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Cultivate those green fingers

The Royal Horticultural Society welcomes the plans of Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, to encourage gardening clubs and visits to allotments to encourage an interest in growing and cooking fruit and vegetables.

Around 9,000 school children visit RHS gardens for free each year and for some it is one of the few opportunities they have for contact with the natural world. Unfortunately, tales of children drawing pictures of potatoes growing on trees are still all too common.

The Healthy Living blueprint suggests that schools should use the full capacity of the curriculum to teach about healthy lifestyles. This is all well and good, but it is missing a huge opportunity by not putting gardening and a practical knowledge of growing plants back into the national curriculum and giving teachers more resources and encouragement to make use of the "outdoor classroom".

School grounds can link with most curriculum areas and can be particularly beneficial for learning about science processes, but also subjects ranging from geography, art and design and history through to maths, personal, social and health education and citizenship.

Learning outdoors can instil greater confidence, give pupils a sense of ownership and pride in their community and, critically, provide physical exercise and an increased desire to eat their recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Policy-makers must now break down the barriers that stand in the way of outdoor learning, such as fears about health and safety and curriculum requirements, which limit opportunities for teaching outside. More resources and support needs to be provided to teachers to fully develop the opportunities.

Charitable organisations such as the RHS provide learning materials and programmes for use in the outdoor classroom, but we have limited resources and know that there is a far greater demand than we can meet.

Until policy-makers tackle barriers to outdoor learning, they will not be using all the opportunities available to achieve their goal of healthier children.

Lindsay Thomas Head of education Royal Horticultural Society Garden Wisley Woking, Surrey

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