Helping students make the transition from school to outside world
Resource: Case study
St Joseph’s Specialist School and College in Surrey achieved Gold in little over a year. Specialising in education for children, young men and women with complex learning and behavioural difficulties, the school has found that linking up with Beechwood Farm has helped its students make the transition from school to the outside world.
Beechwood farm is a smallholding owned by a member of staff at St Joseph’s School. Only a few miles away, the farm has a variety of livestock, including sheep, pigs, chickens and horses that are ridden by the family. It has a lovely hay meadow and an area of woodland, and supplies the school kitchen with some farm produce. It also sells produce directly to the local community.
What they've achieved
Making a trip to an unfamiliar place that has unusual smells and sounds can be quite daunting for many of the students at St Joseph’s, so staff at the school put a lot of effort into preparing for a farm visit to ensure that students enjoy and get the most out of the experience.
Before heading off to Beechwood, students are shown images of the smallholding and videos from other farms to give them an idea of what a farm look likes and what they might discover there. The class discusses what things may smell or sound like, and use Makaton charts, a language programme that uses a combination of speech, signs and graphic symbols.
Discussing activities the students might like to do on a farm has been key to the success of the visits. The class talk about egg collecting, feeding or haying up animals, having a picnic in the woods etc, giving students the opportunity to express any concerns or fears they may have. The students also take some ownership of the visit and feel like they have an element of control.
Typically one class of 4-6 students will go to the farm by mini bus. Once there, they’ll be involved in the running of the farm, taking part in a variety of practical and hands on activities from feeding lambs to grooming horses or simply exploring the meadow. At Beechwood, most of the animals are used to being around people, which is great for students who love to have some contact with the animals.
Circumstances always change on farm visits – it might be the weather or livestock might be standing so far away in a field that no one can see them. School and farm staff always go with the flow on farm visits and don’t stick to a rigid timetable. If, for example, a student begins to feel uncomfortable or fearful activities are changed without any fuss.
St Joseph’s now includes farm visits into the programme of activities for their enterprise groups and organises a visit to the farm every Friday afternoon. A rota will be formulated so that every student in the school will visit the farm once a term. Staff are also working on making signage for the farm using Makaton symbols to display health and safety and farm information.
Linking with Beechwood Farm has really engaged students and gives them some real insight in to running a smallholding.
What they say
Emma Ruby, a teacher at St Joseph’s, says:
"Farm visits have been really useful for the older learners who may be thinking of entering employment or undertaking further education. Learners are able to try out this type of work and get comfortable with a different environment. This is a great way to help learners with the transition from school to the outside world."
Helen Van Mol, Beechwood Farm owner and lead teaching assistant at St Joseph’s, says:
"The benefits for learners have extended beyond being a useful way to manage transition and providing learners with a new experience outside of the school. It has given learners a lot more confidence and independence and has enabled them to manage choice and responsibility, both key skills for young people looking into employment or further education. Farm visits have also provided a tangible link to the food on the learners’ plates."