The road to Morocco - and beyond

21st November 1997 at 00:00
Planning a field trip? Malham perhaps? Or Whitby. Then there's Chesil Beach or Cheddar Gorge. But pupils from Oldbury Wells School, in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, go a bit further afield - quite a lot further. This year's sixth-formers went to Marrakesh - next year it could be Kathmandu.

Head of geography Stuart Nash inherited a tradition of far-flung field trips when he joined the department in 1994. The school, an 11 to 18 comprehensive, had been taking sixth-formers abroad since 1989, when a group went to the Picos mountains in northern Spain.

"Countries around the Mediterranean were the aim then," explains Mr Nash, "somewhere not too far away, but totally different."

Since then there have been two trips to Egypt and three to Morocco. "We can leave Bridgnorth in the morning and the pupils are doing fieldwork in Marrakesh in the afternoon," says Mr Nash. This year's sixth-formers carried out an urban study of Marrakesh, making an urban growth model for the city.

"There's the shock of seeing some nice ex-French colonial areas - then the poorer areas," says Mr Nash. After a couple of days the sixth-formers went into the Atlas Mountains, where fieldwork topics included tourism and the role of women in the economy.

The group hired Berber guides, with Mr Nash making an advance visit to each destination to reconnoitre the area. Accommodation is often basic, "sleeping on the floor of a mountain hut", and the group travels on foot for some of the time. Mr Nash is aware of the huge responsibility the trip represents. "I would never take a group into an area so remote that we couldn't get help," he says.

School staff make all travel arrangements and the trip costs sixth-formers Pounds 400 each. Around 20 students take A-level geography each year, of which 15 usually go on the field trip.

"Any difficulties with money can usually be sorted out," says Mr Nash. The trip is not the basis for the group's A-level fieldwork, but it does build invaluable skills and there are other spin-offs.

"Last year we took a severe diabetic," he says. "There was some concern, but we planned for it and she coped brilliantly. It was the making of her. After the trip she felt she could cope with anything."

On their return, students write up their fieldwork and give presen-tations to other students. The follow-up includes a presentation evening, with 300 to 400 people turning up to see slides and look at students' work.

Mr Nash is already planning 1998's trip. Having been to north Africa half a dozen times, he is aiming further afield. At Christmas he will jet out to Kathmandu to reconnoitre a possible trip into the Himalayan foothills.

Students in the lower school don't miss out. Their Year 10 geography field trip looks at the problems of acid rain and geomorphology and includes a town study. And where do they go to do this? North Wales perhaps, the Lake District? No - they will go to Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc in France.

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