SENCitizenship - Shoots of growth

16th March 2012 at 00:00
A gardening project is nurturing excluded children's social skills

At first glance, Joe could have been any other 10-year-old boy tending a primary school garden. But as I watched him carefully pricking out the tiny seedlings and gently covering the earth with a small handful of soil, I felt an overwhelming surge of pride and pleasure.

Just 12 months earlier, Joe had come to us as yet another of our five- to 11-year-old pupils, excluded from school because of bad behaviour. He was disruptive in lessons, confrontational to both teachers and pupils, and antagonistic. He hated school and would do things his way or not at all, making teaching him near impossible. Frequent arguments in class made it difficult for other children to learn.

But it was the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) special educational needs family gardening project that finally helped us to turn him around, improving his social skills and self-esteem, but also teaching him to respect the feelings of others, not only his classmates but his teachers and parents, too.

Over the two training sessions, the pupils worked with their parents and us, the teachers, to carry out horticultural projects that included creating winter interest containers with bulbs and ornamental plants, and planting hardy seeds.

Joe appeared to find happiness in the calm environment of the garden, tending to the plants. And it seems he is not alone. Moving Up, Growing On, a report by the RHS, found that gardening helps to nurture friendships, offers a safe space to escape frustrations and creates calmer individuals, while giving children skills that aid the transition to adulthood.

Introduced in 2007, there are currently 15,000 schools signed up to the gardening project. For children like Joe, it seems to be a particularly effective way to learn that people need nurturing care. He has also developed a new willingness to learn.

The most memorable moment was when he came into my office and announced his desire to go back to mainstream school. Joe has since been told that he can return for an hour a week. This is a huge step and we are all very proud of him.

To find out more about the campaign and to read the report, visit

Anne Carter teaches at Park Primary in Bradford, where pupils have either been permanently excluded from school or are at risk of permanent exclusion

What else?

For some visual stimuli to help pupils remember what's in the garden, try judy valentine's picture cards and bingo.

Rejuvenate your school grounds with StratfordCity's guide to starting a gardening club.

Want an scheme of work for a special educational needs garden project? Look no further than surfinia's resource.

For all links and resources visit

From the forums

Teachers in the TES primary forum discuss setting up a gardening club and how to get funding and support from your school.

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