Susan Johnson promotes land-based jobs for young people.

Horticulture has had a poor image as a badly paid career for unintelligent people. In reality horticulture is a huge industry with a career structure like any other expanding sector of the economy. Its spectrum of opportunities range from potting up seedlings to international marketing, designing a back garden or a golf course, selling plants at farmers’ markets, to managing glasshouse tomato production. Lantra, the Sector Skills Council for the environmental and land-based industries, estimates that 25,000 new entrants will be required in the next five years and from September 2009, a new qualification will be available to 14 to 19-year-olds in England.

Seeds of experience

Those who live in flats or high-density housing have limited opportunities to grow plants. Sparking an interest in school could begin in cross-curricular plant growing lessons. Sowing a wild flower meadow or a tree nursery could influence the school environment and students’ career prospects.

Vegetable growing, even in containers, coincides with healthy eating, healthy lifestyles, learning about nutrition and appreciating the importance of exercise. 

Establishing wildlife areas or vegetable plots provide opportunities for extending curriculum activities in which students create, maintain and learn respect for the hard work and skill necessary to design and sustain an attractive environment. Biodiversity begins to have meaning when students choose plants to incorporate into the school grounds.

Learning from experiences and making a positive contribution to school life raise individual pride in achievement. From here, discussions can begin about human relationships with the environment, health, culture and the society that students want for their future.

The roots of enterprise

Schools are beginning to see benefits from incorporating gardening into learning through enterprise which promotes economic and financial literacy.

Food

A Global Food Project partnership between Brockhill Park Performing Arts College near Folkestone, and a school in Boston, USA uses video conferencing to enable Year 8 students to talk about growing food. The college will sell produce at a farmers’ market, and students are planning how to spend the profits. The head at Brockhill Park sees this as a unique way of teaching the value of healthy eating and awareness of people in the community less fortunate than themselves.

Composting and sustainability

In one rural secondary school in Wales, a group of Year 11 students is making compost from the natural waste of a nearby lake. Students conducted market research and, besides local sales of compost, intend to target regional garden centres and a tree-growing company. The school used its own funds to start the project and external environmental development funding to buy extra equipment. Profits return to school funds. The project conserves the lake and aids students’ understanding of sustainability principles. It balances horticultural skills, economic development and environmental sensitivity in a locality students know well.

Vocational education

Another project enabled Year 10 vocational education students to participate in a horticultural enterprise project, linked to an accredited BTEC course. With enterprise pathfinder money the project expanded. In time the group cultivated school garden areas, planted trees, grew flowers and vegetables. The link with the FE college facilitated accreditation of students’ learning though an NVQ Level 1 in land-based studies.

An initiative sponsored by Age Concern, involved a ‘make-over’ of a residential care home’s garden area. Students used practical horticultural skills, learned the importance of volunteering, and worked with elderly people in their community.

International scope

Writhlington School’s reputation for horticultural business and enterprise has been gained from Year 10 growers and their company, Stem Labs, which cultivates cymbidium orchid seedlings. The students develop a range of key skills including IT, marketing, oracy, numeracy, design, teamwork, scientific literacy and problem-solving through involvement in the project. Students make a considerable personal investment and the international scope and sheer volume of work undertaken at the school shows just how students can progress provided they are motivated.

School culture

To encourage students to take up horticulture, schools need to consider how to incorporate it into their prevailing ethos, excellence planning and daily activity. Students can gain considerable experience of work-related learning if horticulture becomes the core of an enterprise. Support and funding from school managers is particularly important because one enthusiastic teacher alone cannot achieve a high level of interest and involvement or sustain projects. Establishing links with FE colleges is another way forward.

First published in Learning for Life, December 2006

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