Patrick Kirwan, Horticulture and Community Outreach Coordinator, describes the benefits of Hammersmith Academy’s school garden
We started a school garden in Hammersmith Academy four years ago to promote mental health, to teach students about horticulture and food growing, and to encourage them to appreciate their environment and instil in them a desire to protect it. In broader terms, we wanted to increase engagement and personal development.
In 2017 we rolled out a whole-school tutor time horticulture programme, which runs for 30 minutes in the middle of each school day. Every week a tutor group visits the garden and a small group of students is paired with student tutor time activity leaders. The activity leaders teach their groups to:
- deconstruct wooden pallets in order to turn them into planters
- take care of our school chickens
- sow seeds, prick out young seedlings and take cuttings
- grow and harvest food
- construct living fences
- and lots more.
Although the programme was a success in developing these particular skills, its structure was not providing opportunities for greater engagement and personal development.
In 2019 we launched SSAT’s Student Leadership Accreditation (SLA) qualification to enhance our programme and empower the student leaders to take full responsibility for the tutor time horticulture programme. At the beginning of the year, we ran a training day for the student leaders to begin to build team spirit, to discuss the SLA qualification and to explore how the 10 SLA competencies could be evidenced through their work with the tutor time programme. The competencies are grouped into developing myself, contributing to my community, and working with others. Students devised a checklist of leadership and practical skills that would help them to deliver the tutor time activities they were assigned.
We used the leadership checklist to make an observation proforma. During the tutor time programme the activity leaders are observed by the teachers overseeing the programme, by the tutors of the participating tutor group and by some of the activity leader team. The tutees participating in the programme also fill out a feedback form. These observations celebrate the successes of the student leaders and give them valuable developmental feedback. The observations also act as evidence for their SLA portfolio.
The effect of implementing the new leadership development programme with the SLA was immediate. The students became more invested in themselves and the programme, they were more responsible, and the tutor time programme was running better than ever. For example, the students were better organised, independently laying out their equipment before each activity and tidying away everything at the end. Their communication skills improved: they were presenting information more clearly and getting lots of positive feedback from other students taking part. The student activity leaders now make a highly positive, tangible contribution to school life. They are highly supportive of each other as a team, and they go to great lengths to ensure the wellbeing of those taking part in the activities.
Building students’ confidence and resilience is crucial in addressing social disadvantage in our school. The student leadership team works with a diverse group of young people aged 11-18, which develops their understanding of how to engage individuals in a range of different activities. The programme gives the team opportunities to develop positive traits, dispositions and virtues that will help them to capitalise on opportunities in the future.
While the SLA can be applied to any extra-curricular activity, we feel the school garden is vital to facilitating the success of our leadership development programme, as it provides a secure, safe environment and space – physical and mental – to fail, to learn, and to develop. We believe the programme has huge potential and will continue to develop and change.
Get in touch with Patrick
If you have any questions about implementing a similar initiative in your school, get in touch with Patrick, who is happy to offer advice and share the experiences of Hammersmith Academy.