Polytunnels – a focus for exploring global issues? Global learning in primary schools Feature Article

Tide~ extended an invitation for a group of Herefordshire teachers to come together to review the potential of taking a local issue such as Polytunnels as a focus for exploring global issues. These exploratory meetings involved teachers from across the phases and from different parts of the county.  A small group** then took the ideas further through a workshop at the Tide~ Centre, some field work of their own, activities with their pupils and a writing workshop.  This article shares some of that work and links to several activities that are offered for others to use.

The project came up with a framework that could be used in any locality to explore local change and identify the potential for exploring global dimensions.

The project came up with a framework that could be used in any locality to explore local change and identify the potential for exploring global dimensions.

The group reflecting on the idea ~ Why polytunnels?

Early discussion clarified that polytunnels are important issue in Herefordshire and that there are many dimensions to the issue.  In brief ~ polytunnels an issue because:

  • there are increasing changes in the arable farming practices including patterns of employment and the growth of polytunnels / plastic sheeting in the rural landscape;
  • the perception that there is conflict between rural communities and the influx of migrant workers into the area.  This has had an impact on the local economy and environment;
  • they link to other issues such as supermarket supply, “food miles” and quality eating;
  • diverse viewpoints are expressed in local papers, community meetings and groups;
  • there appeared to be a huge growth of information on polytunnels but little relevant and accessible resources for teachers

Further discussion (revismeeting mind maps) led to a focus on change in the countryside.

As a group we wanted to explore our own feelings and perceptions and gain a greater understanding of the issues.  Initially we wanted to develop resources for classroom practise but in essence the project has provided a valuable CPD opportunity for us a group of local teachers.  We also gained from the cross phase nature of the group.

Wider educational Debate

The idea that the project focused on polytunnels led to the wider thinking about the rural economy, employment and environment.  This in turn enabled us to see polytunnels as a way of dealing with the broader concepts of global issues.  The polytunnels issue was also seen to be a controversial one.

The DFES publication (March 2005) “Developing the global dimension in the school curriculum” provided a context for the group’s discussion.  A number of key questions emerged:

Key concepts - Environment

  • Environmental impact and change
  • Environmental management
  • Use of limited resources
  • Social and environmental costs and benefits

Key Concepts - Citizenship

  • Conflict and cooperation
  • Development and interdependence
  • Responsibilities and rights
  • Equality and inequality


  • Analysis of human and physical interactions
  • Use of a range of evidence
  • Decision making, enquiry skills and problem solving
  • Responding to and care of the environment

As a group we met and discussed these key concepts in detail at a number of meetings prior to doing field work. The following ideas emerged from these discussions.  The group identified 5 main concepts:

Key Concepts

1. Concept of Change in the countryside
2. Identification of Independence
3. Historical Concept
4. Human and Physical interaction
5. Rights and Responsibilities

Below are examples of how these key concepts were developed in more detail.

As teachers we were aiming to:

  • adopt an enquiry approach into issues of relevance to pupils
  • adopt strategies that emphasise the active participation of pupils in their own learning
  • ensure activates provide opportunities for pupils to explore their own and others’ values and attitudes
  • develop cross curricular elements of the National curriculum
  • take the concepts and teach them in a stimulating way

This project has only really skimmed the surface of a number of interconnected issues. As a group we wanted to move away from a commonly held view that globalization was something out there and that as individuals we are part of the global community.

We decided which areas were worth developing into teaching materials linked to a flexible scheme of work which took into account different age ranges and children’s developmental needs. A possible framework for teaching is shown below:

We used the diagram below to show how globalisation could be seen as a local issue rather than something far off which only incidentally affected pupils. It also helped to identify with pupils how globalisation affects them on an individual scale.

See also:

Using a visit as a starting point - click here

Polytunnels ~ different points of view - click here

Polytunnels ~ The facts about strawberry production - click here

Viewpoint cards - click here

Case study of local change ~ a framework - click here

**Writing group

Jo Cresswell ~ Ivington Primary School
Sue Mealand ~ Eardisley Primary School
Helen Rogers ~ Fairfield High School
Karen Williams ~ Staunton On Wye Primary School
Og Owen ~ Bishop of Hereford School
Jill Jackson ~ Newman University College

Supported by Scot Sinclair, Tide~ global learning