Ashleigh Primary School shows how farming education can span the whole curriculum
PUBLISHED: 19:08 17 May 2018 | UPDATED: 19:08 17 May 2018
ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434
Teaching children about food can bring long-term benefits to the farming industry which produces it – but one Norfolk school seeks to prove it can have a much wider impact on education too. CHRIS HILL reports.
A Norfolk school which created its own “farm” has opened its gates to teachers across the county to prove how the whole curriculum can be taught from this rich learning environment.
Ashleigh Primary School in Wymondham set up its smallholding two years ago, which now includes orphaned lambs from a neighbouring farm, rescued chickens, and polytunnels growing crops including tomatoes, salads, beans, cucumbers, strawberries and potatoes.
It became the focus for the school’s annual science and farming week, which included lessons ranging from the anatomy and lifecycles of plants and animals to habitats, veterinary care, pollination, soil structure and micro-organisms.
But beyond the scientific links, pupils also learned from supermarkets about supply chains, from children’s authors about how the natural world can influence art and literature, and from tractor suppliers about engineering.
The week culminated in a farmer’s market where maths and business studies came to the fore as the children sold produce to make profits to be reinvested into the running of the farm.
And this broad range of curriculum links were demonstrated to teachers from six other Norfolk primary schools – including Angel Road, Mile Cross and Nelson from central Norwich – who were invited for a free professional development workshop.
They learned about the logistics of setting up and funding a school farm, the importance of good relationships with the farming community, and how to deal with the inevitable questions such as where the animals are destined in the food chain.
Kevin Finch, the school’s science co-ordinator, said: “Setting up a school farm is quite a challenge, but the best way of justifying it is looking at the national curriculum and about what the children can learn from it.
“The curriculum links from Ashleigh Farm to science are hugely obvious, with animals, plants and habitats. But the teachers have been fantastic at finding other links to the curriculum as well.
“If you are thinking about setting up a school farm, these links are your best weapon. Because it has that hugely rich and exciting context, the learning comes through really strongly.”
A key partner in developing the science week lesson plans was Gaina Dunsire, Eastern regional education consultant for LEAF Education – formed this week following the merger of FACE (Farming and Countryside Education) and LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming).
“We chose science because it is the most obvious link, but you can teach the whole curriculum through a farm,” she said. “We need to teach the teachers about its high value.
“And it is not just the curriculum, you have got the social skills, and how to care for animals.
“We don’t want to give teachers something else to teach. I know the pressures of covering the curriculum, so we don’t want to say: “Let’s teach about food and farming’. It is about how we can use food and farming to excite the children – that is where good learning takes place.”
FARMING’S ROLE IN EDUCATION
A central pillar of the week was a visit to Morley Farms in Wymondham. Farm manager David Jones said, as long as the messages were relevant to the audience, such field trips brought obvious educational benefits for the children – but were also worthwhile for the agricultural industry.
“It reinforces what they are talking about in school, and putting it into practice,” he said. “They can talk about soil in the classroom, but I have a big field and I can dig a big hole in it to show them what’s happening.
“They ask questions like: What is this crop? Is it bananas? Is it potatoes? Is it sugar cane?
“You need to tailor your talk to the audience. We talk about malting barley and beer and you watch their faces glaze over. But if you talk about malting barley and Maltesers, all of a sudden they wake up again, because it is important to them. They need to know about that.
“I think it has a benefit to the farming industry too. If we can inform these kids about what we do and how we do it, maybe one or two will want a career in the food industry, but they will all appreciate what we do and we can demonstrate how it is safe and sustainable.
“And we’re stopping some of these stereotypes of a farmer being a man in a straw hat like Old MacDonald, We are a long way from that.”
LEAF EDUCATION LAUNCH
A new organisation was christened this week with the goal of improving the engagement between agriculture, schools and the buying public.
LEAF Education was launched as the re-branding of FACE (Farming and Countryside Education) which merged last year with LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming).
It will build on FACE’s work taking agriculture into schools and will equip teachers with curriculum-focused training, tools and resources across all key stages to help them deliver “high-quality learning experiences about farming”. It will also help farmers deliver “inspiring and engaging on-farm and in-classroom activities”.
Speaking at a launch event at the House of Commons, Defra farming minister George Eustice said: “LEAF Education is a fantastic initiative to bring the work farmers do into the classroom and help inspire a new generation to the potential of a career in agriculture.
“People are increasingly interested in the food they eat, where it comes from and how it is produced. By opening the eyes of young people in schools to the world of farming, we can educate the next generation on the importance of sustainable, high-welfare and high-yield food production.”
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