David Bocking discovers how a visit from a helicopter can be used to raise money and enhance the curriculum
You might not associate your annual class photo with science, literacy and geography. Neither would you expect a helicopter to feature on the back row. But that's exactly what Heliphotos provides. The company has been combining school photos with a free drop-in session from a helicopter and crew for the past 16 years and claims to have visited more than a million UK schoolchildren.
The free visits (only to schools with sufficient landing space) are funded by the sale of a 16-page souvenir pack to parents for pound;12.95.
Each booklet contains information, facts and figures about helicopters, puzzles, diagrams and two photos.
The photos include a class picture arranged in front of the helicopter, and an aerial view of the school taken during the helicopter's approach - with the waiting teachers and children arranged in a suitable pattern (choices suggested are the school logo, the date and a large smiling face).
The aerial photos are taken from several directions to provide resources for geography.
After landing, the pilot and assistant give a half-hour talk about helicopter flight, and if prompted may reveal names of famous former passengers, such as Gareth Gates. The pilot also demonstrates the use of the flight controls, although pupils cannot enter the cockpit.
An education pack (with material suitable for children aged from five to 13) is provided for teachers to carry out follow-up work in maths, geography, English, art and science, and a Big Book is also available for use in literacy hour - both are included free along with the visit.
"The talk was excellent. It was aimed at just the right level and held the attention of 396 children," says Pat Beeson, headteacher of Old Mill Primary School, Broughton Astley, Leicestershire. She was impressed with the time set aside by the pilot to answer pupils' questions, despite the company's policy of arranging flights to several schools every day. I'd recommend this idea to anyone," she says. Someone from Heliphotos makes a site inspection prior to arranging a flight to the school, to assess landing space and access.
"Although nearby buildings and electricity pylons can rule out a visit, many primary schools do have sufficient space," says Heliphotos director Julia Hines. But if not, she recommends getting together with a secondary school, or perhaps taking pupils to a nearby playing field or park.
Schools make a commission on souvenir booklets sold, with higher rates paid for larger percentage sales.
l Heliphotos Stand: SV9 www.heliphotos.co.uk