WATCH: 10-year-old schoolchildren tell us what they think about farming
PUBLISHED: 06:30 07 October 2017 | UPDATED: 15:27 09 October 2017
ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434
Field trips to the farm can teach children about much more than agriculture – and an education partnership has brought mutual benefits for Barnham Primary School and farm managers at the Euston Estate.
Enthusiastic chatter about soil, fertiliser and machinery fills the fields as schoolchildren dig up bucketloads of sugar beet from this East Anglian farm.
It is one of many visits to this hands-on outdoor classroom, built through a long relationship between the Euston Estate, near Thetford, and Barnham Primary School in a neighbouring village.
But these Year 6 pupils are learning about much more than farming – there are lessons here about mathematics, science, economics and engineering as various trial plots of beets are harvested, weighed and measured to see the impact of different planting, cultivation and nutrition methods.
The educational impact of this collaboration has been recognised by Ofsted inspectors, who praised the school’s “irresistible curriculum, where learning is brought to life with exciting real-life experiences.”
But there are business benefits for the farm too. These are genuine trials, whose results could influence future cropping and spending decisions on the estate.
And farm manager Matthew Hawthorne believes there could be wider benefits to the industry too, in educating a generation of consumers who will become a growing voice in public opinion.
“We are not trying to turn them into 20 farmers, but we want them to understand the climate, the problems and the costs of putting food on their plate,” he said. “And when one of their parents asks why there is mud on the road, or complain because they are stuck behind a tractor, the children might be able to tell them why.
“My objective is to build confidence for people in education to come to the farm and understand how much real learning there is here. There is science, maths and English, all sorts of things. It is making that link that farmers are not just walking around with a bit of straw in their mouth.
“There is a lot of education and regulation and cost that a farmer needs to learn, and it is all relevant to other things children need to learn for their life skills.”
This idea was endorsed in a report from the school’s Ofsted inspection in March, which says: “We saw evidence of how the irresistible curriculum is developing pupils’ thinking in exciting real-life contexts. For example, Year 6 pupils completed field trials and tests on two tractors to see which one the farmer should buy. This resulted in the application of a range of mathematical skills when comparing the weights of tractors, speed and fuel consumption, and trial performance.”
Amy Arnold, headteacher at Barnham Primary School, said: “Our partnership (with Euston Estate) has evolved and developed over the last two years, and our curriculum is now designed around the opportunities the farm can give us for real-life purposeful learning. Out here, the students have to deal with maths, mental calculations, measuring, rounding up and using decimals. Then there is geography, science and looking at soil types.
“It brings our curriculum to life. They understand more about their environment and the local workforce, and the wider world. These are jobs they might seek to do in future, but it also allows them to understand a whole new industry. It gives new meaning to their learning.
“In one of my other classes there is a boy who wants to become an agronomist, because he is so interested in the weed control on the farm. That is a career none of them had heard of before, but now it is part of the standard language.”
The students’ trials at Euston include comparing a hand-dug and hand-planted plot – which only yielded 28 beet – with a conventionally-farmed plot of the same size, which yielded 185.
A standard cultivated seed bed which was hand planted yielded 155 beets. “This tells me my 23-year-old seed drill is still doing a good job – that’s important if I want to consider spending thousands on a new one,” said Mr Hawthorne.
Another trial compares plots treated with the industry-standard nitrogen fertiliser application of 125kg per hectare, with plots given double that amount or none at all. Those crops will be professionally analysed by British Sugar to test their sugar content, and assess the effect of too little or too much fertiliser.
WHAT THE PUPILS SAID
Pupils from Barnham Primary School said they had learned many things during their farm visits.
William Gidney, 10, from Thetford, said: “There’s a lot more maths in farming than I thought there was. I learned how tractors and the harvest are a lot different to how they used to. By the time we’re adults a lot of people that harvest now won’t be alive any more so we should learn how to do it so we can carry on harvesting and farming.”
Georgie Fincham, 10, from Elveden, said: “I’ve learned that sugar beet is more confusing than anyone thinks. When they’re older, people need to know how to do it and if they know how fun it is they will want to do it and learn about it. Farming is good for everything because it teaches you about maths and loads of stuff you need to know.
Elijah Haye, 10, from Thetford, said: “I’ve learned that the harvester has got a new design and the back wheels are closer together like a shopping trolley – they both move and it helps push down the soil so its easier to plant more things in it later on. I don’t think that many people want to be farmers when they’re older, but if they come and experience it they might like it more.”
Ben Freese, 10, from Thetford, said: “When we are older, if farmers aren’t around, not many people will grow their own food and they won’t really survive, so they should have farms to keep people going.”