Erin Buckley, the democratically elected Children’s Champion for the borough of Rochdale, has been passionately campaigning to have pets in schools across the borough. She chose this issue to work on in order to help improve education for children and young people and help those who are struggling or need support with issues at school. One primary school in the borough did used to have the head teacher’s pet dog in school and he was pleased to share how positive it made, not only children and young people, but also staff. This had a huge impact on the quality of education and the atmosphere and environment they were learning and working in. Erin had discussions with some key decision makers about having pets in all schools, but when issues such as insurance, cost, health and safety, children with allergies to pets and the responsibility of the pet outside school hours were explained, Erin accepted that this was difficult to achieve and agreed that therapy pets would work well as an alternative.

Erin met and conversed with Michael Kemp, the Head of Children and Young People with Additional Needs Service, and discussed the benefits therapy pets could bring to children, young people and staff delivering education and other services in schools. Erin did think of other plans as a back-up, such as having display boards of pupil’s pets in each classroom, being allowed to bring teddies in and having photos of their own pets in their drawers which they can pull out at any time. Erin had also brought her own pet to a Children’s Council meeting and monitored the moods and responses of attendees. Bringing her dog, Mathilde, brought such joy to the group that day, helped them focus on the actions they were taking during the meeting part, made everyone feel welcome, included, happy and generally in a brighter mood for the whole session. Even children who had been slightly cautious of dogs loved it and gave Mathilde some attention.

After Erin’s meeting, Michael and his colleagues managed to get funding to purchase therapy pets for each and every primary and secondary school across the borough. Erin had the privilege of seeing the pets and selected the cat as her first choice for her primary school, St Mary’s RC Primary School in Littleborough. The pets weighed the same as a real life animal and felt very soft. These were presented to all primary school head teachers the day after Erin had seen them and will now be used boroughwide to bring numerous advantages to the education system. Erin is now looking forward to hearing what positive impact these will have in schools and on individual children and young people. Erin is also campaigning on sheltered play/quiet areas in schools and reading and is making significant progress in these areas too. Watch out for reports on these over the coming months!