Today’s blog is by NAEE Fellow, Tim Baker, Headteacher of Charlton Manor Primary School in Greenwich.
In 2007 I turned up to the school after a meeting to be greeted with a swarm of bees which had attached itself by the school entrance. The premises manager had taped off an area around the swarm and visitors were directed into school another way.
The premises manager and two other members of staff were watching with great interest as the mass of bees writhed with several hovering around it. Children walking passed looked on with fascination only to be greeted with ‘keep walking, don’t hang around here’. I was also told that several members of staff were suggesting closing the school as it was a danger to the children.
We called the local bee keepers association who sent a beekeeper to collect the swarm. When he turned up, he told us that the bees were at their safest. We were surprised and I realised I knew little about these creatures.
This experience got me thinking, why is it that in school we teach children about the importance of bees, how necessary they are for the environment. In a KS 1 lesson I’ll hear about how busy bees make honey for us. In KS 2 it will be how essential they are for pollination. Yet if a bee flies into the classroom or near a staff member in the playground there is sudden panic and worry. What are we teaching our pupils?
Interestingly not many people seem to be involved in bee keeping. It seems to be confined to those who have gained interest through their parents, grandparents, wider family or close friends. There doesn’t seem to be a great exposure to bee keeping generally and therefore a lack of understanding of these fascinating insects exists.
I decided to get bees for the school which of course went down well with the staff. As you can imagine there was a lot of emphasis on safety and to ensure that I was prepared I decided to undertake a bee keeping course with a couple of other members of staff. We attended the training at the local bee keeper’s club who were amazed that we were getting bees into the school. Their experience had been the complete opposite. They had approached a primary school to ask if they would mind them placing a hive in the allotments next to the school. They also promised honey and lessons about bees if they wanted. The reply had been a resounding YES, we do mind. We don’t want the children put at risk.
As you can imagine they were extremely helpful, they supported us with getting parents on side by bringing an observation hive into the school, talked to the parents and children about bees, and even helped us devise a way for the children to see into the hive without the use of suits.
There were surprisingly few parents that raised concerns. A couple asked why I was bringing bees into the school. I pointed out to them that I wasn’t the bees were already in the school. The school garden was bringing them in.
We completed the course and in 2008 we received our colony. The children were excited and the whole experience created a buzz (sorry).
We then embarked on a journey that witnessed several children who were facing difficulties, having their lives transformed through bee keeping. One looked after child who was moving out of the area to a new foster carer asked that his new foster parents were bee keepers. Another child who could have faced exclusion moved to a secondary school that introduced bees because it helped him to stay calm.
We produce our own honey that we sell in our shop. The bees support learning in Maths, English, Science and History lessons.
Yes, some children have got stung over the years, but the benefits far outweigh this.
Did we learn more about bees? Some years after getting bees another swarm attached itself to a table in the nursery playground. When someone came and told me I couldn’t believe it as they were so calm. When I went to look sure enough there they were. The teacher had taken the children inside and was letting them watch through the window very calmly. I went and got a pupil from year 4 who attended the bee keeping club. We suited up and together we collected the swarm.
The rest of the school knew nothing about it. No panic, no hysteria just common sense. Yes, we had learned a great deal about bees.
Tim Baker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org