‘We help them flourish and bloom’: using nature to keep students in education

The Guardian reports that in a corner of south London, a group of young people are taking it in turns to smell the leaves of a rose geranium plant in the gardens of Roots and Shoots, an environmental education centre and biodiverse wildlife park. The charity is tucked away, just off a street that you could easily walk past without noticing.

The exercise is part of a training programme for students from Lambeth and Southwark who have difficulty coping in the mainstream educational system. The trainees are all working towards a level one City and Guilds qualification, specialising in retail, floristry or horticulture. They will also study functional skills, employability and personal development.

Among them is Shabaz Samuel, 21, who used to get in trouble with the police and was one of the UK’s 790,000 young people aged 16 to 24 not in education, employment or training (a Neet).

Although he and the 30 other students, some of whom have learning disabilities, spend time in the classroom, they are more likely to be found outside on the 1.5-acre site, which includes beehives, a pond, a large greenhouse, raised beds and a barn.

It’s a far cry from Samuel’s previous experience of college, where he says there were a lot of drugs: “I wouldn’t say this place has changed me, more that I had to change myself to be here. I’ve had to do a lot of growing up.”

The programme boasts an impressive 85% retainment rate, and while the majority haven’t stuck with education in the past almost all (90%) will go on to further education or apprenticeships.

Linda Phillips, who set up the charity in 1982 – originally as a three-year project for 18 young people – and is still the director, says “The young people who come here often come from schools where the classroom situation wasn’t very good for them, and they have never really been properly outdoors. They relax here. They become more community minded.”

The government’s food growing in schools taskforce (pdf) notes that growing food helps students to build life- and employment-related skills, while Growing Schools (pdf) reports that special educational needs students particularly benefit from outdoor education because it offers sensory experiences, chances for informal conversations, and the freedom of being in open spaces. This can be a novelty – an earlier study found that students with learning disabilities “still have particularly poor access (pdf) to learning outside the classroom”.

Read the full article ‘We help them flourish and bloom’: using nature to keep students in education

With so many benefits, should all pupils have the opportunity to  work outdoors? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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