Healthy winners give it welly

21st October 2005 at 01:00
Young gardeners have broken new ground, reports Sophie Kirkham from this year's Teaching Awards

Stoughton infant school has done the impossible in making Brussels sprouts objects of enthusiasm.

The Guildford school is nurturing 240 young gardeners, environmentalists and health-conscious cooks by combining an ethos of outdoor living alongside its regular classroom-based teaching.

The sight of 60 pairs of well-worn, brightly-coloured wellington boots is testament to the spirit of the school, which encourages teachers to take classes outside come rain (the wellies) or shine (a sun hat each).

Now its work has been recognised by the National Teaching Awards, which named Stoughton the winner in its new healthy schools category.

Peter Spriggs, the caretaker, manages the school's gardens with a little help from the children, who have designed and built its allotment, planted and harvested the vegetables they eat for lunch (including the sprouts carefully concealed in ratatouille), and composted the leftovers. His passion for all things muddy has rubbed off on the pupils.

Bright-eyed and full of tales of growing potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and beans, Alex Harvey and Brooke Cresswell, both six, chatter about what they have learned.

"I just love playing outside and we keep on learning and learning," said Alex. "We have squirrels and we are making bee houses and bird houses.

There is nothing that isn't good."

"We make food for the birds too," said Brooke, who proudly recounted how she helped to build the raised flowerbeds behind the school. "Mr Spriggs is our caretaker and he's very funny. School is really good fun. The only thing I don't like is maths."

Three years ago, the demolition of several buildings left the playground covered in rubble but Belinda William and Dawn Mayson, joint headteachers, saw the increase in the size of their grounds as an opportunity.

Parents were drafted in to help students from Surrey university and people from a nearby church in the back-breaking work needed to create organic gardens, a wildlife walk, a garden with fruit trees, a sensory garden and the allotment.

There are still plans for a herb garden with plants chosen by the cook and a third outdoor classroom by the school pond. An emphasis on regular exercise has seen lunchtime games clubs spring up. Emotional well-being is also supported with an emotional literacy class every Monday that encourages children to describe and understand their feelings.

"We have worked really hard to achieve this," said Ms William, who has been at the school for 17 years. "The parents and local community have been remarkable, and the atmosphere at the school has a real air of enthusiasm.

"We knew we were healthy but we didn't realise we were cutting- edge - we thought we were just ordinary."


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