STUDENTS have been swapping textbooks for live snakes, tarantulas and chickens as part of a new course being offered at a Herefordshire secondary school.

A science lab at Earl Mortimer College in Leominster now plays home to the new weird and wonderful arrivals as part of a new BTEC course offered to students.

Students at the South Street school spent this term getting to grips with all aspects of caring for the animals and insect also including fish, geckos, rabbits, frogs, snails and giant cockroaches.

They are responsible for feeding, cleaning cages and enrichment of the animals during their lunch and break times. Each student has their own hamster to look after.

There are plans to expand the programme next year with more students getting involved and more animals brought in possibly including a python and a tortoise.

There are also plans to have animal expert and professionals such as vets and dog groomers give talk to the class, Covid permitting.

Science teacher Neil Smith said: “We have introduced this course to broaden the curriculum a bit and give students the chance to do something more vocational.

“It is a small group for now to ensure we are doing it correctly and the animals are getting the care they need, that is our top priority.”

Leo Fletcher, 15, from Leominster, said: “I come from a farming background so this was something that I was really keen to be involved with.

“I really love spending time with the snake and I think I have built up a bond. It is amazing that we can spend our time in school looking after animals."

Mia Mills, 14, said: “It was in my plans to have a job that involves working with animals this has been such a great insight into what life would be like if I had that job.

“I am so grateful to the school because this has made a huge amount of difference to my experiences here. This is something that I am really passionate about.

Headteacher Mrs Banner: “I think as teachers we can get a bit stuck thinking purely about exam grades and GCSE.

“We see children here as individuals that don’t all fit into the same mould. Our job is not just to get them through exams but to help them find something they are passionate about.

“They say if you love what you do then you never work a day in your life and I see it as our job to help students find something they love.”