UKEdMag: The school farmyard by @pipkinzoo

Full Title: Turning the School Yard into a Farm Yard into a School Curriculum!

Long-time readers may recall an article in the October 2014 issue of this magazine which featured the school farm at Hartshill School. At the time we had built up quite a collection of small animals, a small flock of sheep, and were keeping a couple of pigs every year. We had also just started attending agricultural shows.

This article originally appeared in the free May 2016 edition of  UKEdMagazine – Click here to view.
You can order printed editions of the UKEdMagazine by clicking here.

Fast-forward 18 months and the basic purpose and nature of the Land Studies department at Hartshill School are still very much the same, but with lots of additional, exciting features! Just after the article mentioned previously was published, a team of students took their pigs to the English Winter Fair, exhibited them, and sold them at auction. The students also participated in a Junior Pig Club sausage-making workshop and competition, and won! We returned to the same show in 2015 and came second in the sausage competition. This time, though, the pigs also won some prizes so it was a very good weekend!

Students also enjoyed trips to various local and county shows over the year and gained some experience in pig rearing and handling. So much so that, just a few weeks ago, the school was selected to have two extremely rare pigs on loan from the British Pig Association and Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The two organisations imported six female British Landrace pigs from Deerpark Pedigree Pigs in Northern Ireland just before Christmas. These six pigs were chosen as they represent very rare bloodlines that did not even exist on mainland UK any more. Additionally, the pedigree registered British Landrace is the rarest breed of pig in the UK according to the 2015 census and 65% of them are found in Northern Ireland. It is important, from a conservation perspective, to avoid having populations of any breed of farm animal that are geographically concentrated as this could lead to serious problems for the breed in the unfortunate event of a disease outbreak such as foot and mouth in 2001.

The school is now part of the effort to conserve and promote the British Landrace pig and we are expecting our first piglets in May. The pigs and students will be appearing at various events during the year to explain the purpose of the conservation project and for people to meet our lovely Very Important Pigs! Not all of the piglets will be suitable for breeding, however, as they have to meet very particular standards. Those that do not make the grade will ultimately end up in the food chain, with students running the pig production as a mini-enterprise project where they will be able to apply for and experience specific job roles for a defined period of time.

We have also just set up an official branch of Young Farmers Club, federated to Warwickshire YFC. This has already provided lots of opportunities for our students to go out and experience agriculture in areas which we could never cover within school. However, one of the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs’ (NFYFC) key messages is #morethantractors (and it’s definitely also #morethanbeer too!) and students do not have to come from a farming background to be involved. Our 25 student members could be involved in public speaking, drama, sports and cooking competitions in future as NFYFC runs all of these events at local, regional and national level. YFC clubs also have a management structure and our next meeting at school will be to select and welcome our student Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer and Programme Secretary. This is great news for me as the club’s ‘President’, which I believe is a polite way of saying not-so-young farmer, as students will then take over the running of the club and I will become an advisor rather the leader. This is something that any school could become involved in with a group of interested and motivated students. The organisation is very helpful and is experienced in working with young people so understands, for example, safeguarding procedures, and would therefore be a great place to start for anyone wanting to offer something a little different to their students.

As for our day to day curriculum we are now offering the new BTEC Animal Care as our KS4 option, which requires students to study and work with both small and large animals of all varieties. Excitingly, and unusually even for the few state secondary schools which have their own farms, all of year 7 and year 8 will have lessons in Land Studies from September. As we move into Life Without Levels we have real freedom to develop a curriculum based on ‘what do I want them to know?’ and ‘what do I want them to be able to do?’

You may well be reading this article and thinking it all sounds lovely but how is it relevant to me? We have been very fortunate that timing, funding and space have allowed us to develop our school farm to suit our needs but much of that has come from making links with both local partners and national organisations. As before, I would urge any school with an interest in this area to make contact with the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs and see how they can support you. The British Pig Association’s Junior club is also very welcoming and you do not have to have your own pigs to become involved as they also run trips, workshops, a summer camp, and other exciting activities outside of pig handling. We have recently started working closely with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and they even sponsored one of our teams at the recent National Young Stars event. The RBST is keen to develop its educational offering and so would welcome contact with more schools. STEMNET have been supporting this work by encouraging RBST members to become STEM Ambassadors- why not contact them and see how you can add a different perspective to your STEM curriculum by involving a speaker or visit linked to agriculture and/or conservation? You may see the term ‘agriSTEM’ mentioned as this is an emerging theme in linking farming and food production with the education system and is being promoted by the Bright Crop initiative, which is also worth investigating.

Many of the agricultural County shows have well-established arrangements for welcoming school visits and would be delighted to support your trip planning processes. Many of the major shows occur during term time and on school days so there is no need to look at out of hours trips if you do not feel comfortable with these. The Open Farm Sunday initiative goes from strength to strength and also offers Open Farm School Days throughout June 2016. This gives students the opportunity to visit farms and businesses that are not normally open to the public. The Open Farm Sunday team advise and train those opening up their workplaces on Health and Safety and managing school visits so again this offers a different experience to the norm without an awful lot of hassle for the busy teacher organising it.

We are happy to advise other schools on any of these areas so that you too can enjoy the benefits these experiences offer to our students in both their normal timetabled lessons and their extra-curricular activities.

Other Links




Bright Crop

Open Farm Sunday

Hartshill School

Hayley Simpkin @pipkinzoo is Leader of Land Studies at Hartshill School in Warwickshire. The school is an 11-16 academy with around 1000 students on roll, as well as their breeding herd of pedigree British Landrace pigs, three sheep, 20 chickens and about 50 small animals! Contact or call 02476 392237.


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