Pioneers of woodland tourist trails

29th November 1996 at 00:00
No offices or factories near your school? Any workplace will do, says Elaine Carlton.

In a rural community, 30 miles from Newcastle, with just one butcher, one baker and a petrol station, you could be forgiven for thinking that opportunities for links between the local primary school and the commercial world are rare.

Teachers at Rothbury First School did not know how to get industry involved in their pupils' schooling, when there appeared to be none around.

"In the middle of a rural community, where agriculture is the major industry, there doesn't appear to be many possibilities," said Jo Warner, the teacher responsible for industrial links at Rothbury First. "But it depends on how you view industry: you have to get away from the stereotypical view."

Northumberland Education- Business Partnership helped the school to realise that industry need not be a factory or a big company: it could be any workplace. The partnership also helped enormously with funding.

When the primary school launched its new library, earlier this year, the headteacher, Dianne Butler, thought it was the perfect chance to show pupils how books are created and to make them enthusiastic about the new project. She took children on their first real library visit to the neighbouring town of Alnwick and invited a poet, an author and an illustrator to meet the children. Rothbury's annual arts budget of Pounds 100 was a drop in the ocean towards the Pounds 1,000 cost of the guests and the library trip, but the partnership and Rothbury Arts Council made up the shortfall.

"I'd never been to a library before and it was really good," says Rochelle Scott, aged seven. "There were lots of funny books and I read my favourite one, Winnie the Witch."

Eight-years-old Grace Singleton was equally impressed with the unusual visitors: "They taught us how to write good stories and told us that every tale has to have a beginning, a middle and an end."

"Funding is essential to us - it's money we just don't have here." Mrs Butler said. "Even the trip to Alnwick library cost us Pounds 50."

The projects undertaken by Rothbury First, following its drive towards business links, have been exciting and varied. As part of their geography curriculum, Jo Warner and her class of 10- and 11-year-olds studied environmental issues.

Mrs Warner contacted Ryton Gravel, a local sand and gravel company, based near the River Coquet at the foot of the Cheviot Hills. When the children visited the site, they were given a guided tour and explanations about all the machines used.

"The company showed the children how they destroyed the environment through extraction and how they've restored it by turning the part they no longer use into a bird sanctuary," says Mrs Warner. "It's the pupils' local river, so it was a very meaningfulexperience."

Children in Year 4, were also treated to a significant learning experience as a result of business links, when the National Trust contacted the school to ask if pupils would take part in a project in their local woodland, Cragside.

Cragside House, designed for William Armstrong, the famous 19th century Tyneside engineer and inventor, overlooks the school and is surrounded by acres of woodland.

Dave Edwards, the warden, invited pupils to explore the grounds to help him to market the area. Thirty children tested numerous walks created by Mr Edwards and were asked to point out any technical problems. Their drawings and comments were highlighted in promotional literature produced by the National Trust to attract foreign visitors to the walks.

"For the children, it was wonderful to know that people from Japan and all over the world were buying their leaflets," said Ms Warner. "And the National Trust benefited because the pupils produced user- friendly guides with the public appeal of children's drawings."

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