Rectory Farm is a 150 acre mixed farm in the Ouse Valley, Buckinghamshire. The main focus is on livestock rearing with 550 ewes and 35 suckler cows, alongside 50 acres of arable production including wheat, winter oats and barley. The farm also encompasses a mile and a half of the Great Ouse on its northern border, a section of disused railway line and a designated water meadow wildlife site.
The farm owners, George and Ann Eaton, have been hosting educational visits for some 12 years. Initially, this mainly involved local interest groups, such as brownies, young farmers and conservation volunteers, coming to the farm for an evening during the summer. Over the last three years, however, Rectory Farm has developed much stronger links with local primary schools and now hosts 50 visits per year. To support this work the farm has developed a new pond dipping platform, three new woodland areas (each of which has been adopted by a local primary school) and a large bird watching hide.
As a working farm, Rectory Farm can make use of its resources and facilities in many different ways that link to the curriculum. Indeed, pre-visits by teachers and voluntary group leaders are an important means of tailoring the provision for an individual group’s needs. Examples of activities carried out during school visits include:
• river studies – investigating changes in characteristics of the river such as speed, shape and load (geography)
• life cycles – learning about different freshwater plants and animals through pond dipping (science)
• farming history – comparing old handle-turned sheep shearing machines with the more modern technology used today (history)
• farm machinery – learning about how various pieces of farm equipment are operated and maintained (design and technology)
• lambing – observing the lambing pens and learning about how lambs are born and looked after (various subjects)
• trailer ride – looking at various features of the farm such as the suckler cows, river meanders and ewes and lambs (various subjects).
Besides curriculum links, the key aims behind the farm’s educational work is ‘to try to get children to look at where their food comes from’. Coupled with this is a desire to make visitors aware that farming is a business.
In George Eaton’s view, the main benefit is that pupils and teachers get to use the farm as a living learning environment. He sees ‘so many things on the farm that can be tied into the school curriculum and made really interesting for children’. Farm visits are also stimulating for teachers who may well never have seen a lamb being born or know what is involved in basic farming practices. In addition, there are opportunities to experience ‘how wonderful quite simple things in nature can be such as the amazing life cycle of the mayfly or the birth of lambs’.
T: 01280 848587