The RM Group
Published 08 October 2007

Sustaining Success - The Fairfield Way

Fairfield High School nestles in the Golden Valley of Herefordshire on the outskirts of the village of Peterchurch. The catchment area covers all 95 square miles of the Golden Valley and, with parents from further afield also seeking admission for their children, this Specialist Art status school is extremely popular and oversubscribed.

In May 2006, Ofsted declared Fairfield High School delivered an "outstanding quality of education" and of being "innovative in many areas to ensure that all pupils benefit."

Innovative is not a word unfamiliar to Christopher Barker. Rich in history and dating back to 1881, the school has seen many changes over the years. None so dramatic however, as those made by Christopher in the 27 years he has been working at the school.

Sustainable happiness = sustainable learning

Walk through the reception area and into Christopher's office and it becomes clear that there is something rather special about this school. Art and craft work is displayed on every wall. Intriguingly, a huge box of super soft alpaca wool is sitting by the door. Christopher's top priority is the 370 students, their sustainable happiness and as a result, sustainable learning.

Animal Magic

According to Christopher, "Staff can get limited by ideas that apply to education. It is important that schools express themselves freely." Good to his word, Christopher has made every inch of his school the classroom. Animals of all shapes and sizes live in the school grounds including goats, sheep, dogs, chickens, lizards, a school tortoise and even a few alpaca. Students keenly look after them during school hours.

The animal shelters have all been constructed with eco-friendly materials by students interested in following carpentry or construction as a career. He explains: "We concentrate on vocational education so pupils with all aspirations can focus on what they want to do with their future."

Creative freedom

Artwork made by the students adorns trees and buildings including wood and clay work, masks and wind turbine models made from recycled materials. High on a hill, in a tranquil shady spot within the school grounds Christopher and his team have built a 'thinking area,' a place where students can go and sit quietly alone or with friends. This area includes an 86ft deep well, benches, artwork and a memorial obelisk for a student who sadly passed away.

Christopher also employs a school counsellor for students to talk to once a week; often, this is where these discussions take place. "Unhappy children can't learn, they need to be happy," he says. "I want this school to be somewhere we all want to be. I spend a lot of time trying to make it a nice place. I'm open to all ideas - there are so many possibilities we can explore..."

The Wind PC

Winners of RM's WindPC competition, the students of Fairfield High School are now proud owners of a wind turbine and an RM One PC with ecoquiet® technology inside.

Thinking laterally, Christopher decided to set up his RM One in a red telephone box (rescued and recycled from a salvage yard) up on the hill, close to the 'thinking area.' The wind turbine powers the PC and students are free to use it to contact friends, teachers or even study away from the school and in the comfort of the red telephone box! There are plans to re-fit the telephone box with recycled stained glass to be designed and created in art lessons.

"I had thought about getting power to the hill but wasn't sure how to do it," he says. When I heard of the WindPC competition, I thought, that's it!"

The wind turbine, only installed a few weeks ago, has already positively impacted many areas of the curriculum including subjects such as science, geography and art. "I think it's terrific," says Christopher. "It is another example of the philosophy of the school. If the students can see something in action they will learn much more about it than if it was a theory or even a film. It is a super, working exhibition of what can be done with alternative technology"

What do the students think?

We asked year 10 and year 11 students what they thought of their school and the wind powered PC.

"The Wind PC and all of Mr Barker's plans make me feel good about my school. Being eco-friendly is becoming more important in today's world so it is good for the school to be into it."
Conan, Year 11

"A lot of other schools are trying to go green but we are not doing it 'by the book.' Mr Barker has his wonderful, crazy ideas such as the telephone box and I think we are all inspired at home and at school."
Zoë, Year 10

"It looks different, it's unique."
Paige, Year 10

Kenya, the spur for sustainability

Three and a half years ago Fairfield High School began working with a school in Kenya. By substituting their Christmas presents for cheques, Fairfield students were able to construct four new classrooms and a water system so their Kenyan friends no longer have to walk for over an hour to fetch water. "When we spoke to the head from Kenya about green issues they were coming from a completely different angle," says Christopher. "Their issues were driven by necessity and ours from a desire to look after the world." This experience was the catalyst for Fairfield School to 'go green.' Since then, green issues have played an important role in the school's ethos of being a caring, freethinking and stimulating place to be.

Where next?

The atmosphere and activities underway already leave a lasting impression. Unsurprisingly however, Christopher is not stopping there. He has many plans he wishes to undertake to sustain the learning community he has created as well as the interest and enthusiasm of the students and staff. Top priority is pumping water to his alpaca using wind or solar power. Another significant goal is building an outdoor 'amphitheatre' classroom up on the hill. Introducing composters around the school and making scarves from the alpaca wool are also on his to-do list - of course with the full involvement of his students.

For Christopher the animals, the ideas and the gadgets are not the focus of the school, but are used as an aid to teaching and engaging learning. Extremely evident is that students learning and well-being are his number one priority. He reflects: "Although our ideas sound wacky, we are serious about what we do here. Number one is that students do well."

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