Furry Friends: The Schools Embracing Animals In Education
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Furry Friends: The Schools Embracing Animals In Education

Anoop Bhuller discovers which schools embrace animals – benefitting both the wellbeing and education of pupils

Bredon School – Bushley, Worcestershire 

As a dyslexia specialist, the school involves animals into daily life to enhance pupils’ learning abilities, create a positive experience and foster lifelong skills. Dogs come into the classroom to reduce stress and anxiety, and the animals on the working farm provide structure and routine. The Land Based Studies and Animal Care Departments are popular with many pupils. Animals fit seamlessly into school life and enrich pupils’ mental health.

Hurst College – West Sussex 

At Hurst, pets are a huge part of the day-to-day life of pupils. Across the campus, its house dogs make pupils’ ‘homes away from home’ that bit more comfortable; they offer pupils a faithful companion to talk to, perfect for those who might need an outlet at more stressful times. Alongside working on the school farm, currently home to pigs, ducks, and chickens, taking house dogs for walks also gives pupils a taste of the responsibility involved. 

Mayfield School – Mayfield, East Sussex 

Mayfield School, was one of the first schools to set up an Equestrian Centre in the early 1990s and is home to around 30 horses! Jill Barker, Mayfield’s Director of Riding, says, ‘The girls’ academic studies come first, but horse riding offers the opportunity to follow their interest and learn new skills along the way’. Horse riding provides plenty of life lessons, says Jill. ‘Riding helps girls learn responsibility as they are responsible for their horse.’ 

Mayfield

Horse Riding at Mayfield School

Elstree School – Woolhampton, Berkshire 

Nestled in 150 acres of glorious Berkshire countryside, Elstree provides all the magic, mud and adventure that childhood dreams are made of. 

Elstree is a dog friendly school and home to four very lucky rescue hens. On match days, the children swarm to the side of Nellie, Mr and Mrs Inglis’ labrador as she loyally supports Elstree teams from the sidelines. The Pre-Prep children feed the chickens and egg collecting brings moments of pure joy! 

Milton Abbey – Blandford Forum, Dorset  

As a boarding school in glorious rural Dorset, the school is home to a wide array of animals that are involved across school life. Academically, courses are offered in GCSE Agriculture and, in the Sixth Form, BTECs in Countryside Management or Equine Studies. But pupils studying any subject can learn about – and help care for – the animals as part of its Round Square co-curricular programme, which includes Farm Club, Horse Riding and Polo, and a Dog Walking group. Spending time with animals builds valuable life skills and gives a positive boost to mental wellbeing. During ‘exam season’ the farm is especially busy and can help reduce anxiety.

Milton Abbey

Animal care at Milton Abbey

Bede’s Senior School – Eastbourne, East Sussex 

Located at the heart of Bede’s Senior School’s 120-acre campus in the rural village of Upper Dicker, East Sussex is the first of its kind – a zoo within a school!

Bede’s Zoo has grown to include 16 separate enclosures with 70 species of mammal, reptile, amphibian and bird. Species include meerkats, ring-tailed lemurs, binturongs, Lemon doves and a pair of Rankin’s dragons. 

Along with an expansive range of subjects on offer in the Sixth Form, the school also offers a BTEC in Animal Management. The school says that connecting with animals is enriching, calming and fulfilling for pupils.

Bede's Zoo

Bede’s Zoo

Port Regis – Motcombe, Dorset 

Since the arrival of Headmaster Titus Mills and his wife, Jemima, a new animal enclosure on the North Lawn has provided a home to two sheep, a brood of chickens and, currently, two goats called Pepper and Splash (‘goat walks’ can take place once pupils and staff have had training from the Head Groundsman). 

Port Regis honey comes courtesy of the school’s own beehives and there is a bird box with a camera in it behind the Ecology Hut, which provides hours of fun for twitchers. 

Pets Corner is a popular hobby which allows pupils to spend time with two guinea pigs, named Sirius Black and Bluebell, and a rabbit called Hatter.

And a recent highlight for pupils was the ‘Guinea Pig Olympics’ which took place in the senior girls’ boarding house.

Port Regis

Chickens at Port Regis

Lancing College – West Sussex 

The Lancing College Farm is a working farm set in 70 acres of the beautiful South Downs National Park, within the Lancing College Estate. Under the expert guidance of Jon Hutcheon, the Farm Manager, pupils learn about modern farming methods and take part in ‘hands on’ activities combined with classroom.

Education is at the forefront of the Farm’s activities, while conservation, sustainability and animal welfare are at the heart of its foundations. Children help to look after a variety of animals including sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, ponies, donkeys, guinea pigs, ferrets and rabbits.  

At other times of the year the Farm hosts educational visits for primary and independent preparatory schools and provides work placements for agricultural students. 

Queen Anne’s Caversham – Caversham, Berkshire 

The animals at Queen Anne’s School, Caversham, play a multifaceted role in both learning and pastoral care. Currently, there are dogs, a cat, a rabbit, and thousands of bees. Michell Boarding House has two dogs on-site, Coco and Crumpet. In terms of pastoral care, the animals provide immense emotional support. The Boarding House pets offer comfort during stressful times, reduce anxiety, and serve as a source of unconditional love and companionship for students. 

Saint Ronan’s – Hawkhurst, Kent 

Set in 250 acres of Kent countryside, Saint Ronan’s embraces a healthy and happy school farm, which enriches not only the education, but the lives of all our Ronians.

The school family includes two Pot bellies, four Great White/ Saddleback pigs and numerous piglets, five Ryland sheep and two donkeys, to name a few. Children in the Pre-Prep enjoy time in the farm and the Prep School elect it as a club activity. And they take the County Shows by storm with their legendary pig showing.

Saint Ronan's

Farm work at Saint Ronan’s

Repton School- Repton, Derbyshire 

The boarding communities at Repton and Repton Prep are a hub of animal life. Thirteen  of the boarding houses have resident pooches. The science curricula also includes interactions with animals of all backgrounds as the pupils complete research into a variety of species. They have their own qualified therapy dog, Pippa, too who as part of the school nursing team spends time comforting pupils, listening as part of the Read2Dogs scheme and acting as a stress reliever before exams.

Holding spiders at Repton

St Augustine’s Priory – Ealing, London 

Priory Farm, with its thriving pedigree sheep, ducks, chickens, pygmy goats and rescue guinea-pigs, is a rare find in London. Farm, orchard and allotment are central to school life, enhancing the life of all pupils (and staff), who enjoy tending to the allotment. Stewardship training begins at Year 5, providing pupils with an excellent grounding in animal care and welfare. Eggs, vegetables and fresh fruit juice are sold to parents and pupils gain valuable entrepreneurial skills. 

St Augustine's Priory

Goats at St Augustine’s Priory