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Full of beans

Enthusiasm is growing at Eastland's allotment as vegetables, fruit and flowers begin their life cycle in the well-prepared soil. Mary Cruickshank reports

Things are coming along nicely at Eastlands Primary School allotment in Rugby, Warwickshire and headteacher Jill Tomlinson is looking a lot happier than she was when we first visited her in February (see TES Teacher April 19). Most of the black plastic sheeting has been removed and the 300 square-metre plot is gradually coming under control. There are healthy rows of onions and broad beans and banks of potatoes just showing through. Wigwams are in place for sweet peas in the flower garden and the rich, crumbly soil has been well-turned and raked. Photographer Richard Lea-Hair and I are impressed.

Help has come from many quarters - parents, support staff, governors and teachers - and Jill Tomlinson is particularly pleased that people no longer simply give advice (there was no shortage of that in the early days), they have started taking action as well.

The allotment has been divided into eight sections, using old carpets for pathways, and different groups are taking responsibility for each area. The reception class has planted sunflowers; Year 2 has a plot for broadbeans and pumpkins; the Acorn (before and after school) club is planting strawberries; and a gardening club of 15 Year 5 children meets after school on Wednesdays with as many parent volunteer diggers as the school can muster.

Jill Mkandiwire, who works at the school two days a week through the Intercultural Support Service (10 per cent of the children have English as an Additional Language), has played a key role. She attended a short course at the Henry Doubleday Research Association's organic gardens at nearby Ryton at Easter, which fired her enthusiasm and gave her lots of practical experience and advice.

With so many interested parties, co-ordination and setting up systems that work are crucial. The children are tremendously helpful and keen, says Jill Tomlinson, but need supervision, if only to make sure that they don't dig up each other's work. A logbook records planting and a large noticeboard in the hall tracks progress. The school could do with a shed on the allotment to store equipment, and also access to some smaller tools for younger children.

Year 2 teacher Carol Weller says the allotment has made a big difference to her summer-term project on growing plants, when comparing growth rates of seeds planted indoors and out, for example, or investigating the effect of light on growth.

"Children are fascinated by plants growing. This year it will be really exciting to see the full cycle," she says. She uses Steve Pollock's BBC Big Book, Find out about Plants, and the Heinemann Discovery World My Bean Diary by Rhonda Jenkins, to support this work in class.

The allotment will also contribute to Year 5 work on microbes and waste (a green waste bin is already in use in the playground), and the wild life area will be ideal for Year 3's habitat studies. Teachers are now planning Science Week, soon after half term, when children will be encouraged to carry out their own investigations on how plants grow.

Membership of HDRA Organic Network for Schools is free. Contact: Graham Blight, project Co-ordinator, HDRA, the organic organisation, Ryton Organic Gardens, Coventry CV8 3LG

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