Three pupils from Broomhill Bank School North, in Swanley, Kent are the first in the country to work with the Fishing for Schools (F4S) programme to gain the Ofqual regulated level one Aim Award in angling skills.

The youngsters – Neo Goncalves Whiffen, 15, and thirteen-year-olds Harrison Mulholland and Jon Jon “JJ” Perry – are autistic, which made this course challenging. Neo (right) received his award today, 26 January, from F4S instructors Warren White, Charlie RaynerandDavid Evans, who worked with the boys on the 10-week course. Unfortunately JJ and Harrison were unable to attend.

Subjects covered in the weekly sessions in the classroom and at Hadlow College’s Grove Farm Fishery, included the branches of angling and equipment to fishing permits and rod licences, as well as practical skills, with instructors Warren, David Evans, Charlie Rayner and Rob Goble.

Warren said: “The dedication and hard work shown by the three students who achieved the Award was exceptional. Although these boys had never fished before they were keen and willing to learn, which more than made up for their inexperience.

“Learning to fish has also helped the youngsters’ emotional wellbeing. A teacher gave me some positive feedback about one of the students, who had told him that a session of learning knots and making rigs in a calm environment had helped him to relax for the afternoon at school. In his own words he called it ‘anti-trigger therapy’, which was lovely to hear.”

Deputy head-teacher Jody Specht said: “The AIM course has been fantastic for the students. Firstly their energy and enjoyment of the activity has been enormous but also to be recognised for something a bit out of the ordinary is excellent for them.

“The pupils have a variety of interests and obsessions but fishing as an activity seems to work for these students as it is calming and also a development activity.”

The three students now move onto the Angling Trust’s Cast Awards. Sixty-one students achieved Cast Awards with the F4S Kent team in 2017.

Cast Awards are short, structured courses that encourage students to progress from starter level to level 6, learning new skills along the way.

Both the Cast and Aim Awards can be a stepping stone towards other qualifications, like the BTEC in Fisheries Management at Hadlow College, Kent.

F4S starts a new Aim Award course on February 2 with pupils from Thamesview School, Gravesend.

Fishing for Schools is an initiative run by The Countryside Alliance Foundation (TCAF), the charitable arm of the Countryside Alliance. It provides short angling courses at schools across the country, to aid the education of 12 to 18-year-olds who may not respond to traditional classroom-based learning but flourish when you get them outside onto the water. It celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2017.

Many of the youngsters who fish through Fishing for Schools have physical, learning or behavioural difficulties.