The winner of the Farming Champion award, chosen by Farmers Weekly and the NFU, is working tirelessly to give young people a unique opportunity to learn about agriculture and food
When Neil Satoor took over as headteacher of Wombridge Primary School in Shropshire in 2010, there had been 96 exclusions in the three years before he arrived and 17 assaults on staff in the previous 12 months alone.
His impression was of a school where kids were “disengaged” from the curriculum. He wanted to change that and, seven years on, this school near Telford, is flourishing.
Headteacher, Wombridge Primary School, Shropshire
Not a single child has been excluded for four years and the latest Ofsted report praised it for creating a “culture of high expectations”, a “rich, inclusive, environment” and observed pupils “eager to learn because lessons were exciting”.
Central to the changes Neil and the teaching staff have made has been putting farming and food centre stage.
Shropshire, he points out, is a largely rural county, so farming is ultimately potentially a big employer for the pupils. It’s logical to “connect” them with the work that one day might be available for them.
“There are also some very exciting high-tech industrial parks in this part of the world – so IT and agriculture were the two things we thought we’d design our curriculum around.”
The school has a great relationship with Morrells Wood Farm, a family-run beef and sheep unit at nearby Leighton, and farmer Derek Harper is on its governing body.
Every child (there are currently 245 pupils and nine classes) visits the farm every term; they take part in “Farming Friday”; and work for bronze, silver and gold farming awards.
They also have opportunities to cook with ingredients they’ve grown at the school. “Teaching them about food is a great way of explaining to them that what goes into their body is their choice which, in turn, helps educate them about making positive choices when it comes to alcohol and drugs in the future.
“I can look around the playground at any one point and see kids who one day would make fantastic farmers and farmworkers. They have a great work ethic and will be absolutely perfect for jobs in agriculture. They would make brilliant apprentices.
“This isn’t Moss Side in Manchester or inner-city London, but there is a lot of localised disadvantage and the children used to have a downtrodden mentality. We’ve worked hard to change that. Shropshire is an exciting rural county that helps feed the country.”
School is ‘shining example’
NFU deputy president Minette Batters says: “Neil is an inspirational headteacher who recognises the many opportunities that embedding farming and food into the curriculum can bring.
“The work he and his team do is great for the pupils’ education, it’s fun for them and it helps make them aware of how important farming is in managing our precious countryside and producing food for us all.
“By working with a local farmer, the school is a shining example of how education and agriculture can successfully collaborate. The NFU would love to see this approach rolled out to schools across the nation.”