Swap the classroom for the garden and watch students blossom, says learning mentor

Taking students out of lessons and setting them to work planting potatoes is not an obvious strategy for improving achievement. Yet this is exactly what one secondary school in West Sussex is doing to support students who struggle to manage their behaviour.

The Imberhorne School has been using gardening as a behaviour strategy since 2007, when learning mentor Noreen Daw applied to her local authority for a grant to plant trees on school grounds. Assisted by students, Ms Daw has since spearheaded the expansion of the Imberhorne Eco School project to include maintaining fruit and vegetable gardens and constructing raised flower beds.

Students who struggle to manage their behaviour are allocated time in the garden in place of certain lessons. As a result, these students are coming to school more regularly and doing better in the lessons that they do attend, Daw says.

“In the garden, students are able to complete work that is achievable for them. They can see the benefits pretty quickly and regularly feel a sense of achievement.”

Students also have the opportunity to pick up practical skills that can be applied in later life, from measuring and building to planning annual planting schemes. These skills have even helped a number of students to gain apprenticeships or to secure college places.

But for those learners who are facing difficulties in school or in their personal lives, the emotional benefits of gardening are almost as great as the practical gains, Daw suggests.

“It gives them an opportunity to talk freely about issues that may be affecting them. Getting them to discuss their feelings helps them to deal more effectively with their personal situations and allows them to deal with events in the classroom in an appropriate way.”

Imberhorne worked closely with the East Grinstead in Bloom Society and also took part in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Campaign for School Gardening to help make their project a success. But even with the support of these organisations, Daw acknowledges that setting up a gardening scheme at a secondary school hasn’t been easy.

“In a world where academic achievement is rated as the most important aspect of our education system, having a gardening project where students are not achieving any qualification can be hard to justify. However, the benefits to students’ emotional well-being and mental health are easy to see and once this is sorted out, the rest falls into place.”

Find out more about the Campaign for School Gardening at the Royal Horticultural Society’s dedicated schools website.

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