22 August 1997

FARM-SCHOOL LINK FORGED…

Hampshire school children got a better understanding of agriculture when farmers and teachers joined forces to help them win a competition as Ann Rogers reports

THOUGH term is long over and the project on which they are working has already won a major prize for their school, a group of enthusiastic pupils from Anstey Junior School, Alton, Hants, have volunteered to work during their summer holidays.

With their teacher Erica Sisk they will be paying another visit to Annetts Farm, Farringdon, Hants, this time to see the 100-day weigh take place for a group of calves whose progress they have been following.

Their farmer-friend Graham Stratford raises pedigree Hereford cattle – beef cattle and bulls for breeding – on his 48.5ha (120-acre) holding where one of the first things these nine- and 10-year-old, (year five key stage two) children learnt is that grass is a crop needing careful cultivation, says Erica.

Project tied in

The link between farm and school was forged through the East Hants Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty competition, Erica explains and the project has tied in with 10 areas of work within the national school curriculum.

There was a buzz of activity in the classroom when Farmlife paid a visit two days before the end of term as pupils worked to finish outstanding tasks and prepare for the following day and the celebration barbecue the Stratfords were hosting at Annetts Farm.

One group was painting on fabric, decorating two caps and an apron with appropriate Hereford designs as gifts for their hosts. Others were making felt badges representing Herefords to wear at the barbecue. There was an earnest group gathered around the computer and copies of the cook book the class had compiled were being stapled. Of course, it included a beef dish named in honour of the Stratfords and featuring beef sausages cooked in the local beer.

Individuals were anxious to show their special studies. Louise, had discovered how cows turn grass into milk. Leon had worked on a flow chart which mapped the stages in preparing a Hereford for show.

As the project work had been away for the judging for some time, the farm diary had to be updated and a group worked at this as one pupil studied a copy of farmers weekly for any mention of Herefords and another went through a publication by the Hereford breed society to look for references to Graham Stratford who was president in 1996.

While these last activities were among the ones that furthered the childrens English studies, the farm was a focus for work in mathematics, art, history and information technology. Pupils furthered their scientific knowledge by learning about plants and animals, their needs and methods of reproduction, weather and soil conditions. Working with maps and plans and learning more about the landscape furthered their knowledge of geography.

Photographs on disk

Technology was an even wider subject, ranging from having their photographs recorded on a CD ROM to learning about the way in which a ballcock works. They made an inventory of all the farm machinery, at the same time finding out how it worked, and took a special look at the way in which the farm was supplied with water. They also worked on a design for a calf feeder which would not admit crows, a need they had identified.

Learning about farm safety and the country code were the first priority, and everyone joined in the footpath debate.

The exercise was a mix of English and drama and concerned the diversion of a footpath. It represented an event that had occurred a few years before, a three-year affair starring Graham Stratford and an application to have a footpath led round his farm buildings rather than between them close to his bulls.

Under the chairmanship of William, the class divided into conservationists, town planners, farmers and walkers, and presented their views as such, took a vote and allowed the change by a big majority with one abstention.

Though this group will move up next term they will continue their visits to Annetts Farm and their diary work until Jan 1998 to complete the year.

The next year five key stage two children will also use the farm in their studies. They will make four seasonal visits. "And the maths side will be developed in a big way," says Erica, "using records and statistics and learning how to work with the material that is there. It will make maths a bit more real. The farm is a business. We need to emphasise that.

Stretches the able

"We have found that this project stretches the more able children and gives a really good focus for things, and at the same time gives some wonderful first-hand experiences for children who have special needs or learning difficulties."

And working with the children in an out-of-school environment has given her a better understanding of some of the children and helped her to help them.

Anstey Lane Junior School pupils display some of their prize winning work and add finishing touches to their Farming for the Future project.