Rural Studies at Belper (High) School 1973 – 1990


Below is an article that I wrote in 1980, probably even more relevant to education today than then.  Since the development of the National Curriculum, Education has taken many backward steps.  Perhaps now is the time to go forward.  The pictures in the article speak for themselves.  Just click on the thumbnails to observe in more detail.  Don't forget to click the return button to come back to this page.


Rural Studies may best be defined as the study of the environment in and around the school with particular reference to animals and plants important to man and leading to an understanding of man’s interaction with the countryside.


It is a subject with its own intellectual discipline, but also has an important role to play as an integrating agent in the curriculum.


In saying that the primary objective of Rural Studies is to promote an understanding of the countryside and man’s relation to his natural environment, as well as developing a respect for living things, it follows that a young person will be exposed to situations experiences and thinking that will contribute to his or her spiritual development.  Man’s relationship to the land and the life it supports is mediated by developing science and technology.  Rural Studies can help the individual to make adequate assessments of the social and political issues involved by causing him or her to become sensitive to the role of science in society and by having some comprehension of the great hope that it offers as well as the dangers of its misuse. In doing so it will focus attention on ethical issues such as factory farming, conservation of wild life and natural beauty and pollution caused by the use of pesticides.


At Belper School these issues came up many times. For example we kept battery hens. A typical conversation often takes place:

Student:           “It’s cruel to keep hens like this!”

Teacher:          “Where does your mother get her eggs from?”

Student:           “The supermarket.”

Teacher:          “Those eggs probably came from battery hens.”

Student:           “It’s not the same!”


This then often leads to a discussion on the moral issues behind keeping battery hens at up to five birds to a cage, to produce cheap eggs for us. We also kept hens on free range

and realistic comparisons can be made from firsthand experience. It is quite surprising that the vast majority of students do not realise under what conditions many modern farm animals are kept in order to produce cheap food for us.


We also visited a farm where opencast mining took place. In 1979 the private company who were working on the site put the top soil and sub-soil back all mixed up, Possibly damaging the land for the next century or so. This had the students in uproar. This resulted in them writing letters to the Coal Board and causing further investigations. (To put things very simply).


This leads us on to the scientific content of Rural Studies. This does not centre on facts and phenomena, but deals with the role of science in human affairs particularly as it relates to the countryside. This approach to science encourages an aptitude for first hand observation, investigation and experimentation, The development of a questioning mind and the ability to think scientifically are qualities to which a Rural Studies scheme can contribute which have not always been encouraged by a more traditional science teaching. Since studies of this kind are closely allied to real life situations they are more likely to be regarded as relevant by children. For example it is more relevant for a student to learn about genetics using real animals, rather than learning from complicated figures chalked on the blackboard. Putting theory into practice. Students also learn that “things” don’t always work out according to the book. This is very important in real life.


Rural Studies has something quite different to offer by way of scientific study. Examples that occur to me include the opportunities to study animal behaviour on a quite different scales to that usually possible in laboratories and a study of plant and animal physiology and biochemistry by observation and experimentation on the whole organism with a view to maximizing it health well being and profitability, instead of a very academic approach form a cellular or even a molecular level.


Whilst providing opportunities for developing a scientific attitude and encouraging scientific thinking, through its links with the natural sciences, Rural Studies with its humanitarian base line provides many openings for developing social consciousness and offers outlets for creative thinking, aesthetic appreciation, and linguistic effectiveness and sensitivity.


Many of these will occur through the care of living things. These offer an emotional experience that many young people need. Many also need to work out ambivalent feelings with the guidance of a sensitive adult. Practical work in the garden or the immediate stimulus of animals especially their young, provide for many young people an emotional experience that is needed to release other energies.


Many important skills are learnt through Rural Studies. These include the basic practical skills associated with the development and maintenance of gardens, greenhouses, livestock units and outdoor study areas. It is important that students are not used as “cheap labour”. Take “digging” for example. This provides an ideal opportunity for a wealth of teaching. Here we have a Biology lesson, learning about the life in the soil as it is turned over, the creation and importance of Humus, as manure is dug in. We also have a physics lesson — on levers, first hand examples of levers at work e.g. the spade — a first order lever, the wheelbarrow — a second order lever and so on. This can lead to the design of the perfect digging implement. There is also a geography lesson, the weathering of the rocks, how we turn the soil over into a ridge to let the frost in to break down the soil. Finally the students are learning a craft skill in “digging”.


The students are also learning the skills of intellectual research and experiment. This could be something simple like an investigation into the growing of potatoes. The investigation could set out to test the value, under local conditions, of some accepted horticultural practice. Various students at Belper school at one time or another enquired into the effects of the choice and treatment of the seed, into the results of different cultivations, deep digging, earthing up and hoeing, while others have studied the control of diseases and pests or methods of harvesting and storage. From these investigations students are learning from real situations, putting theory into practice and seeing if it works. From these simple investigations more complex ones might develop, to consider Man as a food producer, his future requirements for food and how they might be met. Situations may be developed to suit students of all abilities. This leads to the development of the skills of decision making, having weighed evidence received from often opposing points of view, (e.g. scientific, social, political, economic and ethical).


Conceptual knowledge is developed through Rural Studies. Primarily the concept of Man’s interaction with the countryside, particularly in respect of the plants and animals that are important to him. Concepts of ecology, particularly as they relate to production ecology are also developed. Thirdly the concept of scientific methodology involving observation, investigation enquiry and experimentation. Lastly there is the concept of responsibility as it applies to the social, political, environmental and ethical issues that are a feature of Rural Studies.


Rural Studies can help to foster a number of valuable social attitudes. It helps to develop a sense of responsibility for the well being of plants and animals, entrusted into the students care and a concern for the quality of both the natural and Manmade environment. It also develops a readiness to become personally involved in environmental issues whether this be through some practical involvement or by participating in decision making processes.


The care of growing plants and the keeping of and study of animals meet a need that is fundamental to all human beings. The satisfaction of this need consequently enriches the personality and provides “ . . . an acceptable formative influence on all students . . . unless they have these experiences boys and girls will grow into less well informed and less mature adults.” (Schools and the Countryside” 1965).


Rural Studies deals in detail with the physical and social aspects of the environment, “... these are certainly the most constant, and probably among the most important, educational influences to which young people are subjected.” (“Schools and the Countryside”)


Many young people find the traditional system of education little suited to their aptitudes and abilities and, consequently, often find little to interest them in subjects which they consider remote from the realities of life as they know it to be lived. Rural Studies offers direct experience of the environment. Thus whether the student is involved in some practical fieldwork activity or classroom research, the work can always be related to some environmental experience.


For a plan of the Rural Studies Department at Belper High School in 1981 click on the thumbnail below:

The article below appeared in "The Times Educational Supplement" on March 23rd 1984:


A few "Belper News" Clippings from the mid 1970's:


The Articles below appeared in the "Belper News" and "The Belper Express" during November and December1990:

22 November1990     Belper Express 13 December1990  Belper News 29 November 1990


I have felt the need to develop this page for some time.  In the end I have put it together in just one afternoon. There is still much to do . . . . . .

If you would like to discuss any of the points made on this page please contact me by E-Mail at:


To see pictures from The Rural Studies Slide Show click: HERE


To View Belper (High) School Rural Studies articles in the Press click: HERE


To return to the home page for this site click: HERE


To see many more photographs in a better resolution please click on the the links below:


Photobucket1 (Regret this link is temporarily out of action - use the Flickr link below)


Photobucket2 (Regret this link is temporarily out of action - use the Flickr link below)








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