The class menagerie – Bedales in TES

Posted on 22nd May 2017

Bedales features heavily in an article recently published in TES on the subject of animals in schools. The author and lecturer at Kingston University, Jennifer Richardson, , explains that many schools are home to a variety of animals in the belief that it improves pupil engagement and may even boost academic attainment.

There is a long tradition of animals in schools, and the article highlights various projects that make animals part of the school and learning experiences. Animals are attributed with helping children to develop life and social skills, and with self-esteem and confidence. They can have a positive effect on problem behaviour, and are used therapeutically with students who may not enjoy school or who are not strong academically.

Some schools, including Bedales, run whole farms. Bedales has run its working farm since it moved to its current estate in 1900. Some such farms are the focus of formal learning, although Bedales headmaster Keith Budge points to other benefits. As well as looking after the animals, Bedales students build beehives and duck houses, butcher animal carcasses, make sausages, churn butter and run a farm shop. All of these activities are opportunities for learning that go beyond the task itself.

Bedales has worked with the Harvard Graduate School of Education to take an independent view on what makes its schools successful. The research found two significant factors: a broad range of choice for students in their studies; and strong relationships between students and teachers. Keith says that the farm helps the three Bedales schools provide the former, and on the latter, he explains: “I have often found myself having some of the best conversations with students when I have been working outside with them.”

He continues: “I have walked in on a class where they were curing sheepskins and they were having the most amazing conversations about the ethics of rearing animals and the chemical process,” he explains. “It’s learning by doing.”

In an age of informed practice and tight budgets it will, the author says, be difficult to justify an animal in school unless there is more hard evidence to support it. Despite a lack in this area, she concludes, it is more or less impossible to find a teacher who will tell you that the impact is negative, and that this is compelling. Keith endorses this sentiment. “Why should schools have animals?”, he asks. “When you see it in action, it’s obvious.”

The full article can be seen on the TES website (subscription may be required).

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