You may have come across the Varndean Goats in the media in recent months, they’ve certainly had a fair bit of attention. They’ve been on TV, the news, radio, they’ve wooed and flirted with the Edu Press (I’m looking directly at you Ann Mroz) and they are, it’s been said, the media darlings of the Educational Twitterati. Frankly if you work in Education and you haven’t got a Varndean Goat Badge, there’s still a significant hole in your CV.
I’ve been asked many times why I introduced goats to an urban secondary school in the middle of Brighton, and I’ve talked at length about the pastoral benefits of teaching city children to care about animals, to develop their skills in responsibility, leadership and nurture. You only have to watch the transition of a squawk of year 9 corridor-confident girl-teens into a huddle of hushed and awed children once they enter the goat quad, to believe in the power of animals. What I don’t talk much about is the more discreet 121 work which we also do, but that is all the more powerful to watch.
Animals as Learning Resources
There is a growing EBacc backlash in schools, as well as a focus on outdoor learning and the need for the practical life skills in our curriculum, but this sits alongside a funding crisis, a battle to fill school places and a need for schools to become ever more marketing and social-media savvy. And this is where the School Business Leader in me saw an opportunity to create a project which might just provide the lot. Of course I had no idea quite how crazy our goat story would become, but opening a Twitter account for the Goats was right up there on the goat proposal I made to my Headteacher all those months ago. You should never, ever underestimate the power of social media in marketing your school. We could not have bought the positive media stories our goats have given us, I couldn’t put a value on it if I tried, but the media message is now firmly out there – ours is a school that cares and nurtures in a fun and creative way. To me that’s a very successful return on our hard work. And what an amazing experience for our students to see and be part of a national media in the making.
A Goat Is For Life
Practically, keeping animals is of course a serious commitment and if you’re thinking of getting school pets, I cannot overstate the need to be absolutely sure you have the staff, skills, resources and support to look after your animals properly, for the entirety of their lives. As a rule of thumb – if you’re not prepared to go out every rainy freezing winter morning to muck out and feed your animals, then just don’t get them. Think about holidays closures, health & safety requirements and don’t underestimate the poop factor. Do your research. For practical information about keeping school animals, contact the School Farms Network, or look at some amazing school farms like Bebington High or Hunters Hill Outdoors, who inspire me daily.
Our goats have managed to fund themselves in their first year, through work that the students have done to fundraise – we have sold badges, jewellery, snow cones, rattled buckets, taken online donations and we’ve recently started goat walks. Covering our costs in year 1 was a big achievement as there is always an initial outlay for the cost of kit, and the animals themselves, but we’ve had parents building shelters, donations of play equipment, support from local businesses and a very large amount donated fruit and veg from staff & students (sometimes, we suspect, without full parental consent!). We also managed to raise several thousand £s for Comic Relief at the same time.
Find Your Magic Beans
As School Business Leaders, we know we have to find and develop projects that will work and fit in with our school’s needs and ethos. What works in one school won’t work in another, it’s about finding the best fit for your own context. Our goats have certainly worked for us, but that doesn’t mean you have to go out and become a pig farmer. You’ll know what potential your school holds. Find your magic beans, plant them and see what grows.