As part of a Leverhulme Small Research Grant project, Associate Professor and Programme Director for the new Primary PGCE at Swansea University, Helen Lewis has been researching how and why schools are involving dogs in classrooms.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, research has reported an increase in concerns for pupil wellbeing.
Together with Janet Oostendorp-Godfrey, the project's Research Officer, over 1000 teachers were surveyed about their practices and found that over 70% of schools that have a dog do so with the aim of supporting pupils' wellbeing.
Finding new ways to encourage children with their learning and social skills, schools in South Wales are taking a modern approach, shifting from the more familiar 'reading to dogs' schemes and involving dogs far more interactively.
The project found most teachers and children were very positive about the impact the dogs had on the classroom environment and their benefits, for example in terms of promoting confidence, social skills, engagement, and attendance.
A current challenge facing this practice is that there are no national regulations or guidance for schools that wish to start such an initiative. Particularly if teachers are using their own dogs as opposed to involvement with external organisations such as Burns by Your Side, who conduct their own training and assessment processes.
In the best examples of practice exhibited through the study, teachers were creating opportunities for safe, well-managed playful interactions that work best for both pupils and the dogs.
Associate Professor Helen Lewis had this to say.
‘There is clear evidence that having a dog in school brings positive benefits to many pupils, particularly in terms of their wellbeing and engagement in learning. However, our research does highlight how important it is to prepare carefully, plan for playful, respectful interactions, and to select a dog who enjoys being in school contexts.’
In conclusion, the findings aim to better inform and prepare teachers, children, and dogs so that everyone's needs, and wellbeing can be supported fully for all to benefit.
To find out more, please follow the link below to a BBC news story: