Rewarded with disaster

24th July 2015 at 01:00

One magical thing about retirement is having the time and energy to take potshots at things that have long been a source of annoyance. Such as supply teachers who refuse to work in certain schools. Or the Scottish Qualifications Authority when it apparently forgets that (most) teachers don't work for it but for local authorities. Or staffroom refuseniks who use the word "workload" as punctuation.

A biggie is the annual trip to Alton Towers, Mamp;D's or the local fleapit. These "fun" outings are organised by well-meaning teachers as part of a school's activity week and reward extravaganza. They are experiences devoid of real value but popular and relatively easy to provide.

Yes, I've been there, too. Now, however, I have the luxury of standing back and wondering whether the entertaineducate see-saw has tipped too far. Is it time to admit that the educational justifications were always more creative than convincing? As teachers, can we offer something a bit more worthwhile?

At Kinross High School recently, I was lucky enough to be involved in the Rapid Response Engineering Challenge organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers, details of which can be found on the Education Scotland website (bit.lyICEchallenge). The event lasted four days and started with a jaw-dropper for the pupils.

They had come to the assembly hall expecting a careers talk on engineering. Partway through, the engineer's phone rang. The collective intake of breath spoke of genuine surprise, which quickly turned to poorly concealed eavesdropping as the engineer played out his side of an increasingly fascinating call. Something about an international rescue effort. Something about needing volunteers. Something about school pupils. Excitement crackled around the hall.

Pupils were ushered into rooms and undertook team-building exercises. They learned that classes for the rest of the week would offer the chance to gather important skills and information.

On the "big day" that the week's activities were building towards, 170 S1 pupils responded to an imaginary hurricane in Honduras with very real enthusiasm. They built shelters, constructed water-supply systems and learned how to get maximum value out of limited food rations and cooking facilities. Presentations were given to the BBC. Musical instruments made from salvaged junk enabled morale-boosting samba music to be played.

The costs? Some basics, such as plastic buckets and piping. The event demanded creative thinking, too, as well as cooperation with the local authority (providers of real civil engineers) and the Rotary Club.

These are exactly the sorts of life skills we're supposed to be developing in our pupils. It's almost enough to make me want to come out of retirement.

Fiona Keatings is a former depute headteacher

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