Research shows that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of many chronic diseases and can form part of an effective weight management strategy. However, only one in five children consume the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables - and there are wider concerns about the steady increase in childhood obesity.
Garden enhanced education in schools is increasingly recognised as a promising strategy for promoting healthier eating for children. It may also have other benefits, such as promoting environmental awareness. Whilst a growing body of research indicates the positive impact of focused interventions led by external experts, less is known about the effectiveness of multi-component programmes sustained by stakeholders from the school community.
The Food for Life Partnership Flagship growing skills programme is one part of a whole school food reform initiative in England in which schools are assisted to make comprehensive changes to their garden based educational work. Drawing upon the reports of lead teaching staff, this report focuses on 76 participating schools (55 primary, 19 secondary, 2 special) from the year prior to enrolment to approximately 18 months into the programme. Prior to enrolment, the majority of schools lacked the basic facilities needed to deliver an effective garden enhanced education; staff with applied horticultural skills; specific safety guidelines; or multiple links between growing activities and the curriculum.
The FFLP growing skills programme is associated with a range of positive changes for schools:
New training in horticultural education for staff in over three quarter of cases.
Newly developed areas for growing that have expanded, on average, by a third the size of a full size allotment per school.
Better resourced growing areas for nearly all schools in terms of the facilities that are prerequisites for effective educational work.
A considerable rise in the local production and the diversity of groups of crops grown.
An average three fold increase in parent and community volunteer active participation.
In primary schools, a rise in participation in growing activities from an average of 28.6%
to 74.4% of pupils. For the schools sampled this equates to an additional 6,701 children participating in growing activities per annum.
In secondary schools, a considerable increase of pupils in growing activities, albeit from a very low baseline. Initially less than 1% of pupils took part in growing activities in the schools sampled. This rose to an average of 12.3%: or an additional 1,960 students per
An increase in the active involvement of pupils in practical aspects of food growing.
An increase in pupils taking part in growing activities that are linked to multiple aspects of their curricular studies.
The majority of school leads attribute these changes to effective engagement with the FFLP approach. Qualitative feedback indicates that this effectiveness connects to the strategic, integrated and visionary character of the FFLP growing skills programme.
External research shows that these short term programme outcomes will support sustainable work to promote healthier eating for children. Further evaluation, currently in progress, will provide supplementary evidence to examine these associations more fully.