Over the past few weeks there has been lots of press coverage about schools keeping goats on their grounds – all of it positive and engaging. Let’s hope it leads to more goats in more schools!
One of the most high profile goat schools at the moment is Varndean School in Brighton. They have five pygmy goats (you can follow them on Twitter @varndeangoats). They’ve received a large amount of press coverage this week, including being in the Telegraph (click to read article) and on Good Morning Britain (click to see interview).
This has helped to highlight the real importance in educating the whole child. We as teachers and leaders can sometimes become so wrapped up in results, progress and the importance of English and Maths, that we risk losing sight of the bigger picture around these real children, children with real emotions and some very real problems. We (myself included) risk becoming so engrossed in improving data that we stop seeing the children in our care as humans and begin to see them as just a percentage.
Last Monday I had had enough – enough of the pressure, enough of the constant critics, just enough! So I went for a walk and as I reached our farm, I found a Year 3 class there, interacting with the animals and learning how to care for them. This instantly lifted my mood and their smiling faces proved that all the weekends I had given up, all the early starts to look after the animals on our farm, were worthwhile. It takes a big team to look after our animals, but for me (and the other helpers) the effort is well worth the enjoyment the pupils take from the farm. For that one afternoon those Year 3 children were forgetting about English and Maths, forgetting that day to day treadmill our children now find themselves on and were enjoying being outside in the company of animals.
The two questions I’m asked again and again by visitors and members of the school community are ‘Where is the educational benefit?’ and ‘How can we weave the farm into the curriculum?’ As time has gone by I have moved away from the answer of ‘Here is the educational benefit and this is how we make use of the farm in our curriculum’ to how I really feel which is, the educational benefit is great and it’s good that we can link the farm to our curriculum, but the real benefit is watching those 29 faces light up without a care in the world when they spend time on the farm. It’s that child I had last year who hated coming to school, but since the animals have arrived practically skips through the gates and her first stop is to say ‘good morning’ to the animals. These things don’t show up in any data analysis and are very difficult to record, but they are the real reason we should have animals in school and particularly goats!
Let’s hope the tide of results driven education will slowly subside and instead the welfare and happiness of our students will become equally as important as that of results.