer to the children.”
An initial audit highlighted lots of positive starting points. The school quads (sunny, sheltered, enclosed spaces) would be safe and clean; some raised beds were already in situ; the school had some tools and a greenhouse; and some re-cycling had been established. On the other hand, staff expertise in gardening and growing vegetables was minimal. The project seemed an opportunity to pull lots of different interests and initiatives together with a much sharper focus on teaching and learning.
The school decided to start growit with its younger pupils and gradually extend it across the Key Stages. With the support of the RHS Project Officer and a dedicated Teaching Assistant, children and staff planted a wide variety of vegetables and herbs. Hanging baskets and a potting shed were installed with the support of local business and some parents. Staff, despite feeling some initial anxiety about experience, worked alongside the RHS to develop their skills. Most importantly, the children loved working in the garden and were motivated and engaged.
Some crops did fail and others did not grow as well as had been expected, but this merely provided extra motivation for the next year:
“The first year was very much trial and error and there were some disappointments, but no one became disillusioned. We just learned more about what would and wouldn’t work and adjusted our thinking and planning.”
As the school comes to the end of its second year, progress has been swift. Mulching of the raised beds is supporting better growth and different varieties of fruit and vegetables that better suit growing conditions in the quads have been planted. More importantly, teachers and children are more confident. Pupils are even to be involved in a wider community project that will see the environment immediately outside the school improved.
“Even on rainy days, there is lots for the children to do and they are applying skills they’ve learnt in other aspects of the curriculum. All of them, regardless of background or ability are taking part and enjoying it.”