My best school trip

24th July 2009 at 01:00

JOHN FINLAYSON, Headteacher, Portree Primary, Isle of Skye

When I was head at Plockton Primary, we went in the late '90s to Paris to play shinty, and were probably the first people ever to do this.

The exchange came about after a sports historian from France, who was researching stick games in Europe, contacted me because of my association with the sport. A group of children, teachers and coaches from Paris visited. They stayed for a week with families in Plockton, where they played and got shinty coaching.

The following year, we took a group of nearly 30 kids on a return trip. Our kids stayed with French families while in Paris, and this helped them develop their language skills and make and cement friendships which had started in Plockton.

We played against a combined team in Paris, and did the usual sights. We visited schools and had champagne for lunch, took a boat trip down the Seine, spent an evening in Montmartre and ate frogs' legs. We went to Eurodisney where, despite all my instructions about keeping together and not getting lost, I was the only person who disappeared and was an hour late for the bus rendezvous.

LIZ HOOD, Principal teacher of business studies, Perth Academy

Our guide had been in the Royal Navy for 30 years and he said he'd never seen anything like it - there were packs of humpback whales dancing alongside the boat, and that was just day six in South Africa. The school has done over 10 World Challenge trips; I've been on two and, next weekend, we head off to the south of Brazil. Each trip is made up of four phases: acclimatisation; the main trek; a project in the community and a bit of Ramp;R.

The last trip was to South Africa, two years ago. We flew into Durban and did our acclimatisation in the St Lucia wetlands. We finished off with a whale-watching trip, regrouped in Durban and from there headed to the Drakensberg mountains for our main challenge. After six days, we arrived at the traditional Zulu village. Our intention was to build a food shelter, which is now being used as a classroom because they were so taken with it.

It is a life-changing experience for the pupils. For me, it's a privilege to journey with them, see the opportunities they have and the changes in them.

KIRSTY ALEXANDER, Principal teacher of religious, moral and philosophical studies, Bishopbriggs Academy

Last October, the 1st Battalion of the Bishopbriggs pals made our way to the First World War battlefields of Belgium and France. Just like the soldiers of 90 years ago, we crossed the channel and arrived in Ypres. We learned about the clay-kickers who dug and laid explosives under the German frontlines, and we headed to Sanctuary Wood, which has some of the best-preserved trenches on the Western Front. We shivered as we heard how lice and rats were the constant companions of the soldiers.

The next day, the mist and cold at the Somme created a chilling effect as we slowly walked across "No Man's Land" at Newfoundland Park. The fog crept around us at the memorial to the 51st Highlanders and some of us were moved to tears as we listened to "Flowers o' the Forest". The best part of the day was at La Boiselle - La Grande Mine - also called Lochnagar Crater. Sergeant Daniel Harper (S3) played the pipes as other tour groups looked on.

On the last day, we explored the northern Ypres salient. We visited Essex Farm where John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields and thought about Valentine Joe Strudwick, who was only 15 years' old when he died in the Great War. When we entered Ypres through the Menin Gate, it was a proud moment and we sang "Flower of Scotland".

FIONA KEATINGS, Depute head and international co-ordinator, Perth High

In November, 2007, I was a member of a group of 22 S6 pupils and five staff from Perth High who went to Shanghai for 10 days on a kind of trade mission for pupils.

Perth has a number of connections with China and we tapped into that: Edringtons, the whisky people, allowed our pupils to take part in a video- conference with their team in Shanghai (whom our youngsters subsequently met); they also met Gordon Dow, the head of Spectra Glass, the Perth-based company which made the glass that protected the Beijing Olympic torch as it was being carried round the world. He explained the etiquette of doing business in China; and when we were there, we were invited to meet the British Consul-General, Carma Elliot, who is Scottish; and the vice- president of HSBC Asia spoke to us at our hotel.

We insisted on several conditions with the kids: they had to go with open minds; to have done the Chinese nation the courtesy of learning enough phrases to say some simple things; and they had to try everything - they were allowed a second taste, but not allowed to say "ugh, I'm not eating that." At a banquet in China, the morsel of honour is the fish eye and, as we attended various functions, we got it a lot; a number of the kids stepped up and ate it.

When they came back, some changed their university course choices as a result. When they say you have changed their lives, that makes all the bloody hard work worthwhile.

GRAHAM HUTTON, Headteacher, Dumbarton Academy

I still break out in a cold sweat thinking about this. I was a French and German teacher at Breadalbane Academy in Aberfeldy, leading an exchange trip to France in 1991. We had some time in Paris on the way back and went to the Eiffel Tower.

At the foot, we did a head count - now I'd insist that wasn't enough, that you have to know where every individual pupil is. One group was a pupil short - a boy called Graham, who'd have been 14.

We'd got off the Metro back up a hill at Trocadero, one of those busy places with lots of dodgy street sellers. I said I'd go. I was swerving past skateboarders and the cans they'd laid out as obstacles. I don't know how many people I bumped into. I was terrified that something had happened to him, all the terrible things that go through your head. My career flashed before my eyes.

I got to the top and looked around. It was hoaching with people. I saw Graham standing stock still, absolutely terrified. He'd wandered off to take photos and lost the group, but had been a sensible young man and done what we'd told him: go back to where you were last with the group, and don't move. I didn't shout. I was just so relieved. It had been the worst 20 minutes of my life.

DUNCAN TOMS, Principal teacher of history, Bearsden Academy

Every May, we take our Standard grade history pupils to Auchindrain Museum. It provides them with vivid impressions of the lives and work of our forebears in a farming village: tied to the land, living in basic accommodation.

As they pass Inveraray Castle, the contrast with the cottages and barns of Auchindrain is not lost on the pupils. Once they overcome their disbelief at the lack of toilets and having to share houses with farm animals, they begin to appreciate that these were people like us, trying to make a living with their families and subject to the same joys and sorrows, only in different historical circumstances.

As we gather outside the door of the last inhabited house flanked by the thorn trees - from the Gaelic for which Auchindrain gets its name - I ask them to listen for the ghosts of those who once lived here as they went about their daily lives, working the fields, tending the livestock, playing, socialising, arguing, being born and dying. At the mention of ghosts, they go silent and listen. But it is a sympathetic rather than spooky silence, until broken by someone who has discerned at least one possible advantage in all this: "But where did they go to school?"

HELEN MACKIE, Depute head, St George's School for Girls, Edinburgh

In my 32 years at the school, I've been on trips to all seven continents. We took five pupils to Antarctica for three weeks in 2007, where we recorded information on penguins and leopard seals. We were based at Port Lockroy, which is manned by three people in the Antarctic summer, one of whom turned out to be a former St George's pupil.

In China, I was once asked to talk to a partner school audience and thought it would be like an assembly. I only discovered at the last minute that I'd be addressing 3,000 people in a stadium, surrounded by military and Communist party officials. Every time I mentioned that I really valued the partnership, people burst into applause. That's why it's valuable going overseas - it teaches the girls to deal with unpredictability.

We reduce their comfortable lifestyles to the basics. In China, where they think the toilets are awful, by the end they are accepting and realise it's not wrong, just different. In Africa, when we take papers and pens and see how valuable they are, girls say they'll never hand another jotter in until they've used every part of it.

KENNY GIBSON, Deputy convener, Parliament's education, lifelong learning and culture committee

My first trip abroad had been with my school the previous year when we went to Greece and visited Athens and the Acropolis. But Italy in 1978 was better - it seemed really different.

I went with my Latin class and we all thought it was great. We visited the fabulous city of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. The thing about Pompeii is all the contrived figures of the people buried under the ash. That stimulated the imagination and put you in the position of thinking how terrible the disaster was that hit the city in 79AD and killed 2,000 inhabitants.

From there we went up Mount Vesuvius, which last erupted in 1943. You could sit on a rocky outcrop and jets of hot steam went up your backside - that was quite memorable. The other thing was the hawkers trying to sell watches. I remember bartering one down from 75,000 to 3,000 lire. That was about Pounds 2, or a tenner in today's money - not bad.

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