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Founder of the School Farms Network, Ian Egginton-Metters OBE, looks at the benefits to participants of hands-on, real-life gardening and farming education.

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headshot of Ian Eggington-Metters

Ian Egginton-Metters is company secretary of Social Farms & Gardens. He has helped develop, and is involved in, a number of partnerships including Care Farming UK, the School Farms Network, Growing Schools and Access to Farms.

Ian was awarded an OBE in 2014 in recognition of his contribution to city farming.

He shares a little of his knowledge with us below.

What does the phrase ‘outdoor curriculum’ mean to you?

Hands-on real-life gardening and farming education.

It is a requirement on schools that all pupils are given the opportunities to experience ‘awe and wonder’, irrespective of whether that forms part of a qualification. Can you think of anything that is better suited to this form of education than seeing a chick hatch, or the first taste of a freshly harvested vegetable?

Tell us about some of the projects you work on that use farming or gardening as learning opportunities.

Growing Schools was set up in 2000 with funding from the DofE to encourage practical hands-on horticulture and farming education. It developed a website (working with the Access To Farms partnership) listing farms to visit & with hundreds of resources for teachers.

From this, a new programme launched in June 2015, the Countryside Classroom, with a broader partnership and better online tools for accessing resources and information about farms, gardens and other countryside places to visit that offer educational opportunities.

Logo: Social Farms & Gardens

Social Farms & Gardens (formerly the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens) supports a network of school farms (111 + a similar number of schools interested in rearing livestock), liaises with other organisations supporting schools (including member ‘hubs’ in Manchester, Sheffield and Devon), campaigns for more practical qualifications to be made available to pupils, and, through the Access To Farms partnership, ensures that farmers have the necessary knowledge & skills to provide safe, educational farm visits (including CEVAS training courses).

Benefits of participation

We should not let the loss of land-based qualification and league tables challenge the benefits to personal development which the real life learning afforded by school farms and gardens gives to thousands of pupils each year. Our schools invest in science equipment and art materials; why not seeds, manures and livestock food?

Education should be for life as much as for qualifications and careers. People also have different learning styles and those who best ‘learn by doing’ deserve the same opportunities as children able to flourish in an indoor classroom environment. Society also needs people with a variety of skills, including practical/’vocational’ skills, and if this learning is not available within schools we shall merely create an increasing number of children leaving school labelled as ‘failures’.

Increasing lack of connection with the land and growing, the increasing availability of ready-meals whose content is of no interest or understanding for the majority of people, a lack of awareness of seasons and where our food comes from, all these issues are increasing and of major concern. The outdoor curriculum can address all these issues.

The benefits go on… improved attendance, better concentration in class, healthier children, team building, learning to understand about personal care through caring for plants and animals, schools attracting pupils looking for these opportunities, out-of-school opportunities (garden or farm club, holiday care, parental volunteering etc) and more!

Thanks very much to Ian Egginton-Metters OBE.

Find out more about some of the projects mentioned above:

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