Outdoor learning: Polytunnel teaching spaces

How one social enterprise is pioneering the use of these versatile outdoor 'classrooms'

The use of polytunnels by schools to grow plants as part of an allotment or Forest School area is growing in popularity. However, one not-for-profit social enterprise is pioneering polytunnels as versatile teaching spaces for inner city schools in Birmingham.

‘We’ve developed a way to embed horticulture and gardening across the primary national curriculum – it’s an approach that pupils totally get on board with and enjoy,’ says Adam Holder, who co-founded Roots to Fruit Midlands Ltd alongside horticulturalist Jon Ensell.

Using polytunnels provided and installed by First Tunnels, Adam teaches across 16 primary schools every week. Each one-hour class accommodates 15 children, allowing teaching to be delivered to two classes (totalling 60 children) in one day. Chairs, tables and whiteboards are set up in the polytunnels, alongside gardening equipment.

‘We’ve found the polytunnels to be an amazing resource that we can use as classrooms all year round,’ says Adam. ‘They provide an enormous undercover space with natural light that’s great for messy work. The kids love them because they look like a spaceship has landed. At any time, the polytunnels are around 10˚C warmer than the outside temperature. When it’s very hot, we simply work outside and use the polytunnel for storage.’

Another benefit, says Adam, is that at around £1,500 for a 25ft by 12ft tunnel, the spaces are good value and long lasting. ‘We’re using the same polytunnel we started with ten years ago and it’s still in good condition. The schools are really proud of them and say that they’re something they can show off to Ofsted.’

With backgrounds in Forest Schools and agricultural college horticulture, Jon and Adam recently mapped the national curriculum to an accredited qualification in horticulture, something that has never been done with children of this age before and it achieved a pass rate of 80 per cent in its first year. They’re now keen to roll out the qualification to schools across the country. ‘The qualification was a huge success in our trial school, Oasis Academy Hobmoor, and has the potential to change forever the way the national curriculum is delivered in every school in the land. It simply wouldn’t have been possible to deliver it without the all-year round protection and versatility that a polytunnel offers.’

For more information, see Roots to Fruit Midlands Ltd on Facebook. Polytunnels for schools are available from firsttunnels.co.uk


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