Pupils at the Chelfham Bere Alston School, Yelverton are to benefit from an innovative therapy with the launch of new ‘animal strategy’ that will see the introduction of pets and ponies to the classroom and the playground.
The school – for up to 30 students between the ages of seven and 19 - will be implementing the approach based on widespread evidence that supports the use of animals within schools because of the impact they can have on behaviour and learning. Animals can also help vulnerable students feel more comfortable in the classroom.
The teaching programme at Chelfham Bere Alston School, has always included trips to the zoo, aquariums, lessons on animal care, and even dog-walking.
But this new strategy will ensure that pets are seen as regular 'classroom companions'. This strategy is one element of the school’s approach to wellbeing, which has been developed over the last year in partnership with a local university.
All the pupils who attend the school, which is run by the Priory Group, have a ‘Statement of Special Educational Needs’, or an education or care plan which specifies social, emotional and mental health difficulties, or autistic spectrum conditions, with complex learning difficulties.
In a recent inspection, the school was praised by the independent education standards watchdog for being 'good' across the board.
Headteacher Jon Ascot, said; “A key area for our students is developing their emotional readiness for learning, whilst ensuring that their experience of education at our school is positive and enjoyable. With these goals in mind, we have recognised that our students would benefit from the introduction of animals into the classroom and we are confident we will see a really encouraging effect on student behaviour. Early indications have been very encouraging.”
The new animal strategy will include ‘equine therapy’, provided by a local stable, Collytown Therapy Ponies. It is hoped that regular pony visits will help students feel calmer, less anxious and more confident.
It is also hoped that students will feel more motivated, particularly about subjects related to animals, science, and the environment – with the ponies providing real-life examples of everything they are learning about.
Mr Ascot added; “As I understand it, the ponies have a wonderful, innate way of drawing socially withdrawn or anxious individuals out of their shells. Many young people with complex needs find they can easily connect with an animal, and use that connection as a basis for conversation with other students and teachers.
“As a team, we are always looking for inclusive and innovative ways of nurturing our students and teaching them how to improve relationship skills, at the same time as focusing on their academic achievement.”
As part of the new project, the school has pledged to promote the highest level of practice in animal care. To support this, external organisations are also part of the strategy, with guidance taken from the RSPCA. Students will be taught correct procedures in handling and interacting with their animals as well as being encouraged to take a shared responsibility for their care.
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