WHEN the aged minibus at Sacred Heart high school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne failed its MOT six months ago and was finally laid to rest, staff thought that school trips would no longer be practical.
"We couldn't be too ambitious, because we didn't have reliable transport," said Mandy Davis, maths teacher at the 1,300-pupil girls' comprehensive. "We would have had to spend money getting a coach."
But Ms Davis, a newly-qualified teacher, can now plan a rich variety of school trips for the new year.
She is the winner of a competition, run jointly by The TES and Ford motor company, to win a new, 15-seat Ford Transit minibus, worth pound;26,000.
The 36-year-old collected five tokens printed in The TES in the autumn. Shortly before Christmas her name was drawn from more than 497 entries. On Monday, representatives from The TES and Ford presented her with the keys to her prize.
"It is such an exciting opportunity," she said. "It has inspired the maths department to think about working with partner schools, or going on weekend residential courses."
Indeed, Ms Davis is not the only teacher to believe that the new minibus will create excellent learning opportunities. Sacred Heart headteacher Patricia Wager has been approached by an unprecedented number of teachers who want to take their minibus driver's licence.
"We will use it for everything that can make the curriculum exciting: geography expeditions, history trips, theatre trips, hockey, netball, football," Mrs Wager said. "And, being a split-site school, it will be useful on almost an hourly basis, transporting teachers and girls safely and quickly."
Winning the minibus has also enabled Ms Davis, who arrived at the school in September, to make an immediate impression on pupils. "I don't do maths, but of course I'm grateful to her," said 17-year-old Rhiannon Perkins, a sixth-former at Sacred Heart.
"It's good to know that you've got teacher support around you."
A spokeswoman for Ford congratulated Ms Davis. "Transit minibuses are ideal for school transport. We're sure the teachers will enjoy driving it, and the pupils will find it comfortable," she said.