School Farms Network: A Case Study

Most Inspirational Educational Farm or Garden:

Llanishen Fach Primary School 2023-2024 winners.


Emma Davies, Outdoor Learning teacher describes their journey.


The chickens at Llanishen Fach Primary School are having a revolutionary effect on family engagement, pupil wellbeing and academic achievement to the benefit of the whole school community.


Context and overview

The Outdoor Learning programme has been running at Llanishen Fach for nine years, borne out of teachers concern that the 'National Curriculum’, taught to 3-11 year olds, was not providing children with outdoor experiences and failed to develop a love and appreciation of nature and conservation, an understanding of environmental issues and to see learning outdoors as a critical tool in managing wellbeing. Consequently, staff developed what they describe as their ‘hidden curriculum’ which delivered this ‘gap’ in children’s experiences. The process began by taking the school grounds and reimagining each area, rethinking how they could be used to teach these ‘missing parts’ of the curriculum. The school’s staffing was restructured to create an Outdoor Learning Team, three staff who could totally focus on developing this new approach. In the beginning staff led a group of pupils every afternoon in a range of activities including woodwork, bushcraft, nature studies and seasonal cookery. The school had a chicken coop that had been left by their old caretaker and for years they had struggled to maintain the coop, with the responsibility falling to one member of staff, including weekends and holidays. Reimagining the role of the chickens in the school resulted in the Outdoor Learning Team using them as a focal part of their curriculum, children began to spend time with them learning about proper husbandry, anatomy and behaviour; also, to use their eggs with school-grown vegetables for cooking.

Over the years it had always been difficult to organise help with the chickens out of hours due to restrictions on access to the school.  The site is secured by metal railings and padlocked gates at weekends which would have meant that the person on duty would have needed a key and if more than person, either multiple keys or an exchange of phone numbers to agree hand over.


How it all changed

The advent of Covid and all the changes it brought to drop off and pick up towards the end of 2020 already meant that parents and families were spending more time on site.    The interaction of teaching staff with children and families increased at these times and the emphasis of outdoor learning when school resumed focussed particularly on wellbeing.  A keen group of Year 5 children were asked if they would like to help with the chickens and within days we received letters from five families expressing an interest.  A WhatsApp group was created to produce a rota and instructions and a keysafe was installed on the gate.  Our new helpers were so keen that the rota began on the first day of the Christmas holidays in 2020.   Click to see our Chicken volunteer video

The volunteer group rapidly increased to 50 families representing about 20% of the school population including grandparents, friends and past pupils with photos, videos, advice, craft ideas, cartoons being shared on a weekly basis. 

Parent Emily Higgins says:


“As a family of volunteers who look after the school chickens, we find the experience to be very rewarding for both the children and adults.  When we first started, one of my daughters was very nervous around the chickens.  Over time she has overcome this fear and now regularly cuddles the chickens during our visits.  It’s also a great learning opportunity to help care for the chickens’ needs but also to see the reward of fresh eggs!  My daughters enjoy learning about the chickens and it’s great to spend time outdoors together.”


The hope is that the chickens can remain a fixture in these children’s lives long after they leave school and can provide some respite from the pressures of secondary education.


Emotional wellbeing and behaviour

The next phase of the initiative was to create a bespoke curriculum for pupils who require learning to be tailored in an alternative way to meet their individual needs. A role was created and a pupil from Year 6 was appointed to be to be an assistant to the ‘Outdoor Learning Team’. This involves helping with maintenance in the chicken coop and care of the chickens and encouraging other pupils to engage with the chickens. For one of our pupils, JP, this approach has been invaluable.  It has provided him with the opportunity to take on a key role in Outdoor Learning daily across the school.


“With a keen interest in nature and animals, particularly the school chickens, providing these experiences daily and feeding this interest has been fantastic.   With his kind and caring nature, supporting others has had such a positive effect on not only his own confidence but on raising the confidence and self-esteem of those in the group.  Caring for the chickens has developed a wide range of important life skills and also provided an oasis of calm for JP and an opportunity to engage in learning in a broader learning environment.”

School Additional Learning Needs coordinator.


Building on the success of this programme, sensing the calming nature the chickens had on children who were deregulated and unable to access the usual day to day curriculum, we recognised that our chickens are also a fantastic resource for pupils who struggle with behavioural issues and learning disabilities.  They are offered as an escape from the classroom setting when pupils need to take time out or an emotional situation needs to be de-escalated. They are now also used to help pupils with additional learning needs make the transition to a new school as Jen Godwin, Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) tutor confirms:


“I work 1:1 with a year 1 pupil who was diagnosed with Autism.  One of the principles of ABA is to use motivation based on the person’s likes and interests to support the person to access learning & development of individual targets.  This young person is highly motivated by animals and has a love for outdoors and has really benefited from visiting the chickens in school.  He uses verbal mands (asking for something wanted/needed) to visit the chickens daily and we have worked this into his program as reinforcement. He has built up confidence over the weeks from watching the chickens from afar to now being able to happily stroke, hold them and carry out basic jobs; feeding and checking for eggs.  He has also built upon his functional language while down with the chickens with an increase in verbal mands ‘Can I check for eggs’, ‘Can I pick up the chicken’.”


Hens on Tour

An initiative nicknamed ‘Hens on Tour’ started two years ago has meant that children can visit them whenever they access their classroom’s outdoor space.  The older children enjoy the responsibility of choosing the chickens and walking them up to their mobile coop and then returning them at the end of the day.  The visiting hens provide inspiration for children’s writing and add value to their classroom learning contexts. 

Older pupils also help younger pupils to handle the chickens in ‘stay and play’ sessions that introduce children to school. These have proved hugely popular with everyone involved, including the chickens! 

Nursery teacher, Debbie Rose, describes one pupil’s experience:


“RW is a bright and charismatic little boy. He has suffered many disruptions and difficulties in his young life.  His parents are separated and he lives with his mother and older sister.  For a lengthy period this year they became homeless and Riley spent time at his father’s.

RW struggles with boundaries and took some time to settle into nursery. He has poor concentration and finds it hard to focus on a given activity. He craves attention, which he thrives on, but when left to his own devices he can become disruptive and treat his peers inappropriately.  It has been suggested that RW suffers with ADHD, but due to all the inconsistencies in his early life a diagnosis has been delayed at this time.

RW is an inquisitive little boy and once you have his attention he can become very animated.  Our recent visit from the school chickens absolutely captivated him. He loves animals and it brought out the side of RW that has a very caring nature. He handled them confidently and appropriately with great care and he couldn’t wait to return to the nursery garden the next day to visit them again.  This interaction was invaluable for RW and had a positive impact on him.”



Last summer, as a part of a drive to embed the school’s rich outdoor resources into the curriculum, the chickens were used as a topic to drive the whole curriculum for the period of a term. Staff training focused on reimagining the skills that had to be taught to a particular year group and to deliver those skills through the theme of the schools’ chickens. From maths skills of doubling, fractions, times tables, weight, etc to recipes using quantities of flour in relation to numbers of eggs.  Teachers discovered that a whole host of learning could focus around the chicken and the curriculum could be taught in a far more authentic way.


Further developments…

Pupils from nearby Pentyrch Primary School have also loved visiting our chickens as part of their outdoor learning sessions and have enjoyed cooking their eggs with some of their own allotment produce. There is a huge amount of support amongst our volunteer families to rehome some ex-battery hens so we have recently put our name on the waiting list for the next rehoming event through the British Hen Welfare Trust. We are also hoping to share our volunteer model with Pentyrch Primary School so that they can acquire chickens to enhance their outdoor learning curriculum.


Estyn Inspection April 2023


“The school has extensive outdoor areas that staff use imaginatively to support pupil well-being and to develop pupils’ understanding of their environment and the importance of healthy lifestyles. For example, the school keeps bees and chickens and uses their honey and eggs in cookery activities.”


The chickens have led the way! 

Headteacher Sarah Coombes sums up:


“The school’s ‘hidden curriculum’ planned all those years ago, has become an integral and essential part of the ’New Curriculum for Wales’ delivery. The impact of staff determination for children at Llanishen Fach to experience the love of the outdoors and an appreciation of nature, is now a reality. The chickens have truly led the way forming a whole culture of wellbeing and care for the outdoors, not hidden away, but a focal part of the school’s main curriculum taught every day at Llanishen Fach."