Actors are often warned about working with children or animals. Teachers are clearly glutton for punishment working with children, so why would any colleagues even consider adding a working farm to their school? Actually, as Hayley Simpkin explains, there are many positive aspects and challenges of running a school farm, with profound learning opportunities allowing pupils to explore issues about animal welfare and the food chain. This is an extract from the October 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine.
Four years ago Hartshill School took the first steps towards creating a school farm as we had been offered the opportunity to run the Environmental and Land-based Studies Diploma for North Warwickshire. That qualification is now defunct, but the foundations that it provided are still being developed today. We now offer the OCR GCSE in Environmental and Land-based Science to a total of 65 KS4 students. Our enrichment activities and clubs are always heavily oversubscribed and every child in the school will experience Land Studies lessons in year 9. As well as the farm, we have a wide range of small animals including mammals, reptiles, fish and birds, including a very vocal Amazon parrot!
“Never work with children and animals,” is often quoted and equally often proven to be wrong. Since we bought our first pigs and chickens in 2011, we have not had a single serious incident of poor behaviour from either the animals or the students! Last year we expanded to include a pair of sheep, which have since been joined by two more. We are soon to take delivery of a small flock of rare North Ronaldsay sheep, with the aim of breeding our own lambs in future years. But why go to all the effort and expense of keeping farm animals, when a veg patch and a few chickens is more than enough for most purposes? Well, quite apart from the Livestock Husbandry unit in the GCSE course, having animals around allows us to have the difficult conversations with students around the origins of our food, animal welfare, and ethical farming. Our pigs are always raised for meat, which is sold to staff and parents to cover the costs of feeding the pigs during their seven months with us. Students do not find this easy, but by being honest and realistic about this throughout, we usually find students are happy to get involved in sausage making and tasting once the meat has come back from the butchers.
Recently, we have been persuaded to get involved in agricultural shows, exhibiting pigs and sheep, and taking part in national Young Handler competitions. Indeed, our two current pigs were given to us by the Junior Pig Club for a competition in November. This has given several of our students a chance to try something they never would have had the opportunity to otherwise. Many of our students have aspirations to work in the land-based industries, and a very healthy percentage go on to FE at our local agricultural college. Some of them even come back to school to carry out their work experience. We also welcome our feeder schools for visits, and support community events in the village where possible. We have carried out a lot of cross-curricular work, but there is so much scope that even in three years we have barely scratched the surface. The engagement and improvement that can be brought about by working with animals, with even the most challenging of students, cannot be overstated.
To anyone thinking of starting a school farm, however small, I would say make sure you have a knowledgeable mentor available to you, as you will worry incessantly to begin with! There is paperwork and legislation that comes…
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 two pigs, four sheep, 20 chickens and about 50 small animals! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02476 392237.