A school in Eastbourne, England, is taking an alternative approach to teaching children, and it involves things that many people in the United States’ school system would consider dangerous and unnecessary. However, the curriculum at West Rise Junior seems to be helping the students learn more than ever.
“Children taught to shoot clay pigeons as well as dissecting real dead pigeons. Nine-year-olds skinning rabbits and water buffalo roaming the school’s marshland. Not Hogwarts, run by Bear Grylls, but a day in the life of one state primary school in the middle of a council estate in Eastbourne,” Channel 4 reported.
The classroom does seem like something out of a storybook. The headteacher, Mike Fairclough, has shoulder length blond hair, wears a black fur coat made out of real bear fur, vintage 1970s bellbottom jeans, and rides around on a quad-bike. The marshland where the school is situated features water buffalo, beehives, turkeys, a goat, and a herd of sheep.
The children, two-thirds of them very poor, busy themselves learning how to hunt and fish, field dress animals, start and maintain fires, cook the meat they get, shoot rifles, and animal husbandry. They even learn how to fashion bows and arrows out of wood they find lying around. This might horrify some parents and activist groups, but Fairclough holds that “the most dangerous thing you can do to a child is to not expose them to an element of risk and danger.”
While it all sounds like fun and games, Fairclough is no clown of a teacher. He uses these elements in his school to teach the children a strong sense of discipline along with the danger.
“Don’t be fooled by his hippie image,” Channel 4’s Fatima Manji said. “He demands good behavior.”
“And at the same time, he believes these adventures outdoors change children for the better,” she added.
“We do lessons about gun dogs, we do target shooting with rifles, we do ferreting — not actually killing rabbits — but they are all done in a really responsible way,” Fairclough said in an interview with the Telegraph.
His style seems to be working wonders. Fairclough is credited with having turned the school around since he joined 12 years ago. His school gets the best exam results in the area and scores consistently above the national average.
“If children are excited about coming to school, if they’re being inspired and enthused by being outside, then that has an impact back in the classroom,” Fairclough said.
And they are excited. The children are enthusiastic about their experiences, with one young boy saying that his lesson on firing shotguns changed his opinion on shooting.
“It’s probably the best school I’ve ever been to,” he said.