Whole School Approach Programme

WSAP: Whole School Approach Programme:

The quality of food in England has improved enormously since 2005 when Jamie Oliver alerted the nation to the horrors of the “Turkey Twizzler”! The best schools do a brilliant job of weaving food education – cooking and growing fruit and vegetables into school life and the curriculum. However, a large number of schools are still lagging behind and where take up of school dinners remains low.


Many parents mistakenly imagine that a packed lunch is the healthiest whereas in reality, only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards that currently apply to school food.


Things need to change but in order to achieve this a cultural change is required within each and every school. It means cooking food that is both appetising and nutritious; making the dining hall an inviting environment; keeping queues down; getting the price right; allowing children to eat with their friends and finally, getting them interested in growing and cooking.

The only person within the school environment with the authority to orchestrate all of the above is the Head Teacher. The vast majority of Head Teachers already believe that good food is vital to children’s health and learning achievements and to the broader school life; however, many feel they lack the knowledge and experience to improve the current food culture. Working in partnership with ESCC and KCC, Hands of Hope will work with Heads that really want to take a “whole school approach”. We will devise a plan for each individual school entitled “School Food Plan” and give Head Teachers all the practical support, advice and information they will need for success.


Good food provision in schools has been shown to lead not only to healthier children but to improved attainment. We believe that motivating more schools to adapt a “Whole School Approach” will create a generation of children who will go on to enjoy the types of food that ultimately make them healthier, more successful and more importantly, happier!


The last decade has seen a considerable increase in the number of schools growing food in the UK. Food growing is used to achieve a wide range of outcomes for children and young people, their schools, families and wider community. There is increasing awareness of how powerful the impact of food growing in schools can be. Food growing can support children and young people’s learning and skills development, connect them with the natural environment and enhance their health and well-being.

Working in Partnership:

Food growing in schools has a broad impact, from understanding nature, to improving health and well-being, and building essential skills.

Benefits of Food Growing in Schools

There is strong evidence from published research and practical experience that food growing in schools has a profound positive impact for the children and young people, teachers, schools and wider communities involved. When delivered effectively, children and young people achieve more in their learning, have better dietary health and have higher self-esteem and confidence. Food growing is often the catalyst for the creation of a whole school food approach, and a broad range of school development activities.

Schools are able to use it as a tool for development, enabling them to provide an exciting curriculum for children and young people, create a whole school vision and ethos, and engage families and the wider community. Communities are strengthened by the opportunities for interaction and collaboration brought about through food growing, on and off school grounds. All those involved have a greater connection with the natural world and particularly with their food.

Supporting learning

Incorporating food growing into the formal, and informal curriculum can have a positive impact on children and young people’s academic achievement, skills acquisition and attitudes to learning and school.

  • Food growing encourages the use of a broad range of teaching styles which supports the learning of all children and young people.
  • Food growing in schools raises children and young people’s achievement across the curriculum, with benefits noted particularly for science learning, as well as language skills, maths and food technology.
  • Children and young people develop a broad range of skills through food growing, including:
    • Life skills such as cooking and communication
    • Financial and enterprise skills
    • Skills for employment, e.g. team work, problem solving
    • Horticultural skills
  • Children and young people’s motivation and behaviour is influenced by food growing in schools.
  • Enthusiasm for school and learning is increased, as is attendance and completion of homework.
  • Improved behaviour is observed in and out of the classroom.
  • Environmental awareness and attitudes are enhanced and this is reflected in pro-environmental behaviours.

Developing skills for life

Food growing develops skills that are essential for living. Learning about nutrition and applying this through cooking in school (a consistent accompaniment to food growing) encourages a healthy lifestyle. Working with others, inside and outside the school community, supports the development of social and interpersonal skills. Experiencing and dealing with success and failure in a non-threatening way builds resilience.

Children and young people develop labour market skills through food growing. Planning, developing and monitoring a food growing area requires children and young people to work together, think critically, communicate effectively, solve problems, take decisions and show leadership.

Many schools use food growing as a means to develop financial literacy and enterprise skills. Children and young people sell on or supply their produce to others. Produce is sold at varying levels, from ad hoc sales to parents at the school gate, through to regular pitches at farmers markets. Schools supply (for free, or at a cost) fruit and vegetables to their own canteens, as well as to local businesses and community organisations. At different levels, this requires the children and young people involved to plan, budget, negotiate and handle money. Schools tend to reinvest their earnings into the school garden or other resources for the school community.

Food growing contributes to children and young people’s understanding of citizenship and global and cultural issues. Exploration of the processes required to grow food helps build awareness of the global food chain, fair trade and the impact of different environmental factors on food production. In addition, growing and cooking vegetables from around the world promotes understanding of different cultures and can illustrate what people have in common.

Improving motivation and encouraging positive behaviours

Schools undertaking food growing activity describe how powerful it is in motivating children and young people and improving behaviour. Children and young people involved in food growing demonstrate more enthusiasm for school, reflected in reduced absence rates and in arriving early for school and later leaving. Teachers also observe a more positive attitude in children and young people’s approach to learning, including taking more responsibility for their own learning, evidenced through behaviours such as more regular completion of their homework.

Children and young people experience a sense of awe and wonder and are excited about learning as subject matter is brought to life through food growing.

Improved behaviour is also reported for a wide range of children and young people, particularly amongst those with emotional and behavioural difficulties. These improvements are observed both in the food growing area and within the classroom. Response to different teaching methods, improved diet, increased physical activity, a feeling of achievement, and consequently improved self-esteem, and the creation of a calm “refuge” through the garden are all reasons cited for these improvements.

Food growing influences environmental awareness and attitudes. 80% of schools surveyed cite teaching children about the environment as a motivation for food growing in their school. In a separate survey 55% of teachers list enhancement of children and young people’s environmental awareness as a benefit of gardening in schools.

Enhancing health and well-being

Many schools undertake food growing as a means of supporting the health and well-being of their students. 73% of schools say that teaching children and young people about nutrition is a factor which motivates their food growing activity and 68% say that helping children and young people to develop skills for a healthy adult life is a factor. The NFER literature review identifies a large number of studies that investigate links between food growing in schools, increased connection with food, and positive health outcomes.

Developing and improving schools

In addition to bringing direct benefits for the children and young people involved, food growing can be a dynamic tool for school development and improvement. When used effectively, food growing can help schools to engage parents, bring in support from the community and create a whole school ethos, all of which lead to positive changes for the whole school community.

There is a significant link between food growing and performance in Ofsted inspections, for example Ofsted reports were “more than twice as likely to give FFLP Flagship primary schools a rating of ‘outstanding’ across 10 criteria for inspection compared to the period before programme enrolment”.

Developing and delivering a whole school ethos

Early years, primary and secondary schools find that they can use food growing as a focus through which they are able to bring improvements across the whole school. It can be a unifying tool that brings together the formal (normal lessons), informal (clubs, out of timetable activities) and the more hidden (communication with children and young people outside lessons/activities, provision of space to grow, inclusion of healthy, school grown food in the school canteen etc.) curricula.

The embeddedness of this approach enables everyone within the school, teaching and non-teaching staff, children and young people, families etc, to have and understand their role in contributing to the whole school community. Schools and organisations working with them report how including food growing as part of their school improvement plan helps them to deliver a number of key improvement objectives. The diagrams below illustrate the relationship between growing, cooking and eating and all aspects of the curriculum.

Involving families

Schools report how they have previously struggled to bring parents and families into the school and involve them in school life and their children’s learning. They explain that food growing has created a new and different opportunity that is changing this.

Food growing, and the activities required to establish and maintain a garden, are seen as a non-threatening way for parents to support their child’s learning, where both paents and teachers feel that they are working towards a common goal.

Engaging community support

In a similar way, schools are able to use food growing as a means of gaining support from and involving the local community. Support for food growing is most likely to come in the form of material resources (44% of schools report this type of support) and human resources (38% of schools). In practice, this can include a whole range of support, from donating seeds to landscaping an entire site, volunteering a couple of hours to providing professional development opportunities for teachers, and expert support on and off site. The direct benefits for enabling and progressing food growing are clearly important, but schools find that this isn’t where the benefits end. Food growing creates opportunities to build relationships with local businesses and community organisations. Bringing people from these organisations into the school exposes children and young people to a wider set of skills and experiences, helping them to expand their own.

Getting in Touch

If you would like to get involved or simply want to know more, get in touch via our “contacts” page quoting “WSAP”