Food growing – access for all

Photo credit: Charlton Park Academy

The beauty of food growing in schools is that it is an activity all pupils can engage in and benefit from. One school for pupils with a range of special educational needs is proving just that.

Many pupils at Charlton Park Academy had limited access to outside space and little understanding of where food comes from.  Bryher Pennells, Culture Curriculum Lead, decided to introduce food growing to the school.

They used raised beds and trugs enabling access for all pupils including those in wheelchairs. Plants are chosen for different reasons; fruit trees and hanging baskets entice pupils to look up, and herbs are great for the sensory gardens encouraging touch, taste and smell.

Pupils benefit in lots of different ways too, some trying food they wouldn’t normally eat and others expanding their learning through photography and cooking.  The post-16 student enterprise which uses produce from the garden to make food to sell and share is helping some pupils develop transferable skills for life.

Recipe for Success

  1. Health and safety is obviously really important, Bryher uses organic compost which is refreshed every year and pupils use their hands to plant so no heavy tools are required
  2. Success can be key – try using some plug plants as well as growing from seed, so progress is more easily tracked
  3. Choose a range of crops, different textures, colours and smells – use the growing cards from Garden Organic to help work out what to plant and when

Food Growing in Schools: Research Round-up

The benefits of food growing reach far beyond improving gardening skills and teaching children where food comes from and the FGSL partnership has gathered lots of evidence to show this.

Research round upTrees for Cities (TFC) have worked with 50 schools to create Edible Playgrounds. These spaces are a fun way to teach children new skills, enrich food education and get food growing into the curriculum.

TFC identify some of the key challenges that food growing helps to tackle:

  1. Children have a disconnect with nature and understanding where food comes from:

33% of pupils in UK primary schools believe cheese comes from plants.

25% believed that fish fingers come from chicken or pigs.*

  1. Mental and physical health problems are widespread:

Latest figures from Public Health England show that a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds are overweight or obese.

1 in 10 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder.

So how are pupils benefitting from food growing?

Improved skills, knowledge and behaviour

Over 90% of head teachers said their Edible Playground had increased students’ gardening skills, knowledge of the environment and food origins and uptake of fruit and vegetables.

Lots of schools have been using the playground to run therapy sessions for SEN children or those with anger management issues.

70% of schools surveyed said the playgrounds have supported work with SEN students or those with challenging behavioural issues.

“It has a very calming effect on some pupils with significantly challenging behavioural difficulties”  Rockmount Primary School.

RHS research has also found that gardening can help children to develop ‘a more resilient, confident and responsible approach to life’.

Food growing used as a teaching tool

All of the Head Teachers surveyed use their edible playground for maths and science lessons, as well as for English and art (92%), design and technology (76%), geography (30%), languages (23%), RE and ICT (15%) and history (7%).

1 in 4 schools now link food growing to the curriculum**

These positive findings echo the results of the independent FGSL evaluation 2016, that also shows how food growing in schools increases links between schools and local businesses, organisations and volunteers and brings significant value to schools that are part of the programme.

Read the full FGSL report and more about the TFC research results.

*surveyed by the British Nutrition Foundation in 2013.  **FGSL Figures based on evaluation surveys with lead school teachers in September 2013 (n=504) and July 2016 (n=241).