GCSE 'first' is hot to trot

Farmyards and riding stables are replacing the classroom at a secondary school in rural Wales.

Pupils at Monmouth Comprehensive are improving their knowledge of the countryside and even their fitness with the help of livestock such as horses and sheep.

The school has become the first in Wales to offer a GCSE focusing on agriculture, which includes regular outdoor learning sessions at a local farm where pupils carry out feeding, milking and fertilising.

It has also become home to an equine academy - thought to be the first of its kind at a state school in the UK - offering horseriding and horse management lessons.

Monmouth Comprehensive has linked up with the nearby Usk campus of Coleg Gwent to run the OCR exams board's GCSE in environmental and land-based science.

The course looks at the science behind food production, farming and horticulture, and includes learning sessions in the classroom, laboratory and farmyard. Fortnightly farm trips give pupils the chance to work with animals.

Monmouth's deputy head, Tim Bird, who teaches the course, said: "It engages students in the learning process because it is often relevant to either their lives or the surroundings in which they live."

The GCSE is also the first to be completely e-assessed, with all exams taken on a computer. The school has gained a 100 per cent pass rate in units taken so far.

And budding young horseriders are getting the chance to take the reins at the school's new riding academy, run by the nearby Redbrook Equestrian School.

The scheme is part of the Assembly government's 5x60 programme to encourage secondary pupils to do 60 minutes of exercise five times a week.

Pupils can take part in bi-weekly riding lessons while learning about horse management in class with guest speakers and activities.

World class event rider Matt Ryan is helping to develop the academy through lectures, coaching and visits to his yard.

Carole Anderson, Monmouth's head, said: "There's an old proverb that says 'It takes a village to raise a child.' We want to broaden their environment and look outside what they would traditionally expect of school, to personalise and localise their curriculum."

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