Best school trips

25th July 2008 at 01:00


Lochaber High


When I was headteacher at Kinlochleven High, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the school.

We had dinner dances, a reunion and an exhibition, but most of it was a nostalgia trip for the oldies and none of it had really been for the kids. So we asked them what they wanted to do and they said they wanted to go to a theme park.

When you live in the Highlands and you're looking for a theme park you have to travel, so we came up with the idea of taking the whole school to Alton Towers - 120 pupils and all the staff.

Initially, the idea went down like a lead balloon. But we added a trip to Manchester which made it more educational and teachers were more enthusiastic. It turned out to be the best thing I've done in 30 years of education.

We were away for three days and the pupils chose from a variety of outings: Old Trafford, the Lowry or the Imperial War Museum. It was like a military operation. They also had some time out for Laser Quest, 10-pin bowling and we all went to the cinema.

Then, of course, there was the visit to Alton Towers which everybody enjoyed.


Abercorn School, Glasgow

Maths teacher

My best school trip hasn't happened yet: I'm going to Guayaquil, in Ecuador, with two pupils this month. It's a project run by a Scottish Catholic priest over there, and the city council has been helping put children over for a few years.

Our school is for SEN children, but other participants are from mainstream schools. The two boys, Iain Souter and Christopher Duffy, will both be 16 when they go, and this'll be the first time they've been abroad.

They've had to raise amp;#163;4,500 between them, and I've really seen them mature in the process. In Ecuador, they'll give lessons in a shanty town school - they're going to have to talk about Scotland and organise a ceilidh. They'll also be in a soup kitchen and prepare food for a family that doesn't have any, and they'll work in a medical clinic. At the end, they're going up into the mountains to see how native people live.

The boys are clever, work hard, and they're big strapping lads - they're going to do well. They'll show they have skills and can work hard to contribute to society, and will grow in character. They're looking forward to it like nobody's business.


Hamilton Grammar

Drama teacher

We took about 40 pupils in S3 to S6 down to London just before the Easter holidays, to see as many different types of theatre as possible. I wrote on the off-chance to The Old Vic - where we were going to see the David Mamet play Speed-the-Plow, with Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum - to see if they could offer any educational work.

I wasn't expecting to be offered a 30-minute Qamp;amp;A with Spacey for our pupils only. Someone at the theatre told me later that that never happened - we must have caught him on a good day. But when we arrived, there was an announcement that he wouldn't be appearing, due to unforeseen circumstances. Everyone was really disappointed.

There was a stand-in for Act 1, and the character wasn't in Act 2. But on came Spacey for Act 3: in character, he said, "Sorry I'm late, but traffic's a bitch." Then he did the rest of the production.

Afterwards, the kids met him after all, and he said he had someone else with him - it was Goldblum. We thought the pupils would have recognised Spacey more easily, but it was Goldblum who was better known, from films such as Independence Day and Jurassic Park.

I was worried they would clam up, but they asked lots of questions, and both actors were very interested in why they were interested in drama and where they came from. One pupil, who wants to study drama, talked to Goldblum individually and he told her to follow her passion. She came away from that really buzzing, but they were all absolutely ecstatic.


Green Party MSP

and former teacher of modern studies

I ran a trip with 12 S2 pupils to Orkney and decided we would go by train, bus and boat. We got the train from Edinburgh to Inverness and then to Thurso, a bus to John O'Groats and a boat to South Ronaldsay, and the bus into Kirkwall.

We stayed in a youth hostel in Kirkwall. For a trip to be really good it has to be multi-purpose. On this one, they weren't being cared for, they were taking care of themselves. They weren't being transported in the comfort of a bus, getting on and getting off at various destinations. We hired a minibus and did a tour of the wonderful historic sites.

We went to the Tomb of the Eagles, where you have to get on a trolley and pull yourself through a gap 18 inches high (some finds are pictured). We saw the Churchill Barriers and the Italian Chapel at Lambholm. We went to the Maeshowe neolithic burial ground, where they saw graffiti left by Dutch invaders: "Leif Larson was here", that sort of thing. And we went to Hoy, which was a trip back in time for me because we saw the cottage I lived in until I was six.

The last night, it just so happened there was a ceilidh in Kirkwall. There were two fantastic Orcadian fiddle players and a flute player. It was brilliant.


Fortrose Academy

Joint acting principal teacher of English

We took 13 pupils to Malawi in 2006. We have a link with a local school, but it was the first time we had taken pupils over. The kids were enormously welcoming - our bus was mobbed by people with small Scotland flags.

We climbed Mt Mulanje (pictured). Our kids were much less fit than the Malawians, whereas they'd thought, with their great diet, they would be fitter. One Malawian boy, Jimmy, who was a character, was not impressed with our girls' fitness and asked what use would they be for a wife.

We spent a lot of time in school. I took a class of 140. They listened, but they thought I talked too fast and I couldn't use humour like I usually do. We took part in a debate about development issues, and did some peer education about HIV and Aids. It was impressive how much knowledge these kids had, given their limited access to texts and the internet.

We managed the trip so that our pupils weren't exposed to the worst things. In one village, though, people were obviously malnourished, which the children found distressing - but it also inspired them.


Merkland School, East Dunbartonshire

Depute head

Our leavers' trip to Blankenberge on the coast of Belgium for our S5-6 pupils is my highlight. We have a link with another special school - The Mary Russell School in Paisley - and we join up for the trip, taking a bus to Hull where we get the ferry overnight to Belgium. The ferry is an experience in itself - we all get dressed up for dinner, get served our starters and then move on to a buffet. It is a really grown-up event.

Last year, we went to the beach in Blankenberge and built sandcastles for a competition. The kids enjoyed it because a lot hadn't played on a beach before. There are things that you would do with your own children when they were young that our pupils have never experienced. One of the girls got buried under the sand by the others - it was the highlight of her day!

We also went to the Menin Gate in Ypres, a memorial to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died there but whose bodies have never been found. Hearing the Last Post being played and seeing the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the soldiers laying wreaths was quite emotional.

Inevitably, we visited a theme park on the way back - it was the only day it rained, but it didn't stop them going on all the rides.


Stirling University

Depute director of the Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research

I was teaching at Craigmount High in Edinburgh in the mid-1970s and organised a camping trip to Azay-le-Rideau (pictured) in the Loire Valley in France. The purpose was to put the pupils in a position where they would have to use their French to survive.

We had cooking equipment and the pupils were at liberty to spend the money we gave them each day as they wished.

On the first night, the four members of staff ensured we had bought steak and onions and all the things that would smell nice, wafting over the campsite as we sat and ate our meal in the twilight. We could see 20 pairs of eyes watching us. Someone said: "Sir, do you think you could get that for us?" I said: "No. If you want this, you get it."

The next night, a few had managed to get better food than bread and Vache-qui-rit cheese. After three days, everyone was venturing into the shops and buying things.

By the end, they would buy religieuses, eclairs and a tarte au citron. They had to co-operate in groups of five, prepare meals and wash up. It was cross-curricular - an early outrider of A Curriculum for Excellence.


Kilmarnock Academy


As a 15-year-old I travelled with my school, Eastwood High in Newton Mearns, on a two-week school cruise to the Baltic, on board the Nevasa.

On the first day out we were each issued with a ship's log which we were asked to maintain during the trip. I had never kept a diary and was keen to do so. I enthusiastically recorded events and thoughts for the two weeks. I noted who fancied whom, who got off with whom, which teachers we felt had been drinking, and which teachers fancied each other. I recorded which discos were the best, what I thought of the food, the sailors, the shops in each port, what people were wearing, how old I thought the teachers were, everything you can imagine a 15-year-old might put in a personal diary. I recorded the fact that, before docking in Stockholm, the teachers had helpfully pointed out that pornography and knives were freely available there, but we were not to buy them. This was news to most pupils, who now knew exactly what they would be buying in Stockholm.

On the second last day, I was horrified to discover that the logs were to be handed in for the captain to choose a winner. I begged not to hand mine in, but this was in the days of doing as you are told, and I was obliged to do so. I barely slept that night; I was worried sick. The next day, the winner was announced - some girl who had faithfully recorded wind speeds, bearings, knots, arrival times and other such boring things. I was called to meet our teacher to have my log returned. She said it had provided the best laugh she'd had in years and that it had gone round all the teachers on the ship.

I have been very careful about what I commit to print ever since - a lesson learnt.

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