I am Phil Brown, headteacher at Bottesford Junior School. I would like to share with you a little bit about our school and how we have created our outdoor learning environment in recent years, as well as sharing our exciting plans for the future.
We are a medium-sized primary/junior school with 265 pupils on roll. We are situated in Bottesford which is a suburb of Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire.
The benefits of outdoor learning have been central to our school for quite some time now.
We are an accredited ForestSchool. This involves the children working outside in the natural environment.They learn lots of new skills such as bushcraft (lighting fires, outdoor cookery, etc) as well as developing a wide range of life skills such as independence, perseverance and teamwork.
We also have a school garden that we developed from 2016 onwards.
Working with a local consultant, we were able to create the Thomson Garden – a mixture of vegetable gardening, soft and hard fruits, and willow structures, and a central cherry tree and seating area as a tribute to David Thomson, our Chair of Governors, who sadly passed away in 2017.
In recent years, I became interested in the no dig approach and the work of Charles Dowding.
At the start of the 2023 growing season, we made the decision to convert the garden to a No Dig system, with a completely new approach.
We have put in place some basic principles and strategies that we hope will overcome the traditional obstacles that often beset school gardens. We now have a Gardening Club (around 10 children) who spend one lunchtime each week on the plot, as well as staff volunteers who help out.
Each time we have a Forest School day – which is most weeks, since each class has one day per term – each year group spends at least an hour in the school garden. All of the activities are based around what needs to be done – whether that be sowing seeds or watering up.
In early spring, we redesigned the vegetable beds and used woodchip to create paths – not quite Homeacres, but it’s moving in the right direction!
We are now aiming to create our own compost! We currently have two Hotbin composters and three Dalek-style bins. In May 2023, we held our first Open Garden when parents and carers were given guided tours of the plot, and we sold seedlings and flowers. We raised enough funds to buy a second Hotbin.
We collect waste from the school kitchen and our Gardening Club are teaching the children, through our assemblies, how their food waste is being recycled into compost. In the long term, we hope to move towards self-sufficiency in the creation of compost, but for now it is excellent for the children to understand the process of creating our own resources as well as allowing them to have first-hand experience of how waste breaks down and that compost doesn’t just suddenly appear in bags in the garden centre!
The children are also beginning to understand the role that worms play in breaking down the waste which many of them find fascinating.
Children are now learning the basic skills of vegetable gardening following the principles of multi-sowing, succession planting, interplanting etc. Without really thinking about it, we have found so many examples of overlap with other areas of the school curriculum, such as ratio and proportion when looking at the best mix of ingredients to get the Hotbin to heat up, or the concept of fair testing if we are wanting to investigate the best way to encourage plant growth.
Each time we sow seeds, we sow a few extra, and our plan is to sell seedlings and young plants to our families and friends which, as well as encouraging gardening within our wider community, also teaches the children about economics and enterprise.
One thing that is central to our school garden, however, is that the curriculum fits around the garden and not vice-versa. We are working hard to create a successful garden through which we can exploit any curricular links. We are aiming to create an ‘all-year-round’ garden and have thought of some strategies to make this happen whilst still fitting in with school life, such as a rota of people coming to water the crops and to harvest whilst school is closed, especially during the summer break.
If you are interested in keeping up with how the garden is developing, please do visit our school website, which has a page dedicated to our green-fingered activities.
Many thanks for taking the time to read our journey so far … we hope you have enjoyed it!