‘It teaches children responsibility’
Varndean School, Brighton
Director of finance Hilary Goldsmith made the case that Varndean School should acquire five pygmy goats by sending her headteacher articles on animal therapy. “The animal therapy aspect is quite big at the moment, for example with the elderly … so it’s picking up those threads and thinking how we could apply that to the school,” she says.
Seven months after Maya, Bertie, Alan, Ethel and William arrived, Goldsmith believes that she has been proved right, with two major benefits.
“One is teaching students that they have something to nurture, to look after. So it’s responsibility – you can’t just walk away when you get bored,” she says.
In this vein, Goldsmith has recruited five students – from Year 8 upwards – as “goat leaders”, who work with the animals before school and supervise other children with them. “That’s something for the Year 7s to aspire to,” she says, “because they have to have done a year and proved their commitment.”
The second major benefit “is about the mindfulness aspect; the way that being around animals can change children’s behaviour, because an animal will run away if you come at it aggressively. So students, particularly the more boisterous kids, have had to learn to be calm around them; that’s the only way you can interact with animals”.
In addition, a goat race for Comic Relief provided a starring role, as stewards, for students who do not often get their chance in the spotlight, such as in the school play or sports competitions. “The quiet ones, the ones who are more in the background, the ones whose names you wouldn’t know,” Goldsmith says, “they were all very, very proud of themselves.”
Despite a lack of space to expand the animal provision much further, Goldsmith plans to acquire two giant rabbits, as well as to arrange alpaca visits to the school.