Some folks say that as you drive down the lane to Englefield Primary School, just west of Reading, you enter a sepia-tinted picture-postcard scene. That may be true, but when you get to the school, it’s full colour, high-definition, dynamic 3D action.

Fourteen primary school beekeepers have been taking their first steps in beekeeping this season and their knowledge and confidence in handling bees is already remarkable.

Mrs Serena Watts (many readers may remember her as coach of the England team at the International Meeting of Young Beekeepers) teaches at the school and has set up an after-school bee club. When a letter was sent to the parents and guardians of the 104 pupils about school clubs, Mrs Watts was pleasantly taken aback by the response – 14 people wanted to join the bee club. But she had only six suits! Fortunately, the Parent-Teacher Association funded what was required.

Two Clubs

Instead of one club, Mrs Watts now runs two clubs of seven pupils each – one ran for five weeks before half-term, the second after it.

Evan, who was in the first group, is so keen he waits eagerly to see if someone doesn’t turn up for the second group!

The eight-to-ten-year olds look after bees in the garden of a friendly neighbour bordering the school. Pupils aged ten plus who, because they would soon be moving to big school, were not invited to join the club, watch enviously as the groups parade across the school playing field fully dressed in their sparkling white beekeeping kit.

Apiary Rules

‘We have a few apiary rules to make it safe,’ says Mrs Watts. ‘Everyone must be fully protected before they leave the building and make the short walk to the apiary, and they cannot take any protection off until they return. I’m the only one to have been stung so far – the pupils enjoyed that enormously!’

Mrs Watts has had great support from Mrs Latimer, the new head teacher at the school, and from the BBKA schools officer, Mr Towl, who made the process of setting up the club quite straightforward despite the health and safety rules, the risk assessment and the insurance that must be arranged. The local beekeeping association, Newbury and District, also helped by donating a hive this month – and already the pupils have prepared for that gift by making the super and brood frames to fit.

Mrs Latimer says that parents have been very enthusiastic too – ‘even if they laugh “goodness, what have you got me into now?”’

Learning Fast

None of the children has had experience of bees before, but, under Mrs Watts’ guidance, they have already assembled frames and made up a nucleus because they found queen cells in the main hive. They take turns to handle and inspect the frames and do so with great calmness and confidence. Nervousness of one or two pupils has been promptly dealt with by some reassurance – and top-to-toe beesuits.

Even in their third week of apiary inspections, they were able to answer lots of bee questions.

‘What do bees bring back to the hive?’




‘Anything else?’

‘Bee glue’.

‘Yes. What’s its real name?’ Silence. ‘Pr … pr …’ we prompt.

‘Proper Glue!’ comes the answer.

That’s a good enough answer for me!

Teacher Bees

Mrs Watts has developed a ‘scheme of work’ to follow, but because bees are bees, it never quite works out as planned, so she lets the bees lead the teaching.

She handles any awkward questions about the birds and the bees with another question to discover how much the pupil knows.

Drones are definitely a favourite – because they don’t sting. And some of the pupils know about their fate. Well, not quite: ‘I want to take the drone home and watch its privates fall off.’

Conservation Project

A knowledge of bees is spreading throughout the school and it is featured strongly in a school conservation project.

Future Plans

Like every teacher, Mrs Watts has a heavy school workload, but she clearly enjoys running the bee club with the help of her teaching assistant, Mrs Kelley.

They look forward to developing the children’s knowledge further next year and perhaps opening another apiary so that each group can see the bees every week.   

Article Appears in the August 2018 Edition of Bee Craft Magazine

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