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‘Vegging out’ in school is good for children
Monday, 05 March 2012 09:28

onionsIn a report published today a government-backed Taskforce has proven, for the first time, the benefits to children who experience food growing in England’s schools. (1)

The Food Growing in Schools report, by a Taskforce led by the charity Garden Organic alongside 25 members, including Morrisons Supermarket, Forestry Commission and the Royal Horticultural Society highlights compelling evidence that proves food growing in schools helps support children achieve, builds life and employability skills, and improves their health and well-being.

Having proven the benefits of food growing, the Taskforce is now urging for providers, society and business to come together to ensure that in future every child is involved in food growing as part of their school experience.

Children across a staggering 80% (2) of England’s schools are now involved in some level of school food growing thanks to school initiatives including the Big Lottery funded Food for Life Partnership, corporate schemes like Morrisons’ Let’s Grow, and charitable programmes like the RHS Campaign for school gardening - initiatives which work with over 26,000 schools (3). The Taskforce looked at evidence from all of these schemes and more, alongside academic research including an independent report from National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) (4), which surveyed 1302 schools and undertook a systematic literature review, contributing weighty evidence confirming that school food growing activity:

•    Encourages and facilitates learning – particularly in science
•    Builds skills, including life, enterprise and employment related skills
•    Improves awareness and understanding of the natural environment
•    Promotes health and well being in relation to diet and nutrition
•    Supports school improvement and development
•    Strengthens communities and interaction

Improves achievement
A stand out finding of the report was the benefit school food growing activity had on academic achievement. Schools cited supporting the outdoor curriculum (68%), supporting the science curriculum (57%) and supporting the food technology curriculum (39%) as motivations for growing food in their school. Further evidence showed enhanced scientific understanding, numeracy, literacy, and language skills.

Builds life and employability skills
Aside from the emphasis on improving learning, the Taskforce found that the activity of growing food in schools also supported the acquisition of life skills, including financial literacy and enterprise skills. Interestingly communication and employment skills were also enhanced. Signs for improved motivation and behaviour, for example arriving early to school and leaving later, were found, as was increased attendance and completion of homework, and less disruptive classroom behaviour.

Improves health and wellbeing
One of the report’s key findings is the evidence that proves school food growing promotes good health through improved diet and nutrition and better well-being through improved self-esteem and self confidence. 73% of schools cited teaching children about nutrition as a motivation for food growing, 68% for giving them skills for a healthy adult life and 33% for encouraging exercise. Evidence showed improved understanding of food and nutrition, increased willingness to try fruit and vegetables and increased consumption of fruit and vegetables, and school meals, where food grown in school is incorporated into school catering were also increased.

On the publishing of the Food Growing in Schools report, Secretary of State Caroline Spelman said, “Growing fruit and veg in schools is a great way for kids to learn more about where their food comes from and what’s healthy, and that’s why the Government’s backed this work. It shows that food growing can lead to children eating more fruit and vegetables, valuing nature more, and improving their knowledge of science. I hope this report will lead to more food-growing schools and more children who are aware of where their food comes from.”

Chair of the Taskforce, Garden Organic’s Myles Bremner, said, “For the first time society, providers and business, all working with children and schools, have come together and we’ve got robust evidence that supports our work. We’re excited that getting children growing food has even wider impact than we first thought, and these benefits for the child, the environment and our communities are now clear for government, policy makers, funders, and the schools involved to see. Our next challenge is to build upon this momentum by working together to make it possible for every school to become a food growing school.”

One of the key outcomes of the Taskforce was the role that businesses and the contribution they make to school food growing played in the consultation. David Hewitt, Communities Manager at Morrisons Supermarket, said, “Children are the next generation future workforce and seeing the impact of campaigns like ours on their achievement and employability skills is rewarding. It has been really important for us to go through this process alongside providers and charities working differently, but for the same outcome, and we look forward to making the actions of the Taskforce a reality by developing solutions together.”
Organisations representing society groups were also present on the Taskforce with members including the Church of England and the Women’s Institute. Ruth Bond, Chair of the NFWI said, “Many WI members are helping schools in their local communities, and helping children to grow their own food ticks so many boxes. This report shows that WI members are not only improving children’s skills, they are helping to build better communities and forging stronger relationships in those communities. The report clearly demonstrates that the benefits of food growing are wide-reaching and we firmly believe that this is key when looking towards future activities and building a plan for further action.”
Significantly the Taskforce report drew on extensive evidence from the DEFRA commissioned NFER report which surveyed over a thousand schools. Rachel Chahal, Head teacher of the Oval Primary School said, “We’ve been lucky to access so many school gardening schemes from charities, providers and businesses. We’ve seen the impact of school food growing on the children and the school from the outset and it’s important that food growing continues.”

Now that the impacts of school food growing activity have been validated, the Taskforce is focused on the actions (5) that will support schools to embed food growing in practical and affordable ways with recommendations including a national celebration campaign, bringing together all interested parties to reach out to all schools and their communities.

Members on the Taskforce bringing expertise, experience of working with children and schools, as well as investment capabilities, are already working together to make the recommendations happen. With one of the first outcomes coming from Garden Organic and Morrisons Supermarket who will work together to develop training and skills provision for teaching professionals to improve the quality and numbers of pupils experiencing the benefits of food growing in schools.

 - ENDS -

Foot notes
(1) The Executive Summary, and full Food Growing in Schools Taskforce report can be found at: www.gardenorganic.org.uk/foodgrowinginschools
(2) 80% of early years, 86% of primary and 72% of secondary schools
(3) The Food for Life Partnership (works with 4,500schools), Morrisons’ Let’s Grow (works with 26,000 schools and youth community groups) and RHS Campaign for school gardening (works with 15,000 schools).
(4) NFER Report, November 2011: Food growing activities in schools. Nelson, Martin, Nicholas, Easton, Featherstone. Full NFER report can be found here: www.gardenorganic.org.uk/foodgrowinginschools
(5) The Taskforce made six key recommendations for the future:
•    A national campaign celebrating food growing in schools
•    A policy emphasis on food growing in schools
•    A food growing in schools online hub
•    Business commitments to support food growing in schools
•    Promotion of food growing by school leadership teams
•    Improved links between food growing in schools and food-related careers

Notes to Editors:
The Food Growing in Schools Taskforce consisted of representatives with interests and expertise in the delivery of food growing in schools. It was Chaired by Garden Organic and included leaders and practitioners from schools, charities, corporate providers, community organisations, media, government, including Defra, The Department of Health and the Department of Education. The Taskforce engaged with over 150 organisation and schools and used data from an independent, national survey of 1300 schools to produce this report and recommendations. Full report: www.gardenorganic.org.uk/foodgrowinginschools

Garden Organic is the UK’s leading organic growing charity. Dedicated to promoting organic gardening in homes, communities and schools, and advancing organic growing through research, we use innovation and inspiration to get more people growing in the most sustainable way.