Children returning to Gulval School, Adventure Learning Academy Trust, in Penzance, Cornwall, this term found a welcome new addition when they walked through the gates – Whoopi the therapy dog. She joins a big family of animals including twelve chickens, two rabbits and two pygmy goats.
Research studies in both Britain and America1 have concluded that having a dog in a school classroom can have many positive benefits. The presence of animals teaches responsibility, raises self-esteem, improves attendance, decreases anxiety and stress, supports children’s emotional and social development and brings the school community closer together.
Animals have played a key role in Gulval School’s transformation from Inadequate to Good in just three years. The school was in Special Measures but the appointment of new Principal, Paul Baker turned its fortunes around.
It is now a Good school and was rated Outstanding by Ofsted for the behaviour, safety and the welfare of its pupils, Ofsted inspectors commented that, “The varied and diverse curriculum offers pupils many exciting opportunities to learn. The use of the outdoors is a particular strength” and that “The Principal leads with a relentless ambition for excellence. He leads by example to create a haven where pupils make good progress.”
Since joining Adventure Learning Academy Trust and the appointment of the Principal, SATs results at Gulval have risen dramatically. Its Key Stage 2 results are significantly above national averages in Reading, Writing, Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar and Maths and the school is now an increasingly popular choice with parents.
Whoopi’s exact duties are yet to be decided but she is already impacting on the social and emotional development of pupils and acting as a Listening Dog, supporting children to improve their skills by reading to her. Research in the USA shows that reading to a dog can lead to an increase in reading levels, word recognition and more enthusiasm for reading and writing.
When she’s not at school, Whoopi is at home with Blue Class teacher Mr Goddard. He introduced Whoopi to his wife during his speech on their wedding day which upstaged the best man completely!
Paul Baker, the Principal at Gulval, said: “Whoopi started school at just 14 weeks which makes her the youngest member of our school community. She is very cute, full of fun and the children love having her around. She has fitted in very well and I am sure she will be a real asset to our school.”