Schools with pets boost child mental health

From rabbits and guinea pigs to goats and chickens, schools with pets are providing a multitude of benefits for pupils across the UK – and we don’t just mean free eggs.

Science topics on living things are made more engaging, PSHCE is enhanced through the use of values such as responsibility and resilience, while mental health benefits are seen at schools with pets which are used to nurture children with emotional and social needs.

Here, QA Education editor Victoria Galligan takes a look at some case studies of schools with pets – and hopefully inspires you to enhance your surroundings with a bit of animal magic!


Get the children buzzing! schools with pets - beekeeping team

Jonathan Paynter, Maths and Sports Teacher at Clifton College, told us about one recent innovative project at Clifton College: Learning About Beekeeping.

He said that he wanted to bring something new to the college which the children could get involved in both for educational purposes and for fun.

Jonathan added: “I believe using innovative projects that are a little out of the ordinary encourages pupils to get involved and enables them to experience something a little different to their day to day school life. 

“In May, I installed a beehive into one of the gardens of our school’s campus. I thought this would be a great opportunity to help the children develop a number of life skills, learn about the significance of bees and the crucial part they play within our ecological system.”

Jonathan launched an after-school club on Tuesday evenings so pupils could get involved in beekeeping. He added: “It was fantastic to see so many of the pupils take an interest in getting hands-on with the project. Their first step was to locate and mark the queen bee with a white spot, which was extremely difficult considering the hive arrived with 60,000 bees!”

Following this, pupil tasks included checking on the development of new bees and the levels of honey in the hive. Jonathan added: “Tasks like these have helped to develop teamwork, communication and have brought the children closer together. The project has also taught them about beehive husbandry, while wearing full beekeeper suits. They loved looking the part! 

“Over the past few months, this project has given the children a strong understanding about pollination and how both bees and humans are dependent on each other for a lot of things. We compared the hive to the foods that we eat every day and the children were quick to realise that we take much of our food for granted. 

“In late July, we had a patch of bad weather and the bees ran out of honey stores in the hive - they really don’t like the rain! The children worked together to feed the bees large amounts of sugar water (syrup) which worked as a substitute for nectar; their usual energy source to keep them going. 

“Overall, I think this project has been a great success. It is lovely to see the children get involved and truly enjoy doing so. I love the enthusiasm they’ve put into this project and I hope that other schools adapt to using innovative activities such as this to keep learning fun and enjoyable.”


Down on the farm schools with pets - chickens

Last year the Duchess of Cambridge paid a visit to Reach Academy Feltham in Hounslow, west London, an innovative new nursery and school for ages two to 18. The school foundation’s ethos is underpinned on having a social impact in communities, and supporting vulnerable families in tackling the complex difficulties they face. The foundation also set out to challenge the traditional model of a school through its range of activities.

Welcoming its first pupils in 2012, the school now has a forest school and community farm offering on its urban site, with raised bed allotments and animals including rabbits, chickens and pigs.  The acre of land is on loan from the Ministry of Defence.

The farm is supported by local organisations the Heathrow Community Fund and Riana Development Network as well as volunteers from the school and their families.

Meanwhile ACS International School, the largest international school in the UK with over 2,500 pupils, have also welcomed hens onto its Egham Campus –Mildred and her beautiful hen friends are all well cared for by lower school students and the Student Council.

Not only does having a supply of eggs help teach the children where food comes from and how the farming industry works, but posting a photo of her amazing cooked breakfast on Twitter Lorie Morris, McKinley Agriculture Academy Program Specialist, said: There is something extra delicious about making scrambled eggs with eggs laid from the hens at your school!”

And the economic benefits to keeping chickens are another plus – schools can sell eggs in the office and at school fairs to offset the cost of buying and caring for chickens. Boxes can be brought in from home – encouraging pupils to recycle more – and pupils can even create labels and signs to market their wares.


A school’s best friend schools with pets - Daisy the dog

Keeping animals at school needn’t mean retraining in agricultural studies – many schools are simply opting to take on a dog permanently as a member of school, with staff taking pets home at the end of the day.

At ACS school, counsellors are a completely normal part of school life. Students are timetabled to see them every day and really help pupils who have come to settle in the UK with the transition and any problems they may be facing.
Dr Ryan Hinchey is a careers and university counsellor and is helped in his work with school dog Daisy, a King Charles Spaniel who was officially trained through the national charity Pets as Therapy. Students can sign up on a Monday to have time with her on Fridays. She’s usually booked solid!

Ryan said: “At ACS Cobham, we have five counsellors; three are university-specific and two are personal counsellors. We get to know the students as real people, to understand their back story, what makes them happy, sad or anxious. They can be themselves with me – and Daisy – and open up if they need to. The students seem to find a place of calm and reassurance when they are interacting with or caring for animals; it’s so rewarding for us to see.”