Extra milk

Harvey McGavin

Awards made by the charity Education Extra include one to a school farm where Harvey McGavin met Hazel the cow. Viewed from a distance and with a little imagination, Higham Lane comprehensive has the appearance of a Cunard liner, its long low buildings on a slow cruise through the Nuneaton suburbs.

This is no coincidence, because the architect of this 1930s school building was also a ship designer. It's fitting then, that behind the school, the watery theme is being continued and encouraged. A grant from the Education Extra charity, which supports out-of-school activities, is going towards the expansion of a duck pond, part of the small but enterprising school farm.

Sitting in his office under one of the school's twin "funnels", headteacher Dr Ramsey Tetlow, stresses the importance of extra curricular pursuits. The national curriculum, he says, is necessary but insufficient, a "narrow concept" of education. "There's so much more that schools can offer. The thing that first attracted me to this school was the calmness and air of purposeful activity." And that activity doesn't stop with the end of the school day.

Colourful hanging baskets testify to the industry of the school's gardening club, which picked up a prize for the best senior school in the district in the annual Blooming Britain competition.

There's a half termly school magazine, High Times, and a lively debating society which has seen off allcomers to win the Midlands regional title in two of the last three years. Bright displays in the corridors record the adventures of students walking and working their way towards a Duke of Edinburgh award, and school exchange trips to California, Rouen in France and Guadalajara in Spain.

But the pride of the school is its farm, created from a patch of wasteland sandwiched between the tennis courts and the neighbouring backgardens.

It was set up in 1974 by science teacher and former pupil John Terry, who has written a series of books (Pigs in the Playground, Cows in the Classroom and Ducks in Detention) about the experience, with another on the way.

"It's a hobby as well as a job," he says. The farm club's 40 members turn up after school and at weekends to look after and learn about the animals. There are black and white Brit-ish Alpine goats, ducks, and a small flock of Kerry Hill sheep. Just designated a rare breed, these are shown nationally and have won prizes. John Terry chuckles when he recalls farmers' annoyance at being beaten by "a bunch of schoolkids".

The main attraction is Hazel (full name Windsor Grand Good News), a doe-eyed Jersey cow presented to the school by the Queen during her visit last year to open new science laboratories. Hazel is the second Jersey to come from the Queen's herd at Windsor since l989 when the school first wrote a begging letter to Buckingham Palace.

The award from Education Extra is a much needed boost for the finances of the farm. A valued resource which welcomes pupils from other schools, and particularly special needs students, it is "surviving by the skin of its teeth" according to Dr Tetlow. In fact, with the award no money is changing hands but is being given in kind in terms of man-hours and machinery from local firms. The school is launching a newspaper recycling scheme to contribute to the farm's annual running costs of about Pounds 3,500 and relies on donations from local companies and agricultural feed suppliers to keep it going.

On the wall of Dr Tetlow's office a bright red poster explains the school's philosophy: "If the world can be made a better place by human effort and goodwill then school provides an opportunity to make in microcosm 'that better place'." Increasingly, and in the absence of proper funding, Higham Lane depends on these very virtues to make things happen. In September, Higham Lane is expanding its age range to take 11-year-olds for the first time. It will mean a building programme of four new science labs, two new classrooms, a sports hall and offices and an increase in the school roll from 960 to 1,200. Dr Tetlow is determined that despite the demands on space and resources, the new intake will take part in the wide range of activities already available.

"Although we are pushed for space, we have got to preserve the ethos of the school. We have to rely on the goodwill of staff - that's the secret. But teachers are getting tired with all the changes they are having to implement. We are suffering tremendous cutbacks and we have to ask ourselves how long we can keep these things going."

With a little Education Extra help, he is hoping that Higham Lane's ambitious out of hours provision can stay afloat.

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