21 July 1995

Sheep vids for kids…

A competition entered at the 1994 Royal Show led to a video launch at the 1995 event and a major step towards educating school children about farming.

Ann Rogers reports

ETHNIC points of view were just one of many considerations that the Womens Farming Union, Countrywise Communication and the National Association of Teachers of Home Economics and Technology took into account in producing a teaching resource for schools – for there is no point in upsetting people when you wish them to take in what you have to tell them.

Beyond the Farm Gate – A Woolly Tale is the first of what is hoped will be a series of collaborations that will teach youngsters about farming, why and how it is done, and how farm produce is used. The skills and enthusiasms to do the job are there, all that is needed is the money.

The £10,000 worth of broadcast quality production put into the first video by Countrywise Communi-cation was won by the Devon branch of the WFU in a competition launched by the company at the 1994 Royal Show. The branch was keen to make a follow up to Through the Farm Gate, a frank and straightforward explanation of todays farming practices it made a few years ago to take into schools and help counter anti-farming propaganda. The video was later re-issued with support from the Meat and Livestock Commission.

The Devon members, led by Celia Hyland, who is joint chairman of the branch, had intended that their video should be for secondary school children. They were persuaded that their efforts would be better directed to the 5-11 age group by Jane Voogd, president of the National Association of Teachers of Home Economics and Technology (NATHE).

Jane, herself a farmers daughter from Hereford, heads the committee of NATHE members who have produced the teaching pack that will go with the video and enable it to fit within the national curriculum in science, mathematics, English, history, geography, religious education and design and technology. The pack will be completed during the summer holidays and available in the autumn, when pack and video will be on sale for the inclusive price of £20.

Both are divided into four sections, which are headed "Why and where?" "The Shepherds Year", "Wool", and "Meat and Milk". The first looks at the history and the breeds of sheep. The second follows the work involved in producing sheep for wool and for sale in the market – NATHE was keen not to delve into the issues of slaughter because of the ethnic cultures of many of the children that they teach. The sections featuring sheep products tie in with craftwork and other projects.

"We have tried to make it simple, basic and not too demeaning for the children," says Lorna Howells, NATHEs primary executive, who brought a group of seven to 11-year-old children from Cottesbrook Junior School, Acocks Green, Birmingham, to the Royal Show each day, where they carried out some of the project work included in the pack and took the opportunity to study sheep and shearing at first hand.

Potatoes, fruit, wheat and livestock are other subjects that WFU would like to present to schools in this way. Jane is equally enthusiastic. "It is great for urban schools to realise what is going on in the countryside and perhaps redress some of the messages that have been given to them," she says. "It is something I have hoped for years to be able to do."

She would love to tackle a "Spud spectacular" next, but it all comes down to finance. NATHE, she explains, drained its resources to fund the teaching pack: "I could not do that for a second year because it means putting all our eggs into one basket," she says.

Celia Hyland is seeking sponsorship for future videos. "We want to encourage opportunities for activity in primary schools," she says, "but we need funding for the future projects. Better education about the food and farming industry is more necessary than ever nowadays."

School children and cameramen from Countrywise Communication visit the Big Sheep in Devon.

Pupils from Cottesbrook Junior School with their teacher Lorna Howells (standing) on the WFU stand with Celia Hyland (centre) of the Devon branch and Jane Voogd of NATHE.