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Each day will be planned carefully for each age group with a mix of adventure activities, shelter building, fire making, capture the flag, simulated river crossings and the incredible swamp fever obstacle course!

Our instructor Paul Gibson is an experienced leader of outdoor learning and a member of the mountain rescue. (if you enjoyed Rock Apes you will love this) He will also be supported by experienced Bush craft practitioners, artists and teachers.

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Introducing a Little Bit of Magic into School Life

Introducing a Little Bit of Magic into School Life

  Home» About Us» News and Updates» Introducing a Little Bit of Magic into School Life

Apr 29, 2019

School gardening and environmental education can reduce ‘eco-anxiety’ and increase physical and mental well-being. In addition, they can give students a range of life-skills that may be more useful than many knowledge-based topics covered by the National Curriculum. This Gardening Week, Meryl Batchelder suggests that all schools should be providing opportunities for pupils to connect with nature.

Spring has arrived in my school garden. Inside our poly tunnel, over the past few months, pupils have: filled the raised beds with compost, planted neat rows of tiny seeds, thinned out the seedlings, weeded, repeatedly watered and have now nurtured our first crop.

Just before the Easter holidays they were able to harvest a ping-pong radish – a round, white ball of crunchy freshness that tingles on the tongue. The kids gathered around this small vegetable, their eyes wide in awe. One lucky student was able to pull the leaves and the radish popped out of the ground, compost still clinging to the sides and root. As they gazed at this simple little radish in near silence one student piped up “It’s magic Miss”. In fact, it’s not actually any form of mystery or illusion, it’s simply that pupils are disconnected from the outside world and knowledge of where their food comes from.

How close – or far from – nature are we?

To understand how far removed young people are from nature you can give them pictures, or even better, leaf and bud samples of around 10 common trees such as oak, ash, beech, birch, cherry, maple or hazel. Congratulate them if they can name five. Many students won’t be able to identify more than one or two. Ask them why trees are important to humans in order to prompt some discussion. You could also talk about the plethora of nets that are currently being used to stop birds nesting near building sites – it is likely that most pupils will have seen these nets being used in the local area. Some families never discuss the natural world and we should not assume that pupils will automatically develop a respect for the environment.

My husband will vouch for me when I say ‘I’m not green-fingered’ but I know the basics and jumped in with both wellies when my head teacher asked the staff if they wanted to do a project with pupils on Friday afternoons. We had an overgrown and unloved wildlife garden and I thought we could tidy it up a bit. Four years later we have gained awards, cooked our own produce in the school kitchens, worked with the community, won garden design competitions and developed a sensory garden in our local town with support from the RHS. But it’s still that little radish which is symbolic of the work I am most proud of.

Benefiting student health and well-being

School gardening has been demonstrated to help student health and well-being1. Even just getting outside in the sunshine produces vitamin D which some pupils in northern latitudes may lack. Many GPs now prescribe gardening instead of anti-depressants. There is even some evidence that getting your hands covered in soil exposes you to microbes that improve mental health and have a natural anti-depressant effect2.

There is mounting discussion that the government needs to increase substantially the amount of environmental education in English schools. A recent study by a team at Kings College3 identified the lack of environmental substance in the science and geography programmes of study outlined in the English National Curriculum for 11 to 14 year olds. It is now up to individual schools and subject leaders to decide how, when and if, environmental education should be taught. With mounting evidence that the way many humans live on Earth is unsustainable we must ensure that future generations are able to participate in debates and make informed choices concerning environmental risks and challenges.

A right to first-hand experiences in nature

The National Association for Environmental Education ( believe that young people have a right to first-hand educational experiences in their local environment, because these are critical in helping people understand the importance of the biosphere to all life on the planet, as well as being a source of wellbeing and fulfilment, and a motivation towards sustainable living.

Linking to the Sustainable Development Goals

Indeed, gardening links exceptionally well to the sustainable development goals (SDGs). I asked my pupils to make the links on a rather cold winter’s day when we had done our chores outside. They managed to match just about every SDG to an aspect of cultivating their own food, for example:

  • SDG1 No Poverty – if you grow your own food you don’t have to buy it.
  • SDG2 Zero Hunger – sharing produce means no one needs to be without food.
  • SDG3 Good Health and Well-Being – fresh fruit and vegetable contain essential vitamins and minerals and gardening is also good for physical and mental health.
  • SDG4 Quality Education – everyone should be taught gardening to develop useful skills.
  • SDG 5 Gender Equality – gardening brings people together, it doesn’t matter who pulls up the weed.
  • SDG 6 Clean Water – by saving rainwater for our garden we are reducing use of processed drinking water.
  • SDG 7 Clean Energy – by growing our own produce we reduce air-miles for food transport such as importing green beans from Kenya.
  • SDG 8 Decent Work – as long as there are people then there will be work for them growing food.
  • SDG 9 Infrastructure – by eating food produced locally transport is reduced.
  • SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities – everyone should have the right and space to grown their own food.
  • SDG 11 Sustainable cities – any town planning should provide space for community gardens.
  • SDG12 Responsible Consumption – growing our own means there is less plastic packaging and less food waste.
  • SDG 13 Climate Action – plants take up carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.
  • SDG 14 Life below Water – by growing organically we reduce pesticide use and protect aquatic animals.
  • SDG 15 Life on Land – plants provide pollinating insects with food and increase biodiversity.
  • SDG 16 and SDG 17 – we ran out of time but suggestions gratefully received!

In light of the recent BBC programme ‘Climate Change the Facts’ and some of the dire warnings by renowned scientists about the impending climate catastrophe it seems propitious to start investing in our young people and to give them skills that might be useful in the future. Growing vegetables was of paramount importance during both World Wars when people were forced by shortages in food supplies to produce their own. Obviously we hope that climate breakdown does not cause serious issues in the food supply but there are plenty of reasons for teaching students the skills they need; gardening is not complex and a little experience goes a long way.

How do you link gardening to your subject curriculum?

In some schools, pupils rarely go outside other than on to the playground or yard. They don’t know how to handle delicately seedlings or the nurture required to grow a plant to the point at which it bears fruit. There are obvious links between gardening to the science curriculum but you can also use working in the garden as a focus for language, literacy, maths, geography, history, PSHE and food technology. Gardening can also be used to encourage students to feel like global citizens; from studying plants grown and eaten in the world to thinking about air miles and how we can achieve human food security for the 7.7 billion residents of Earth. Even if you don’t have space for an allotment or poly tunnel it is simple to collect some old containers or sow a patch of meadow seeds to attract bees and butterflies, a local garden society may be able to help with advice or basic supplies.

Not all plain sailing…

Whilst wistfully looking over our school allotment during a working visit to our school an Ofsted Inspector commented, “It is a picture of bucolic charm”. However running a school garden is not always peaceful or easy. Over the past years I have had: occasional incidences of poor behaviour, a couple of minor injuries, quite a incidences of few nettle-stings, a vandalised poly tunnel, a lack of equipment and some plants that just refused to grow. Looking after 31 pupils on your own outside can be challenging so you could ask for help from parents. If you are gardening or taking pupils out on a field trip then you will also need to complete a risk assessment. It’s also a bit like the responsibility of having a school pet, unless you have a willing caretaker, you may need to pop into school to do some watering in the holidays.

You don’t need a degree in horticulture to start – just do a little bit of research on the RHS Schools website ( or seek advice from the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom ( If you don’t want to commit to trying to grow something then take pupils for a walk in the woods or down to the coast. The NAEE recently suggested replacing the word ‘classroom’ with the term ‘learning contexts’ in the Ofsted Quality of Education judgement for schools. We should never assume that learning must be limited to the confines of the school walls.

Let the magic happen!

I can assure you that I love my school garden even more than I love spending time in my classroom and have never regretted taking those first steps with my wellies on. I might be nurturing plants but I’m also nurturing green-fingered, worm-finding, weed-pulling, bug-hotel building, beetroot-eating, nature-loving, biodiversity-encouraging, air-mile reducing, team-working, water-saving, joyfully-happy kids. Our humble radish is testimony to that fact that if you just get children outside and plant a few seeds then magic can still happen.

1. A systematic review of the health and well-being impacts of school gardening: synthesis of quantitative and qualitative evidence.

2. Antidepressant Microbes In Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy

3. Understanding Environmental Education in Secondary Schools

Introducing a Little Bit of Magic into School Life


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What is permanent education?

In this article, I would like to build on Marie’s call from the winter edition of Northern Edge for us to shift our direction to one where the ‘principles of cooperation, collaboration, trust, love, mutual support and sharing within a culture can together weave an environment in which people can grow, reconnect with themselves, and with each other.’ I also like the quote from David Orr who explains that ‘we must build authentic and vibrant communities that sustain us ecologically and spiritually (and) for this challenge we need a generation equipped to respond with energy, moral stamina, enthusiasm and ecological competence.’

But how can this be achieved? For me the answer is Education. Steve Sterling, in his Schumacher briefing Sustainable Education: Re-visioning Learning and Change, calls for an ‘authentic education’ which encourages spontaneity, insight and reflection, where people are capable of thinking critically and living with compassion, energy and high purpose. Stephan Harding, programme coordinator for the current MSc Holistic Science at Schumacher College, states that we need education that acknowledges our ancient selves so we can re-connect with Gaia and our place in the universe since its start.

On a personal level, I support these statements and I feel strongly that education urgently needs to move away from the targets of a centralised system – where all children are channelled into similar moulds and judged by how much they earn or contribute to GDP and whether or not they have left their communities to go to university.

Education should enable pupils to understand their position as an integral part of the ‘web of life’ and not as separated managers of Nature that you can opt in and out of. Education should be re-designed so that society can measure its citizen’s success on the quality of their relationships with each other, their relationship with the earth and how purposeful they feel their lives are.

This may sound eminently sensible to some, or completely deluded to others! Whatever your perspective, to wean us all off the addiction our society has to certificates and milestones will certainly be much more difficult to achieve than anyone may think. Just remind yourself of this the next time you congratulate someone on their exam results, or well-paid job that has nothing to do with improving society or the environment! However difficult the task is, it needs to happen, and now is the time for practical proposals. We need solutions that will relate to all people and not just the converted.

Education needs to be ahead of the game in visioning the ‘good life’ that all people can live so that their worth is not solely about what they consume or contribute to GDP. Thomas Berry calls for what is needed as ‘The Great Work’ where humans need to remake our presence on earth to become a benign presence – including how we provide ourselves with food, energy, materials, water, livelihood, health and shelter. Harding has also written in ‘Gaia Awareness’ (an essay in The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy that ‘there is an urgent need for an education that addresses the question of how we can develop lifestyles that are truly sustainable.’ How can we respond to this urgent need?

There is a clear recognition by most people that education is at the heart of our preparation for a changing world and I acknowledge that there are a lot of ‘eco-initiatives’ in British schools, particularly in the primary sector, but I would agree with Sterling who wrote that despite efforts ‘most education contributes daily to un-sustainability…and does little to sustain the ‘whole person’ – spirit, heart, head and hands.’

We must respond to the need for change by providing pupils with the future skills that will enable them to solve or prevent environmental and societal problems, to be the innovative and independent thinkers of tomorrow. For this to happen, many projects that are currently on the side-lines in mainstream education need to take centre-stage and the traditional subjects which are endlessly tested need to become the tools which bring this learning to life, rather than ends in themselves.

For example, every child needs to learn the vital practical skills and knowledge to care for the earth: ecology, horticulture, composting, recycling and reusing. All of these subjects can be taught through projects to a high standard, using just as much Maths, English and Science as is taught or tested in the classroom now. Children need to be shown how they can be more self sufficient and less reliant on the state and material consumption for their happiness. An example might be The Big Soup Share organised by the Royal Horticultural Society’s Campaign for School Gardening. Children need to see that they can be an important part of society and their local community from an early age, and not just when they have certain qualifications.

Children also need to know the fundamental aspects of living in partnership with nature; learning what the seasons really mean, engaging with systems thinking, how to use bio-mimicry in design and engineering, circular economics, conflict resolution, philosophical dialogue, and the ability to be involved in long term projects with no instant gratification! In my experience children love learning about this and are more than capable.

What if the ethics of Permaculture were the drivers of the mainstream Education system? What if the education experienced from 5-18 years became a permanent part in a child’s understanding and attitude that they took through life, work and relationships – instead of lots of facts and knowledge that many of us forget by the time we are 30 yrs old! Donella Meadows, in Dancing with Systems explained that ‘A sustainable society is one that can persist over generations, one that is far-seeing enough, flexible enough, and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or social systems of support.’ Education now needs to be seen by all policy makers and curriculum designers as the seed bed for developing these qualities in the next generation.

I have interviewed many schools about this subject as part of a research project on the effectiveness of Eco-education in Primary Schools and many respondents to the question ‘Why do you take part in an Eco-Schools programme?’ expressed the perhaps unsurprising view that teachers want to ‘make a difference’ and ‘because it promotes awareness of our world and the environment around us.’ More simply one teacher explained that they were ‘simply doing my bit for the environment and hopefully inspiring children to do the same.’

However, there were some more intriguing answers: ‘To encourage responsibility from a young age.’ as well as ‘To ensure the children have a realistic vision about how to mould their future.’ And, perhaps most interestingly to ‘have their (pupils) attitudes towards our environment challenged.’

One primary school explained that ‘Children take part in a wide breadth of sustainability work through projects, not just one aspect such as energy. For us sustainability is part of the whole fabric of the school. It plays a role in the whole curriculum and reaches beyond the curriculum.

How could curriculum designers and policy makers enable all schools to operate like this?

As well as the practical, project based and applied aspects of a new ‘permanent education’, we need children to develop the higher order skills that are so pertinent to permaculture and to our future: People Care and Future Care. Education about sustainability needs to break out of its ‘worthy’ box, thought of as innately good but barely scratching the surface of how society has to change. Sustainability simply needs to become who we are and how we live, rather than an add-on that we learn about when we are not too busy. Definitions of a good life need to move away from consumerism and status towards recognising the life changing quality of independent, collaborative, self-sustaining communities and individuals.

To achieve a permanent change to education, schools need a curriculum that facilitates real, interdisciplinary projects for their pupils. This requires high level thinking; dialogue and collaboration; long term links with businesses, community organisations or social entrepreneurs; outdoor space; time to work on community initiatives and inventions; catering companies that will cook food grown on site; books that promote the permaculture ethics and principles; training for staff and, ultimately, the freedom from arbitrary testing and the wasteful one year financial cycle that encourages waste and short-termism.

I hope to go into more detail in the future about the different findings of my research. However, it is important and perhaps promising to note that the words and phrases used most frequently by research participants to describe the type of person they think is needed to manage the future of our planet were Thoughtful, Ideas, Caring, Positive and Active – perhaps these could be the drivers for a more permanent education and ultimately a vision for a good life?

From an article in Northern Edge journal, Northern School of Permaculture, May 2019