At Ysgol San Sior, the school’s farm provides a range of learning experiences that develop independent learners and improve pupils' literacy and numeracy skills.
Age range: 3-11
Date of inspection: May 2017
Information about the school
Ysgol San Siôr provides a stimulating and challenging curriculum that empowers pupils to think for themselves and to exceed their expectations. An understanding of the limitations of the classroom as a learning environment and the opportunities that the wider environment holds is a core principle that directs the school’s provision well.
The surroundings provide a rich and diverse learning environment that complements the work of the indoor classroom. The school goldfish has been replaced by chameleons, chickens, tortoises, monitor lizards, geckos of every variety and exotic frogs, the size of saucers. Staff aim to equip all pupils with the skills and knowledge to allow them to become responsible and active citizens as they proceed onto the next stage of their education.
The school aims to provide pupils with as many first-hand experiences as possible and believes that the use of the natural world as a resource is a key factor in maintaining core academic standards where pupils take pride in the world around them and develop a love of learning. The school won the Welsh Government Best Primary Enterprise Award for the innovative ‘Wyau San Siôr’ enterprise. Alongside the development of a creative curriculum that fosters more independent learning, Ysgol San Siôr also recognises the need to provide more direct teaching approaches to support learners identified as in need of additional support. For example, the school uses evidence-based reading and numeracy interventions.
Context and background to sector-leading practice
Many schools now keep chickens and animals in an effort to enrich the curriculum. Ysgol San Siôr started in much the same way as other schools, keeping six chickens and collecting their eggs. Staff then saw an educational and commercial opportunity that had not previously been exploited. They also recognised the need to expand the school’s learning environment in a way that allowed pupils to expand and improve their literacy and numeracy skills through more relevant, contextualised tasks.
Description of nature of strategy or activity
The school now produces over 20,000 eggs annually and states that it is the only school in Wales that can sell eggs to retail establishments. The school is registered as a packing station and stamps each egg with a unique code allowing sales to retail outlets, following approval from Regulatory Services and Animal Health & Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
The 'farm school' element challenges the children's entrepreneurial skills effectively through the links established with a local Welsh food centre as an outlet to selling the school eggs as well as other outlets. The school has also developed further business links with a joinery firm who supplies bedding in exchange for eggs. This highly innovative project means that the school is not only recognised as a school that can sell eggs via retail outlets, but it has also won the accolade of Best Primary Enterprise by the Welsh Government Enterprise Troopers Scheme. This has led to national recognition with appearances on BBC Countryfile, S4C, ITV Wales and other national programmes.
Themed weeks allow full participation by all year groups, not only in collecting eggs and maintaining the coops but also in raising standards. Staff plan activities across each area of the curriculum that are drawn from inspiration activities such as from Roald Dahl’s book ‘Danny Champion of the World’. They include creative writing on how to catch a chicken; inputting data into ‘income / expenditure spreadsheets’ and calculating profits; determining the loudness of the ‘nuisance cockerel’ using data loggers to measure decibels and how likely it is to affect the local community; whilst also writing across a range of genres. Embedding such activities into themed weeks has added great value to the work associated with keeping hens, and has been instrumental in the maintenance of high standards in pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills.
The school has invested profits into similar projects, such as establishing an apiary on the school site. In turn, it has used revenue from its honey harvest and egg sales to pay for reading dens and outdoor play equipment as well as extending the apiary. The school council has a voice in deciding how the school should use its profits. It has to be remembered that, in order to establish the farm, the school had to look at other ways of generating income. It did this by dispensing with two 1,100 litre bins in preference for recycling bins. This shift towards improving recycling generated sufficient funds to allow the school to develop the farm element in the first place.
The eggs from the flock of 50 ornamental golden pheasants are also marketed and sold on eBay and the school hatch a percentage of the eggs each year to sustain the breeding flock.
An orchard set up on the school field and vegetable plots allow the school to harvest fruit and vegetables to make chutney. A detailed Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) has allowed the school to manufacture and sell the school chutney; while the school Nurture Group uses the fruit and vegetables grown in the school’s polytunnel and vegetable plots in exciting ways that raises their self-esteem and confidence.
Each week the school timetables different classes to oversee the duties associated with running the ‘farm’ element of the school. They link activities to the curriculum to raise pupils’ standards in a variety of ways.
The entrepreneurial aspects of San Siôr are a fairly new development, proven to be popular, whereby children offer workshops to other schools, based on adaptation, ecology and conservation. The quality of these workshops has been compared with similar commercial workshops to ensure value for money. The school requires that pupils are to research and present their findings in vibrant ways to catch the interest of the audience, from holding a chameleon as it shoots out its elastic tongue to describing a common creature with more teeth than great white shark, but only one foot! Pupils’ internet research skills have improved in line with their thirst for information.
Reinvesting funds into like-minded projects has been a central philosophy to the projects undertaken at the school. While the school is in its infancy with bee keeping, staff have increased the hives from one hive two years ago to seven hives today. One of the hives has a camera that relays images of the bee hive activity to a screen in the school foyer. The educational value of keeping bees is tremendous and will be developed further, while the commercial value has already been fully realised, with all honey sold within days of each honey harvest, at Wales’ oldest Honey Fair in Conwy. The school will further investigate how bees can be used to raise standards across the curriculum in the future.
What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?
This work has enabled teachers to plan a relevant and engaging curriculum that meets the needs of all learners. Teachers have ensured that the school’s rich learning environment is used effectively to provide challenging contexts to develop pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills. Pupils now confidently apply a range of numeracy and literacy skills to a very good standard across the curriculum. Pupils’ oracy skills and, in particular, their confidence in presenting to a wide range of audiences have improved significantly over recent years. . Pupils also have a very good understanding of entrepreneurial work, including key aspects such as profit and loss and simple accounting.
How have you shared your good practice?
The school has shared this work through appearing on national and local television, BBC Countryfile, ITV News, CBeebies, S4C Ffermio, BBC Radio and local radio. Following from this publicity, schools from across the United Kingdom have contacted it for advice and to make visits to see the work in action. John Moores University now arranges annual visits with 40 students to see first-hand how the learning environment can impact on standards and have included the school as a case study for their next publication, “Understanding Sustainability in the Early Years across the UK”.