Pupils in uncharted waters as fish farm opens at school

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AN INNOVATIVE new aquaponics centre, thought to be the first of its kind in the country, has opened at a secondary school in South Yorkshire.

Students at Swinton Community School in Rotherham will be offered the chance to take a BTEC qualification in “fish husbandry” using the state-of-the-art new facilities, which include five huge tanks containing 12,500 gallons of water and 2,000 ornamental koi carp.

The aquaponics centre will be used for a range of lessons, from art to mathematics, and will also be used in the future by both local people and children at primary schools in the area.

Headteacher David Pridding said the centre was first being used by Swinton pupils but there was “tremendous potential.”

He said: “This is a great new development for our school and really adds to the fantastic breadth of learning we can offer to our students, so we are delighted to be hosting the centre.

“We want to ensure that these new facilities don’t just benefit our students.

“The offer to use it and develop other learning opportunities will extend to all schools, not just in our community but from across Rotherham.”

Work on the aquaponics centre began in February this year and has just been completed, in time for the official opening by David Moody, the Lord-Lieutenant of South Yorkshire.

The centre is in the very heart of the 1950s school and its construction involved two buses being lifted by cranes to be set into position.

On the lower deck of the double-decker bus is the fish breeding area, while the upper deck is home to a hydroponics are where a range of crops are grown in water.

A neighbouring single-decker bus has been converted into a classroom and the koi carp tanks lie between the two revamped buses.

When funding for the project was originally put in place, it was intended that a new fish farm would be built on a completely different site in Rotherham, with attractions including a lake and floating bridge. However, when funding for the larger project fell through, Rotherham Council offered secondary schools the chance to house the fish farm element of the scheme.

“It was one of the easiest decisions of my life”, Mr Pridding said.

“It’s something different and the educational possibilities are immense.

“The interest that this has generated from parents has been phenomenal, and Ofsted were fascinated by it in their recent inspection.

“We’ve already got students accessing the centre and it’s proved very good for engaging some students who find it more difficult to engage with education.

“There are qualifications in aquaponics, but there are also so many possibilities for cross-curricular work.

“Science is the obvious one, but we can also use it for maths teaching or as a focus for English and art. It’s something that has tremendous potential.”

Andy Watson, premises manager at Swinton Community School, is one of those who will be running the new aquaponics centre.

He stressed that the centre will be self-funding and run as a business separate to the school, raising money through sponsorship and sales of the fish and plants.

Cash to build the centre, which cost a “considerable” yet undisclosed amount of money, came from external grants and sponsorship from Evolution Aqua and Kitsu Koi.

Mr Watson said: “Our school was in phase one of Rotherham’s Building Schools for the Future project.

“We were just at the point of inviting contractors on site to build our new £19m school just at the point when the coalition Government came in and cancelled it all.

“We were distraught to lose the Building Schools for the Future funding, so a project like this has been really beneficial to the school.

“We’re just about to roll out the centre as a whole-school resource.

“One of the first lessons has been on the ethics of fish farming, and the children can compare our farm to a typical commercial farm.”

Mr Watson added: “I believe this is the first centre of its type in the country.”

“Other schools many have small fish farms or something of that sort, but I don’t know of anywhere else which has a centre of this size and of this uniqueness.”