Enter Stage left from The Donkey Sanctuary lorry to a rapt audience of over 1300 – Paddington, Rupert and Teddy, three Mediterranean miniature donkeys arrive at Ockendon Academy.
All three are very people friendly and love attention so this amazing Academy in a deprived area of Essex will be the perfect place for them once they have settled in. Students at the Academy are offered creative as well as academic learning opportunities and to this end the school’s menagerie of ducks, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, various reptiles and snakes, one goat and three donkeys can work their magic on the children, some of whom have difficult home lives. Animal interactions have so many benefits and animals can often reach children who may find it hard to relate to other people.
Ian King, now retired from his own headmastership at a primary school, comes in two days a week to oversee the pupil’s environment at the Academy and runs a successful after school Eco Club. Husband of the headmistress, Ian has long been a believer in the benefits of animals and nature as a teaching aid to reach those who aren’t gifted academically and as a means to allow children to thrive.
Animals offer unconditional love, being both therapeutic and engaging and can draw children out of themselves. For those with problems, interacting with the animals makes them forget their worries for a while and can show them a new path through life. To stimulate children’s curiosity and interest, by any means as a tool to learning, is what teaching is all about. As Ian says ‘It’s what you give them on their journey that counts.’
This innovative teacher commands such respect and affection from all and his wife’s vision has helped Ockendon Academy achieve huge success with thousands of pupils.
From a failing school in 2000 to an Academy graded ‘excellent’ by Ofsted in 2007, all pupils are treated as individuals with different needs. A Studio School exists in the grounds, considered the best in the country, and there are over 25 personal coaches to support and advise. Studio Schools are a new concept in education, and seek to address the growing gap between the skills and knowledge that young people require to succeed, and those that the current education system provides. Studio Schools pioneer a bold new approach to learning which includes teaching through enterprise projects and real work. This approach ensures students' learning is rooted in the real world and helps them to develop the skills they need to flourish in life.
Across the road from the Academy is a school which deals exclusively with special needs children, some high dependency, and Paddington, Rupert and Teddy will be working their magic there as well in due course.
Our three stars will help break down barriers, spread the donkey word about their origins and needs and generally give a lot of pleasure, as well as showing countless children the joy of animals.
How magical is that?