Growing Schools was launched in 2001 in the wake of a foot and mouth crisis. This had raised concerns about the increasing divide between urban and rural life, the lack of knowledge about food and farming in the population at large, and a disconnection between young people and the wider environment. The National Curriculum required teaching young people about food, sustainable development, agriculture, environmental issues and the science of plants and animals. The advent of Citizenship within the curriculum added an important dimension, particularly its focus on rights, responsibilities and participating in the local community.
Learning that took place beyond the classroom walls was seen as a particularly effective way to enhance young people’s understanding of the wider issues, while delivering curriculum goals. However, many schools were uncertain about the benefits and practicalities of learning outside the classroom, so the Growing Schools programme initially focussed on identifying and overcoming barriers to outdoor learning. Partners were recruited and five flagship projects set up to develop appropriate resources including teacher training (CFE), teaching materials for early years (LTL), using field study centres to learn about growing and farming (NAFSO), using farms and gardens for learning (FCFCG) and encouraging farm visits (NAPAEO, now Landex). The programme was given a major publicity boost through the Growing Schools Garden created at the Hampton Court Show in 2002, and associated resources in the form of a Teachers’ Pack and a Growing Schools calendar.
In 2005, linking with the popular film Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit spread the word further through the Great Vegetable Challenge – a competition to design a school garden – with its own wall planner and teachers’ pack. ‘Get Your Hands Dirty’, an indestructible folder that teachers can fill with their own selection of downloadable resources on farming and gardening was published in 2007, and has proved immensely popular. In July of the same year a second Growing Schools Garden triumphed at the Hampton Court Show, winning Best in Show. It has been recreated as a resource for school groups and teacher training at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and has its own website (www.thegrowingschoolsgarden.org.uk) for those unable to visit in person.
Growing Schools is run as a partnership, managed on a day-to-day basis by FACE, and supported by a Development and Delivery Group, representing partner organisations. It communicates through this website, launched in 2007, a twice-termly e-newsletter and an annual conference.