Down on the (school) farm

Written by: Donna Ashlee | Published:
Insights: Students at Brockhill Park Performing Arts College’s school farm, which manages beef cattle, sheep, pigs and other animals

There are now more than 100 school farms in operation across the UK, including the farm at Brockhill Park Performing Arts College. Donna Ashlee explains how it works and integrates into school life


Brockhill Park Performing Arts College is a large secondary school sat up above the cinque port of Hythe, Kent, overlooking the English Channel, and is unusual in the fact that we have our very own farm.

Never before has it been so important to re-engage young people with the countryside. At Brockhill we have been able to work with LEAF Education on a teenager engagement research project and while the majority of teenagers surveyed agree that young people should be more interested in how food is produced, overall it seems that teenagers have a limited view of what food production and farming involves.

At Brockhill we pride ourselves on our farm which is a working farm and home to beef cattle, a suckler herd with calves, allowing students to see the whole lifecycle from artificial insemination to birth and finished beef. We also have a flock of ewes which lamb each spring, pigs, free range hens and a small menagerie of “furries”.

We do not shy away from being a working farm, the animals are reared for food production and we have our own farm shop where students proudly sell our home-produced beef, lamb and pork. We also pride ourselves on our high welfare standards.

Our school farm’s success is down to embedding its rural dimension and ethos throughout the whole school curriculum. Here is how:


Engage the school staff

Farming Fortnight, developed with LEAF Education, is an annual curriculum event. Every department in the school is challenged to teach one lesson on the farm using the farm as a stimulus. Some departments have taken this one step further and have built-in schemes of work that focus entirely upon the use of the farm.

For example, design technology have a bird feeder innovation challenge that is taught yearly. The maths department has embedded a series of maths challenges around the farm. The farm ensures that it has lots going on during the fortnight – typically lambing ewes, calving and hatching chicks.


Make it part of the curriculum

The Great Outdoors programme of study (GO) was developed as an enrichment programme for all key stage 3 students. GO encourages students to learn through outdoor learning which removes them from the traditional book and teacher-led learning styles and encourages hands-on practical aspects.

Topics in the GO course include “Reaping the harvest” where students learn about the “grain train”, the science behind the food, types of bread, how bread is made and actually making a simple soda bread in the lesson.

“Sausage sale” is based around pig production. Students visit the farm’s pigs and analyse the accommodation and feeding. Students design a new logo for the popular “Brilliant British Brockhill Bangers” made from Brockhill pork and the winning design is reproduced and sold in the sausage sales held in the farm shop. Students also get involved with the promotion and running of the sale.


Engage young people

The school’s Young Farmers Club is incredibly popular. It is run democratically through a club committee. They run regular social events including Halloween and Christmas parties and events to engage the public, including LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday. The main purpose of the club is to teach animal husbandry and other techniques. Members also enjoy showing the farm’s livestock at local agricultural shows in the South East.



Extend your provision

Following consultation with local primary teachers, we developed and wrote a set of six curriculum-linked lessons for primary students, all of which include an outdoor activity for students to get their hands dirty and an inside one to further develop learning. A favourite session is “Moo & Make” for key stage 1, which looks at variation and species of farm animals and how they have adapted for survival. This session includes a farm tour, introduction to animals and a craft session making animal masks to take home.


Think about wellbeing

The links between nature and animals and positive wellbeing are now becoming more widely recognised. This year’s project on our farm is to create a nurture area for our specialists to use with our students.


Make it your USP

Our school farm costs money to run, money that comes from our school budget or through fundraising and grants, but it is also a fantastic marketing tool. The farm makes Brockhill stand out from the crowd. Everyone loves to see young people and animals together. It also has a beneficial influence on behaviour and wellbeing which in turn makes a positive contribution to education and the lives of young people. We ensure that we promote this through photographs, social media, prospectuses and press releases.


Getting started

Brockhill’s School Farm is one of more than 100 school farms currently operating in the UK, giving young people an insight into farming life and allowing them to reap the benefits that outdoor learning brings.

Indeed, over the past year the School Farms Network has seen huge growth – with more than 15 new school farms, of varying sizes joining.

The network is free to join and provides advice for new starting school farms, as well as for the more established ones. Conferences and regional events share best practice, encourage fundraising ideas, and offer inspiration and ideas.

However, a school farm does not need to be a huge undertaking. Ideas for smaller start-up projects include free-range chickens. Students enjoy collecting eggs and chickens are sociable and often become real characters. Why not rehome hens from commercial farms and see if you can get a local feed supplier to sponsor the feed to keep the project low-cost?


Resources and support

Links to the curriculum are numerous via citizenship and PSHE as well as science. Farms can become part of a wellbeing project or extra-curricular activities. Take a look at the Countryside Classroom website for ready-made and tested resources and ideas.

At Brockhill we also participate in the LEAF Education initiative “Farmer Time” where schools are matched with a farmer and students regularly chat live to their matched farmer from their classrooms through FaceTime or Skype, discuss ideas, ask questions, share knowledge and gain a “real-time” understanding of the issues farmers face every day.

And why not participate in Farming Fortnight, which is due to take place from June 7 to 18 this year? Last year at Brockhill, we collaborated with LEAF Education to put together a series of student-led videos filmed on the school farm and which introduced the different aspects of farming to students.

Furthermore, a wide range of engaging national curriculum-linked resources and materials have been developed for schools to download. Topic sheets, lesson plans, case studies and videos will explore different farming sectors and support teachers in delivering hopefully inspiring lessons around food and farming. These resources can be found on the LEAF Education webpages (see further information).


Conclusion

At Brockhill, we passionately believe in the real benefits that outdoor learning has on a student’s determination, in building their resilience and improving behaviour and attendance. 

  • Donna Ashlee is the assistant principal at Brockhill Park Performing Arts College in Kent.


Further information & resources


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