FEEDING pigs, tending to strawberries and harvesting crops don’t usually feature on a secondary school pupil’s timetable.
But youngsters at Park Community School are swapping the classroom for the farm - growing and rearing their own produce for the school canteen.
The school in Havant bought a smallholding to produce fresh vegetables, eggs and meat with children taking lessons working on the farm cultivating crops and rearing animals.
The two and a half acre plot was snapped up five years ago and is currently used to grow rhubarb, raspberries and strawberries as well as for 30 pigs, four goats, 20 chickens and ducks.
All Year 7 and 8 pupils get a chance to go on the farm, with older pupils able to visit as Food Ambassadors.
When The News joined pupils on the farm they were busy bee-keeping and feeding pigs.
Year 7 pupil Brooke Pearce, 12, was on the farm for a third time. He said: ‘It’s a really fun experience.
‘I’m really grateful that we get this opportunity.
‘My friends at other schools certainly don’t get to do anything like this. I enjoy looking after the animals as I don’t have any pets of my own.’
For many of the children the most popular animals in the farm are the meishan pigs.
Archie Triggs, 12, said: ‘I really enjoyed feeding the pigs as they always look so happy to get their dinner. I definitely learn better by doing a task rather than learning about it in the classroom.’
Joining the Year 7 pupils were the Food Ambassadors who regularly visit the farm as part of their role.
Daniel Haines, 14, was bee keeper for the morning. He said: ‘We’ve been trying to locate the queen bee, checking there is no disease in the hive and to also check on the amount of honey.
‘I don’t know any other schools where pupils get the chance to do this.’
Bradley Sevier, 14, added: ‘This is such a great experience and it’s great to know the products we have produced on the farm end up in the school canteen.
‘During my time visiting the farm I have been learning about different aspects of science, geography and life skills. I really enjoy coming here as it’s so different just being out of the classroom.’
Polytunnels on site mean the farm can be used all year round, as well as allowing cultivation of exotic peppers and chillies.
This means teachers are able to offer something outside the usual curriculum - teaching skills unobtainable in the classroom.
Under the stewardship of facilities manager Nigel Pritchard the children are involved in planting, weeding, harvesting and watering of crops as well as feeding the animals.
He said: ‘This is a different type of learning which is physical and allows children to experience a real life industry first hand.
‘Some of our more challenging students who struggle in a classroom environment come up here and really flourish.
‘There is so much science involved. What do the plants need to grow, the different seasons and when to plant, as well as the pollination role of the many insects for which the farm provides habitat.
‘There is also the geography aspect with the importance of the farm layout, soils and climatic considerations.’
Head teacher Chris Anders added: ‘It’s so much more enriching for pupils to experience and consider these topics in a real life practical context rather than from a text book.
‘For us this project is about giving the students the opportunity to experience something different.
‘You often find that children who struggle academically can thrive in a more practical environment. will be reflected in widening the criteria on which school performance is judged.’
As reported in The News, Park Community School has already been recognised nationally for its approach to school meals, recently welcoming celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and featuring on Channel 4’s Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast.
For Mr Anders and his team the benefits stretch beyond learning - with the farm keeping the school canteen stocked.
Head chef, Steven Cross, who was recently crowned School Chef of the Year 2019, turns the fruits of the pupils’ labour into dinner.
He said: ‘It’s all about providing students with nutritious food while at the same time teaching them the whole process of field to fork – including the reality of rearing animals to be slaughtered.’
‘The taste of the produce is far better than just purchasing from suppliers or the supermarket. It’s also a fun environment to learn and helps to build relationships with children who get to see staff in a different light.’
VITAL MONEY [PANEL]
At a time when schools are struggling to make ends meet, the farm provides a business helping generate funds.
Head teacher Chis Anders said: ‘All our pork products are sold with any money generated going back into the school.
‘Our Park Porkies are particularly popular.’
Meat products are also sold to a company in the New Forest, adding that extra income stream.
This year has also seen the introduction of a new venture with beehives being added to the farm to enable the school to produce its own honey.
‘Some of the honey will be used in our cooking at school but we’re also looking to use the product to develop our own soaps and candles. Any money made will go straight back into the school,’ said Mr Cross.
As with all aspects of the farm, head teacher Mr Anders is keen to ensure the new initiative also provides a learning opportunity for students.
‘Bees are becoming an endangered species and it’s important for children to understand this and the potential impact their decline can have on pollination – 80 per cent of our crops are dependent on this process,’ he said.
By education reporter Neil Fatkin, a former teacher
By the time I finally left the classroom a year ago schools had in many ways become exam factories in which the be-all and end-all was to achieve pupil and school academic targets.
Many of the school enrichment experiences afforded to students early in my career had been removed or watered down in the quest for the holy grail of statistical benchmarks.
This is why it’s so refreshing to see a school looking at the holistic benefits of enrichment activities.
Schools should be about developing the whole child as well as creating memories to take through to adulthood.
It’s experiences such as that offered by Park Community School which children will remember for years to come.
While schools can never lose sight of their primary aim to achieve academic attainment it should never be at all costs.