As head of modern languages, I organised my own trips. The exchanges were always successful, but I wanted an extra dimension. I offered a place on the trip to any teacher who could come up with a good cross-curricular idea. The art teacher won.
We planned a Spanishart exchange with a GaudiBarcelona theme. Hours of planning were rewarded. It was great to have sketchbooks and a purpose in Barcelona, rather than just doing the sights. At the famous cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, we had tourists taking photos, not of the cathedral, but of us sketching in the cathedral.
We spent a day in the Parc Guell, high up on the hills overlooking Barcelona. The reason it was my best trip: the pupils became completely absorbed in what they were doing. So much so that we lost track of time. Not one of them said to me: "When can we go shopping?" or "Where can we eat pizza?" They dispersed in small groups around the park and sketched mosaics all day. I almost had to drag them away as the park neared closing time.
On our return to England we followed it up by having the Spanish and English children produce Gaudi-inspired tile mosaics on large terracotta plant pots. Our school was being redeveloped at the time and the head was so impressed that she had some of the plant pots sited in the new reception.
My first school had a huge sixth form and ran exotic trips to far flung places. Desperate for a free ride, I ingratiated myself with the head of classics, suggesting witty titles in the staffroom for her proposed Millennium trip to Greece. "Grecian 2000" didn't go down well, but she liked "Acropolis Now". She had the last laugh though.
The indefatigable Mrs O'Hagan set a punishing schedule: midnight flights to Athens, breakfast, ferry. She promised we could all relax once aboard. Half of us fell asleep immediately, forgetting that Greek ferries call at many ports.
Mrs O'Hagan hadn't said we were getting off at the first island. She and the half that wasn't fast asleep disembarked. The rest of us woke to shouts from the dock as the ferry moved off.
Frantically, I did a head count and ran straight to the bridge: "Captain - can you go back?" He looked at me and shook his head. "Next island is 30 minutes." Was there a ferry coming back? "Yes," he said. "In 12 hours."
We disembarked on a barren island with a couple of old taxis, a restaurant and little else. I talked to the locals. Minutes later we were in the taxis speeding to the other port on the island, much closer to the first island. As we rounded a headland, a speedboat summoned by our driver swung in. It was like a scene from James Bond.
Within five minutes we were almost back with the others. I was a hero. Some pupils thought our adventure better than anything Mrs O'Hagan might have planned.
Just when I thought I had solved all our problems, one of the sixth formers was sick from the speedboat and almost fainted by the time we arrived. Then, instead of the waiting Mrs O' Hagan praising my ingenuity, she tore me off a strip for jeopardising the whole day
Paul Johnston is head of learning and skills at Her Majesty's Prison, Gartree and teaches at Lubenham Primary School in Market Harborough, Leicestershire.