Residential trips not only provide an intensive way for pupils to learn in a different environment, but the experience can benefit them later on in life. Renata Rubnikowicz takes a boat ride with a difference
On a sparkling Thursday in early summer, Year 6 of Intake primary are celebrating the end of Sats with a trip to London.
Pupils at the Doncaster primary school in South Yorkshire begin going away on residential trips at the age of seven, says the head, Elizabeth Paver, so they know how to behave. Half an hour before Catamaran Cruisers huge vessel casts off for its voyage down the Thames, the 34 children are first in the queue on Westminster Pier, sitting quietly in their smart purple sweatshirts, writing up their diaries for the trip or drawing the London Eye, which is directly across from them on the opposite bank of the river.
They have already taken a trip on the Eye, shortly after arriving in the capital on Tuesday, but this is a different view of the great wheel.
This 55-minute river trip, too, is all about getting "another perspective", says Elizabeth, and enabling her pupils to consolidate the cross-curricular themes they have covered, particularly in history, architecture and structures, science and environmental studies.
Elizabeth and her staff have been bringing pupils from Intake to London every year since 1998, so she has devised her own programme, but she acknowledges that "none of this is possible without staff who will work 30 hours a day".
In her view, "every 11-year-old should have a chance to experience London before going on to secondary school. We've used Catamaran Cruisers before - it gives the children a good commentary," she says.
This year, for the first time, recognising that its trips have long been popular with school groups and that not all schools have Elizabeth's experience or her sterling staff, Catamaran Cruisers has produced an educational toolkit, and with suggestions for pre, during and post-trip activities in art, design and technology, English, geography, history, mathematics, and science in key stages 1, 2 and 3, as well as a risk assessment template, River Thames quiz and route summary.
On board, the Intake group makes for the open area at the back of the catamaran. There is a commentary, and the five Intake staff also point out landmarks to the pupils sitting near them.
Elizabeth moves around the group, making sure that no one misses anything.
Traitors' Gate, which they had seen from the other side when visiting the Tower of London earlier in the day, rates a particular mention. We glide past the Globe Theatre, Tate Modern and St Paul's before passing under Tower Bridge and turning round for the home journey opposite St Katharine's Dock.
"We've done their whole history syllabus in this trip," she says. "From the Tudors at the "Golden Hinde" to the London Eye."
The children spot the teacher who showed them around "HMS Belfast" and wave to her. She waves back from the deck of the great battleship. Passing under the Millennium Bridge, the children wave at home-going commuters, who seem to enjoy the attention. A river police launch powers by at top speed and the children sitting at the side of the catamaran scream when they are splashed by the passing bow wave.
As we return to Westminster Pier, before us an iconic view of the statue of Boudicea in her chariot silhouetted against the Houses of Parliament, the children spot their coach on the Embankment and wave hello to Les, their driver, who is waiting to take them to Greenwich - another way to experience the Thames, but going under it through the foot tunnel.
Before the pupils disembark, Elizabeth Paver tells them: "I think you have all been excellent."
Catamaran Cruisers offer river trips from pound;1.20 per pupil, with one adult going free for every 10 students. It also offers combined tickets for a return cruise and the London Eye or the Tower of London. Details and booking, tel: 0207 987 1185; www.catamarancruisers.co.uk