Teachers’ pets: how animals boost students’ learning

From reading to rabbits, to learning entrepreneurship by negotiating veterinary care, schools that have animals find they benefit pupil engagement in a variety of ways

At St Edward’s Church of England school in Rochdale, donkeys Maco and Joop, pigs Peppa and Wibbly, five pygmy goats, a flock of hens, an African pygmy hedgehog, two chinchillas, two tortoises, and numerous rabbits and guinea pigs all play an integral part in the education of 326 pupils. Headteacher Lynne Coxell says: “The children are in charge of the animals. They do everything, from negotiating free vet care to mucking out and grooming. The children are so gentle with them. The animals are the gentlest things.”

Autistic pupils who shun peer contact learn to connect through such tasks as rubbing suncream on to Peppa the pig’s pink body; reluctant readers gain confidence from reading to fluffy bunnies perched on their knees; challenging behaviour melts away with the demands of twice-daily feeding. All the animals have come from sanctuaries. As an Ambassadors Ecoschool, St Edward’s emphasises the need to cost care and provisions as well as to map sustainability. As Mrs Coxell says: “The animals foster empathy and motivate the children to come to school. They help them develop social skills, including entrepreneurship.”

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