Case study nine: Jamie’s Farm

Brief Description of The Provision

Jamie’s Farm is in Wiltshire. It can take groups of students from anywhere in the country, depending on how far the school is prepared to transport the young people (this is the responsibility of the school). Typically Jamie’s Farm are commissioned by schools to provide a week-long residential (Monday to Friday). During this time the young people live at the farm. They are accompanied by teaching staff from their school.

Content and Delivery

The programme is therapeutic. The young people live on Jamie’s Farm for four nights/five days. They get involved in all aspects of farm life. Joe (senior member of staff) stressed that they are doing proper farm work, it is not tokenistic. The young people are involved in feeding the animals, cleaning out their pens, caring for and interacting with the animals, milking, collecting eggs, horse grooming, helping animals to give birth. They also help to cook all of their own meals. They go for long walks and runs, go swimming and engage in other physical games, and have time with the resident therapist. Young people also have group sessions where they discuss how they are feeling and what their favourite farm experience has been. There is quiet time in the evening where the young people play board games, watch films, and go for night time walks. There is also a session with an artist once a week. The aim is for young people to experience a completely different way of life, to be physically tired and feel that they have achieved a lot in the day. They are not allowed sugar, fizzy drinks or to take mobile phones to the farm.

After their week, the group receive a video of their time on the farm. They get a certificate when they finish the programme, then two weeks later they receive a postcard with a picture of their favourite time on the farm.   Every group receives a follow-up visit from a member of the Jamie’s Farm team and the school receives a full report on each young person (see transition section for further information).

Challenging group activities take place alongside group and individual therapy sessions where young people can appraise the difficulties they have faced, and think about how they can tackle challenges when they get back to school.

One of the key features of the programme is the regular use of a ‘feedback loop of learning’. Every part of the day and every meal they have together involves reflection, so young people begin to integrate this reflective process into their learning. Maria (member of therapeutic staff) believes that this actually “changes the neural pathways: I think that actually the learning is happening at the level where the brain is really reshaping and forming”.

During the week farm staff focus on the child’s narrative, allowing them to reveal themselves. They give the young people the opportunity to speak honestly about how they feel, where are they from, and what are they enjoying most. Rather than starting from the position of pathologising the young person, they start from their strengths and work backwards to the core issues.

Identifying Features of Quality

Mission/aims/purpose

The aim of the provision for the group we observed was to improve confidence and self-esteem. However, the actual aim may vary according to the particular needs of the young people attending at any particular time.

Jamie’s Farm could be viewed as a ‘track changer’ or ‘trajectory changer’; their aim is to intervene in the current track of a young person’s life in order to set them on a new one. Joe (senior member of staff) described the experience as being ‘like a life swap’. The idea is that the young people are exposed to a very different type of life than the one with which they are most familiar.   Joe says that the farm experience promotes calm and positive feelings in the young people. Their visit to the farm is the beginning of their journey, but the aim is for this to continue once they get back to school. The young people’s experiences on the Farm show them how well behaved/positive/calm etc they can be.

Maria, therapy staff member, described the aims of the provision as giving children and opportunity to learn about themselves and build relationships. In part, this is facilitated by the brand new environment, in which they need to build significant relationships because they need to trust others and to learn to trust and challenge themselves; “they are given an opportunity to move beyond the boundaries into another side of themselves”. This learning is also facilitated by the calmness of the environment. The farm is much less stressful than the environment that most of them are used to. They are developing a new kind of alertness. They are usually used to being:

hyper-vigilant for the wrong reason and so they are not available for learning in a lot of settings because they are on that kind of edge of flight/fight and their brains are over stimulated and they nearly all comment to me, when they come here, that the calm allows them to think and, within that, the doing allows them to discover a new way of being – a new physical self – as well as an emotional and mental self. If I had to put it into a sentence I would say: it’s attending holistically to a child in the sense that you are allowing a completely new experience for their mind, body and spirit and they are living in a community and a setting where nature and animals play a really big part in reconnecting the children to who they are” (Maria).

Jamie’s Farm believe that the process that begins on the farm goes on to have much longer-term benefits for the young people It nurtures resilience, and this starts with farm staff showing care and consideration towards the young people and helping them to feel good about themselves. Farm staff suggest that the experience could even affect whether young people stay on in school and/or training.

Target Group

Attendance at this farm provision is voluntary. Young people are selected by their school, but they do not have to attend. Schools might vary in their selection criteria. Our research visit concerned a school which has in the past sent groups of young people whose primary cause for concern was challenging behaviour. However, the group observed during the research visit consisted of young people vulnerable due to their situation at home (looked after children and children with safeguarding concerns), or because they presented as having particular personal difficulties such as low self-esteem and confidence. Two of the young people were selectively mute part or all of the time. One of the boy’s father was in jail and another had suffered a bereavement. Two of the students were on the autistic spectrum. Farm staff told us that schools find that students with these sorts of needs get a lot out of the farm experience.

Staff

The following staff work at Jamie’s Farm:

  • Dillon was involved in working directly with the young people in the early days, but has become involved less and less as the team has expanded. He now looks after the finances, sustainability and expansion of the farm. Dillon was a Teach First teacher and previously worked in a mainstream school.
  • Joe is the programme manager. He manages the team, looks after the groups who visit and liaises with schools. Joe works the evenings of Monday and Thursday, and he wakes the students every morning, organises them into groups and sets them tasks. This provides some consistency for the young people. Joe also did Teach First and was previously in a mainstream school. He left mainstream teaching because the school he worked in was “an exam factory. I’d rather do stuff like this”.
  • Maria is the therapist at the farm. During our visit, the deputy head at the visiting school spoke very positively about her, and sought her advice on particular students. Joe described her as ‘the magic ingredient’ and as providing an important maternal influence on the farm, making it seem more like a ‘family system’. Maria welcomes the young people on the first day, checks in with them, leads the celebration meeting, and provides the main therapeutic input through the week
  • Ron is the chef and he looks after the young people’s nutrition whilst they stay on the farm.
  • Rebecca also came through the Teach First scheme. She lives on site and does a lot of the horse work with the young people and some of the farm work. She also sometimes steps into the coordinating role.
  • Carina does a lot of the gardening with the young people, and some of the cooking sessions. She also does a lot of the fundraising, and manages all the volunteers on site.

These are the main staff who have the most regular contact with the students. They come from very different backgrounds. While they are quite different people they are bound by the same mission. Some have had prior experience of working directly with young people, others were gaining this experience for the first time at the farm. Joe (senior member of staff) noted that other staff on the farm also provided a ‘father figure’ as they themselves had raised families. This included Dean who does a fair amount of the farming and Stan, who has a nearby farm which the young people visit. There are additional administrative and domestic staff who help with the farm, cooking and tidying, and they may also interact with the young people.

Every group is supported by teachers from the commissioning school. This is an important aspect of the Jamie’s Farm experience; “And then you’ve got other people who maybe volunteer and run a session and we’ve got housekeepers who just look after the space just to help us to do some of the crucial jobs that we sometimes miss”(Joe, senior member of staff)

In terms of what makes a good member of staff on Jamie’s Farm, there was reference to being your ‘authentic self’ and ‘the real you’. This is what farm staff want from the young people, so this is what they need to deliver themselves. Joe assured us that in this environment it was very difficult to be anything other than your ‘real self’, because you essentially live together for the week. He thinks that the possibility of maintaining a professional façade – which is possible in teaching – is not viable here. The young people would see through it straight away: “they actually really respond to and respect people who are themselves” (Joe). The problem with being your real self is that, if young people say something cruel, it is really being directed at you; you cannot hide behind your professional persona. Staff, including teachers, also need to know when to be fun and positive and when to be firm.

Maria felt that the farm staff need to be confident enough to share who they are; to be energetic because of the demands on energy at every level; to be compassionate without being overly emotional because they have to deal with “horrific stories”; and to have a real practical skill and passion that they can share with the children. The farm staff need to be able to make the children feel safe and provide them with the environment where their stories will unfold. The Jamie’s Farm environment provides occasions where children “choose to reveal who they are and what they are feeling and you’re a part of that experience” (Maria).

Maria believes it is important that some of their staff have come from mainstream teaching because they understand the school system and the pressures on children and teachers. They can relate to the teachers, and if they can influence the teachers “we can create our biggest impact because the ripples from that will extend to the other children from the school who haven’t even been here”.

Maria also recognised the difficulty of finding “another Maria” to take over some of the therapeutic work. Farm staff don’t think it works when an outside person comes in to do some of their work. Some people from psychotherapeutic backgrounds who have been introduced to the staff at the farm have been perceived as too intense. Instead they have decided that the therapeutic work needs to be done by someone who is already a part of the organisation, so Maria is training Joe and supervising him in doing one-to-one work.

Safety and Safeguarding

There is a high staff-to-student ratio. Students work in sessions with farm staff in ones or twos. Commissioning schools share key information ahead of time with Jamie’s Farm, with reference to risk assessments, and the particular nature of the young person’s difficulties.

Rules and Discipline

Joe does per visit introductory sessions at the commissioning school where he introduces some of the rules to the young people and their parents. Jamie’s Farm do not allow any sweets, caffeinated or fizzy drinks, or electronic equipment such as mobile phones. During the introductory meetings he discusses with the young people, and their parents/carers, why these rules. These rules are fundamental to the calm atmosphere of the farm and to the intention to provide the young people with a clear break from their usual life.

Monitoring of progress

Young people do a survey before they come to the farm, a survey on the last day of their visit and the same survey six weeks later. This pre and post test process is overseen by New Philanthropy Capital, who provide an “external objective analysis” (Joe, senior member of staff). This survey shows that the experience significantly improves students’ life satisfaction, resilience and self-esteem.

Our observations were that everyone involved, including the young people and their teachers, felt that the farm experience had changed them for the better, or made them start to see things in a different way. The Jamie’s Farm team feel assured that this impact continues when the student gets back to school as nearly every school has rebooked them: “I think the schools wouldn’t rebook unless they felt that a significant proportion of their students re-engage at a better quality level with schooling when they go back” (Joe). Schools report seeing an improvement in attendance, avoiding exclusions, and improvement in grades.

Farm staff suggest that the Jamie’s Farm experience is about sowing a seed that

“might lie dormant for quite a while but flourishes at a later date. So we’ve had children who came here two or three years ago who write to us and say that Jaime’s Farm has changed their lives and they saw the value of working hard because they wanted to go to agricultural college or whatever. It propels them to new relationships with their families and their schools and their community. It’s interesting when you watch that process of change because it is not a steady progress and there will be pitfalls and downsides but it is how they deal with that which counts rather than the fact that they happen” (Maria, therapist).

Inclusion

Jamie’s Farm caters for a wide range of young people with varying needs. During the research visit there were two young people on the autistic spectrum, and two young people who were selective mutes. The provision is not academic, and due to the high staff-student ratio, can be very accommodating of different needs and abilities.

Transitions

The provision is commissioned directly by individual schools. This goes on a case by case, year by year basis, rather than schools having a contract with the Farm to provide a set number of places. As well as paying for the residential, schools must also supply some of their own members of staff to join the young people. Joe spoke of the importance of school’s sending “the right members of staff” to support the residential.

Jamie’s Farm do not get much direct time with the young people before the visit so the input of the commissioning school is seen as vital. It is important that the experiences has an impact on the teachers too, as this will have a longer-term impact in the school, if it alters teacher practice – there are thus potential benefits for young people who do not go to the farm.

Joe made it clear that we observed a ‘model’ commissioner-Jamie’s Farm relationship. The particular school really ‘buys into’ the programme, has supported it by sending seven groups of young people over the past few years, and embeds the work that Jamie’s Farm does once the young people get back to school. Joe now knows quite a few young people in different years when he visits the school. He feels that, because some of the staff now know Jamie’s Farm well, they have become better at selecting young people who will benefit most from the residential. That is one of the benefits of a longer-term partnership with schools. Maria has been invited to do whole school training on behaviour to support teachers to “understand what might be driving the challenging behaviours of the child and how to unpick it and understand it”. Maria described the school as having “an extraordinary commitment to children and to the children’s families which means that they are really working as a whole community”. This is also the only school that really get the parents/carers on-board. Part of the contract with parents/caers is that they will attend Jamie’s Farm on the last day to see what their son/daughter has been doing. The school puts on a coach and the Farm provides a lunch to the parents. Maria stressed the importance of this visit (see ‘relationships with parents’ section).

The first research visit was to the introductory meeting at the school. This was attended by Joe, school staff going on the residential, students going on the residential and their parents. During this meeting Joe showed a video clip of a previous group from the school attending the farm, and a member of staff who has been before spoke about their experiences. Joe spoke to them about some of the activities they will be doing. He did a ‘check-in’ with them. This is where the young people give a score from 1-10 of how they are feeling. He also asked them to say what they were most looking forward to. These are processes that are used a lot on the farm, so from the very beginning they are getting the young people used to expressing views and explaining how they are feeling. The young people and their parents sign a contract to agree to the rules that have been discussed.

From researcher field notes

Sometimes groups return for a follow-up week or weekend, for example the school we observed has sent students back for a follow-up weekend in previous years. Jamie’s Farm always also visit the school to do some follow-up work. Ideally, schools implement enrichment sessions for the students when they get back to school, to support and continue the process that began at the farm. They look at the student’s best memories from the farm. Sometimes farm staff go in to see some of these sessions. They find that teachers are often inspired by what Jamie’s Farm do and take ideas back to the school with them. The programme is most effective when they work with schools who share their values.

Maria writes a brief report on every child, based on the one-to-one session she has had with them. The farm also writes an overall report on each student for the school, which includes their celebration notes; Maria’s experience of the child in session, a general picture of the child at the farm, and any recommendations for the school. This may include highlighting significant family problems, or school-based problems, or how to support the child’s learning.

Relationships with Students

Young people often feel anxious when they get to the farm because they are away from home and in very different surroundings. Joe always does a pre visit ‘check in’ with all of the young people, a tool that they use on the Farm. Young people are asked to give a number from 1-10 to express how they are feeling. The young people are also given the opportunity to say what they are most looking forward to at the provision.

The preivisit is thus an opportunity for Joe to introduce some of the approaches that will be used on the farm, start to build some relationships with the young people, to use and learn their names, and to start to think about the specific needs of the young people who will be visiting. This is then cemented in discussions with the school after the meeting, when the particular needs of the young people are discussed.

Jamie’s Farm is voluntary, but if the young people want to go they must subscribe to the rules of the farm.

A key focus of the residential week is self-discovery and appreciating one another for who they are. It is crucial that the farm staff model this process for the young people. Young people are provided with the space to try out new ways of being, which includes new types of relationships. Each of the young people get time on their own with either Maria or Joe at some point in the week. They really seemed to value this focus and attention.

Jamie’s Farm clearly had an impact on the young people that we saw, and they developed relationships with one another, and staff, in a short space of time.

Many did not want to go home. At the final meeting, when they did they final check in, most of the young people gave two numbers: i.e. I am a one because I am going home and I don’t want to leave, but I am also a ten because I have had such a good time. The impact of the experience has also been clear on twitter, with several of the young people tweeting Jamie’s Farm to say what a good time they had, and one student saying that because of Jamie’s Farm she knows what she wants to do when she is older.

From researcher field notes

A crucial part of the relationship work on the farm is the strengthening of relationships between the young people and school staff. Jamie’s Farm see this as one of the most important parts of their work. This was the emphasis when Jamie’s Farm was shown on the BBC television programme Tough Young Teachers[1]. The teachers on Tough Young Teachers commented on how much better they had got to know their students, and had really valued their experiences on the farm. Students and staff get to see different sides of one another, which supports the building of relationships.

Relationships between students

Relationships are particularly in focus at Jamie’s Farm because of the intensity of the programme, with the young people living together for five days. There was a general consensus that the group seen during the research visit had a particularly productive dynamic. This however was variable: schools that know Jamie’s Farm and the work they do are perhaps better are selecting groups of students most likely to work well together to maximise the benefits of their time on the farm.

Farm staff include numerous group sessions throughout the week. The young people are encouraged to offer praise to their peers, and they are invited to talk about how their view of others has changed. This supports the transformation of peer relationships.

In the meeting I did this morning another boy who, again, is thought to be autistic, every one of the other boys said that they really like it when he speaks up because they are really impressed by his intelligence. They were asking him to talk because they never hear a word from him at school because other children tease him. They were so supportive of him and I find that the most moving thing” (Maria).

Relationship with parents

Jamie’s Farm see the input of parents/carers as crucial. The idea commissioning school includes parents/caers throughout. They invite them to an initial meeting and provide them with additional information on what the young people will be doing. Parents/carers are invited to visit on the final Friday afternoon as a condition of their child’s participationand the school covers the costs involved.

Maria sees parent/carer involvement as particularly valuable:

If you come back from a holiday and you describe it to a friend, you always feel like they are getting two per cent of your experience. You feel like you are boring them a bit actually and you know that they don’t give you very good attention…And that’s how it must be for the children so, this way, when they describe the animals or the place or something they are all having a shared experience which I think is really important”.

During the parental visit we observed staff from Jamie’s Farm gave feedback to each child in front of their parents, other parents, students and staff. School staff also added in their comments. The tone of the meeting was positive and offered advice for ways forward. The meeting was intense and emotional. We were told that the school staff benefited from this because they got to meet the parents/carers and gained some insight into the wider context of the child. The experience could also “empower and enrich the parents too”.

More usually, schools invite parents/carers for initial and follow-up meetings. They can also show the parents/carers the video of their child’s time on the farm.

Each child has a DVD to take home to they can share this with the people in their life. Fran staff see this as a way of including the parents in the experience, even when they cannot attend the farm in person.

Resources and Networks:

Jamie’s Farm make use of another farm on Tuesdays. This enables them to break up the group and means that the young people get more intensive time with the adults.

Jamie’s Farm has Trustees, whose testimonials appear on their website.[2]

Because several farm staff have come through Teach First they have access to this wider network of teachers. They are also one of Teach First’s ‘Innovation Partners’, entitling them to specific strategic and organisational support.

Relationships with other Services and Agencies

Whilst Jamie’s Farm are given an overview of some of the services involved with some of the young people, the short-term nature of the programme means it is not feasible for them to have any direct involvement.

Facilities

Jamie’s Farm is well-equipped. They have a specially built building where half of the young people sleep and another where the other half sleep, as they separate according to gender. The main purpose-built building includes a large open-plan kitchen, dining and living room. This has a ‘family’ table, sofas and a well-equipped kitchen. The large table, family sized kitchen and sofa area all create a homely, lived in feel. The table is the centrepiece; all meals are eaten here, as these are important social occasions where young people can talk and share. This is particularly important to those young people who do not experience this kind of arrangement at home (one student we met said that he eats on his own in his bedroom). There is also a games room and a room where the therapy sessions happen.

The farm animals include pigs, sheep, cows, horses and chickens. There are also family dogs who are clearly used to children and are happy to be petted regularly. Overall this combines to create a warm, homely environment.

Jamie’s Farm have exchanged contracts on a second farm in Heredfordshire so that they can support more young people, and have the vision of five farms in five years, thus taking their annual provision to 10% of their identified target group.

Finances

Schools pay about £6,000 for a group of up to 12 young people to attend the farm for 5 days. Schools would not pay much more than this amount, yet it only covers around a third of the costs. Jamie’s Farm top-up through fundraising and the profit they make from the working farm. They are also looking into the prospect of starting to make products (with the help of the young people who visit) that can be sold at a profit, which can then feed back into the project. They are going to use a similar funding model on the new farm.

The aim is to eventually get some direct government funding. However, to be able to get this they are aware that they will need to prove the long-term impact of their programme.

Joe feels that the government should support schemes like this as an appropriate spending of the pupil premium.

The farm was booked up for the 2014 academic year with only had one week that wasn’t taken. They are purchasing a second site, and looking into the possibility of tailoring the programme so that it is suitable for primary school pupils. Since they were on Tough Young Teachers Jamie’s Farm have been inundated with requests, a proportion of which have come from primary schools. This was free positive press for the farm programme.

Well-managed, led and accountable

From the perspective of financial sustainability, it is good news that the farm ha healthy bookings to ensure an income stream. The farm rarely lose business from a school. Farm staff see themselves as accountable to commissioning so if they are re-booking this is taken as a sign that their project is valued and effective.

Dillon’s role has become very focused on the sustainability and development of the farm.

Evaluation and Quality Assurance

Schools re-booking is an important piece of evaluation. If the farm were not having a positive impact on the young people, schools would not continue to pay to send groups to the farm.

However, farm staff are considering ways of conducting long-term impact and evaluation research in future, as they see the value of this. It will also be helpful in the quest for direct government funding.

Transformation (Choice and autonomy)

The entire Jamie’s Farm experience centres on the idea of a transformation; or at least the start of a transformational process. This aim underpins all of its key aspects; the activities the young people do, the involvement of the commissioning schools, the staff, the environment and space. This transformation is for the school staff, as well as the students. Farm staff work to ensure that the environment is palpably calm, warm, and homely.

Jamie’s farm has an additional, but important, focus on the health of the young people who attend. Part of the placement is about having a break from very sugary foods which can make it difficult for young people to concentrate and moderate their behaviour. Because of the nature of the surroundings and the role that animals and the environment play in the placement, Jamie’s Farm are able to include informal educational elements around these aspects of everyday life.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03plzvt

[2] http://www.jamiesfarm.org.uk/about-us/staff-trustees/trustees.html

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