Looking after what we can’t see


David Swanston really digs gardening.

Gardening activities are a great way to facilitate learning for children and young people with SEND, and the benefits are well established. The new Curriculum Framework for Children and Young People with Vision Impairment recognises the barriers that can prevent visually impaired young people from developing social networks in their communities, and it highlights that accessing enrichment opportunities such as volunteering and community gardening can help. At St Vincent’s School in West Derby, Liverpool, our Enrichment curriculum includes a weekly afternoon of project-based learning when students can work alongside and lead their sighted peers. We call this Reverse Inclusion.

Students from mainstream partner schools join our ‘Grow Wild’ gardening group to help manage the school allotment, tend the school meadow, propagate and nurture plants and vegetables for the school’s community café. They even produce garden designs for RHS Flower Show Tatton Park. It’s an active learning space where students are given greater responsibility in their learning. 

■ More independence and confidence.

No-dig means disturbing soil as little as possible, which is beneficial for the environment, and requires less labour-intensive digging, weeding and watering. By adopting the no-dig approach in the allotment at St Vincent’s, students have been able to manage this with more independence and confidence. Instead of digging over the growing beds, students simply use light-excluding mulch such as cardboard, with compost spread on top. It takes less effort, it’s quick to prepare, and in most cases the bed can be sown and planted directly. The no-dig method has also been adopted in our larger raised beds where wheelchair access and mobility issues have to be considered. 

■ Propagate and nurture.

The students love to grow vegetables such as onion, beetroot, radish, chard, peas and shoots which students love to use in their food technology lessons. Eating their own-grown produce is one of the many enjoyments of the garden, and one which can’t be replicated through shop-bought produce.

Students have already added three wildflower meadows to the school site and have been able to visit and work alongside gardeners at Great Dixter House and Gardens, bringing back many ideas to improve biodiversity on the school site and even share with some of our smaller school partners that all spaces matter, and that our actions add up.

■ The students love to grow vegetables.

Tips for getting growing: start small, and by accessing RHS CFSG School Gardening Award at Level 1, you can build your skills and school garden through manageable projects while enabling your child to enjoy the benefits of being outdoors, gardening and developing key skills.

David Swanston
Author: David Swanston

David Swanston
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David Swanston is Deputy Principal at St Vincent’s School. He is a qualified teacher of the visually impaired (QTVI) and a Global Teacher Prize Top Ten Finalist. He is also a UK Pearson National Teaching Awards SEND Gold winner.

Website: https://www.stvin.com/
Twiiter: @StVincentsL12

St Vincent's School is a specialist school for sensory impairment and other needs, and we use the CFSG as a platform for gardening with our students.

CFSG is open to all schools, and you can sign up for school gardening membership for free to receive a monthly newsletter of tips and stories, take part in the School Gardening Awards, and be the first to know about RHS grant funding and new project opportunities www.schoolgardening.org.uk/register


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