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Animals in schools

Roborovski hamster in blue tube © Andrew Forsyth/RSPCA Photolibrary

The RSPCA is opposed to the use of animals for education where distress or suffering is or is likely to be caused. We believe that children and young people can be taught about animals without keeping pets in the classroom.

 

Some alternatives to using real animals include:

  • soft toys and props
  • role play and drama activities
  • books, videos, DVDs and CD-ROMs
  • observing animals’ behaviour in their natural habitat
  • developing a wildlife area in the school grounds.

The RSPCA strongly discourages the keeping of animals in schools. Schools can be noisy and frightening places for some animals and it is very difficult to look after any animal’s needs properly in a classroom environment. This applies to any animal, including African land snails and fish.

Any members of the school’s staff who are responsible for an animal or animals being on the school premises – whether on a permanent or temporary basis – are now subject, as a result of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, to the legal obligation to ensure that those animals’ needs are met. These include:

  • its need for a suitable environment
  • its need for a suitable diet (food and fresh water)
  • its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and
  • its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

These responsibilities do not end when the school day ends, but continue so long as the animal remains at school and include evenings, weekends and holidays. Personal responsibility exists irrespective of whether the animal in question was purchased by the school or is owned by one of the pupils or their parents.

If an animal’s needs are not being adequately met whilst at school, criminal prosecutions could in theory be brought against all persons over the age of 16 who had responsibility for that animal, including school staff.

Visit the pet care section of our website for more information on the specific needs of animals kept as pets.

Breeding animals in school

  • The RSPCA opposes breeding animals in schools. This includes the use of egg incubators, butterfly and snail breeding kits, worms, ants and frogspawn.
  • It is difficult to guarantee the welfare of animals bred in the school environment and we believe that such programmes of study do not promote responsible attitudes to animal care and husbandry.

Dissection

  • The RSPCA is opposed to the dissection of vertebrate and invertebrate animals in schools and believes the dissection of any animal in school – including invertebrates – can lead to desensitisation and a lessening of respect for life among pupils.
  • Alternatives for teaching animal anatomy include models, videos and computer simulations.

Visitors with animals and animal events

  • Many visiting speaker schemes and other animal-related events do not put the animals’ needs first.
  • Animals are often transported in unsuitable conditions, and the noise and unfamiliarity of a school environment can cause them distress.
  • The RSPCA is opposed to events and fundraisers at schools involving animals as their welfare cannot be guaranteed at all times. These include donkey derbies, pig, sheep and snail racing, birds of prey displays, pet shows and events where animals are used as prizes.
  • It is illegal to offer an animal as a prize to a person under 16 who is not accompanied by an adult, except in limited circumstances provided in the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
  • Balloon releases may be fun but the balloons can harm the environment and animals if they eat them. 
  • Alternatives to animal-related events include:
  1. sponsored litter clearances
  2. sponsored dog walks
  3. a photographic pet show where pupils can bring in pictures of their pets or favourite animals.

See more ideas to make your school animal friendly or download the full version of our Animal-friendly schools guidance (PDF 369KB). A Welsh version (PDF 246KB) is also available.

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