School trips

30th July 2010 at 01:00
Whether a school trip requires you to venture back in time or look to the future, it often leaves a lasting impression

ALLAN RATTRAY - Headteacher, Girvan Academy, South Ayrshire

Meeting the victims of drug trafficking was really emotional. There were two guys, one had lost his arm from the elbow down, and the other had been held captive for three years. He had been introduced to his executioner, so he knew who would kill him if he tried to escape.

We were in Colombia for a week in June, on a trip organised through the United Nations, the Colombian embassy in London and the British embassy. I had three students with me, and the headteacher of Portobello High in Edinburgh was there with two other students. We had been invited because of our work on the Shared Responsibility programme, which looks at drugs education by examining the impact at home and abroad in countries where cocaine is produced.

In Colombia it's the source of huge problems, but people are fighting back. We flew in armed helicopters over the Sierra Nevada and looked down on an area that had virtually been cleared of coca production. You could see areas that had been completely deforested but also where they were starting the process of regeneration.

We also visited schools in south Bogota. They have a drugs education programme delivered from ages three to 18 across the entire country by the anti-narcotics unit. We saw it being delivered to children, but I don't think there would be much indiscipline in older groups - police carry handguns in class.

KATHRYN COLLIER - About to start probationary year at Pentland Primary, Edinburgh

When I think back to my primary school days there are, inevitably, memories that stand out. One is of a trip to a Victorian schoolhouse where we were given the opportunity to dress up in clothing that would have been worn by schoolchildren.

When we put it on, it really did feel as if we had stepped back in time - learning came alive. We were surrounded by the actual furniture and equipment that had been used by generations of children.

Our class spent the day absorbing information and using slates and nib pens for our school work. We learnt about the punishment and behaviour regimes in Victorian schools - including the cane, the slipper and the dunce's hat. The belt slamming on the desk echoed around the room - it was something we didn't forget for a while and it made us appreciate our current school life.

ALISON CRAIG - Modern studies teacher, Perth Grammar

It's only recently that our school has started going abroad, and I've just come back from taking an S4-6 group of 22 pupils to China.

It's two years since they wrote personal statements saying why they'd like to go. Since then, they've had lessons in tai chi, calligraphy, kung fu and Mandarin. The Higher modern studies pupils were quite well versed about the Communist regime.

There was a lot of preparation, but they still got a culture shock. That was down to lots of things: squat toilets, having to barter and the size of cities.

It was also the first time many had experienced being a minority. A lot of kids were surprised that people stared at them in the street. Even in Tiananmen Square, strangers would come up and shake hands and get photographed with them. One girl said she couldn't decide if she was a celebrity or an alien.

They also learnt that, no matter how well prepared you are, things can go awry when you travel abroad. One of the older pupils got an insect bite that spread quickly. We had to alter our plans, but the hospital was good and she was delighted to get her medical documentation as a souvenir.

Even though we were mostly on the tourist trail, a lot of kids were very astute and spotted the gap between rich and poor. It was important for them to see there were shanties as well as shining skyscrapers.

JIM JOHNSTON - Headteacher, Farr High, Sutherland

In 1978 I had the idea of starting an outdoor activities programme before the summer break. We take pupils from all years away for five days: a two- day hike, a rest day on an island and two days of activities - maybe mountain-biking, canoeing or golf.

I'd found that people had quite a low image of their own natural environment, and had not really explored it. The idea was to show there were hills worth climbing, history worth exploring, and some really memorable archaeology. A colleague called Ron Celli, a woodwork teacher, added another dimension with outdoor sports such as canoeing and kayaking, and others have followed in his footsteps.

A few years ago we went to the island of Handa, which has been abandoned since the mid-19th century but is a prime site for ornithology. It leaves an impression on the pupils to think that a hardy group of people used to live there, since time immemorial. It was a particularly beautiful day. You could see across to the mainland of Sutherland and understand what the poet Norman MacCaig meant when he described the mountains of Assynt as a "frieze and a litany".

Attitudes have changed. Young people come back to the area more than they did in the past. I'm not saying our trips should take the credit for that. It's more significant that you can now be educated here in Bettyhill up to S6 - we've only been doing Highers since 1988. But I'd like to think that getting out into their own backyard has changed pupils' perspective about where they live.

RHONA JARVIS - Recently-retired head of planning and policy for education, Aberdeen City Council

Abseiling and canoeing may seem run-of-the-mill for a residential trip, but for one group of pupils they posed an exceptional challenge.

In 1996 I was headteacher of Pitfodels School in Aberdeen, which is for pupils with severe and complex needs. We introduced a programme to help senior pupils become more independent, including a four-day trip to the Sir Arthur Grant Centre at Monymusk in Aberdeenshire.

We took six pupils aged 14-18. Some had never been away from home. One girl had the condition pica, which meant she would try to eat anything - soap, for example. I had to give one boy insulin injections. Another could not sit still and would constantly be wandering off. Someone had to be on duty at night.

Some staff thought it too ambitious, but it was absolutely fabulous. One girl, Sharon, was in a wheelchair and couldn't take her own weight, yet I can vividly picture her being hoisted in the air and sliding down a zip- wire. She was thrilled and couldn't stop laughing. A boy, Ryan, was severely autistic, but managed to go in a canoe on his own and respond to instructions.

These were challenges they'd never had before, which helped them adapt to life after school. We often do too much for kids with special needs - we protect them too much.

Pupils from Hazelwood School - Pitfodels and Kingslea schools amalgamated in 1998 - go to Monymusk every year, and every two years to the Bendrigg Trust in the Lake District. Staff's enthusiasm and dedication on that first trip, working with a council outdoor education team now known as Adventure Aberdeen, left a valuable legacy.

LINDA-ANNE REID - Headteacher, Stenhousemuir Primary, Falkirk

In 1969, school trips were a fairly new innovation for Stenhousemuir Primary (P7s only). We went to St Andrews for the day, boarding the bus with great excitement. To our current P7s - who have a residential activity holiday each year - it may not seem exciting, but to us it was a real adventure. For many of my classmates, it was like travelling to a foreign country. Most didn't have family cars and the only regular trips were on the circular bus to Falkirk!

The journey was a real experience. We sang, of course, but I don't remember which songs - probably "Westering Home" or "It's a Long Way to St Andrews." We were blessed with fabulous weather - I'm not sure what we'd have done otherwise, as we were all equipped with swimsuits and heading directly for the beach. We played, swam and had high tea at the Victoria Hotel and arrived home much later than the 4pm school finishing time.

Now, as headteacher of the same school, I wonder, were there any risk assessments for swimming in the North Sea? Where were the two teachers when we were on the beach? Not that it matters: the legacy is a great memory and an ongoing love of a beautiful east-coast town.

SUSAN WALSH - Principal of Cardonald College, Glasgow

My best college trip was taking a group of teenage learning-support students to Blanes, in Spain's Costa Brava, in the late Eighties.

I'd been a nurse in a previous life and my job was to dole out drugs and make sure no one died, especially on the two-day bus journey (Ryanair hadn't been invented yet). I didn't know the students and they didn't know me. To them, I was the "blonde wummin wi' the medicine". To me, they were the most motley bunch I'd ever dealt with, and I ended up just loving them.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I detest holidays. I grump and groan and do my best to avoid them. OK, so I'm sad, but if you were to offer me the chance to repeat that trip I would.

Playing footie on the beach with Charlie fouling everyone as a matter of principle. Drinking hot chocolate in the bar as we towelled soggy heads dry after it rained cats and dogs. Taking the kids to Barcelona and having my backside pinched on the underground. They really howled at that - and I mean howled. Bet you that guy never tried it again! Walking down La Rambla consoling Tony when his girlfriend refused the single red rose he'd purchased for her: "Miss, I love her. She's a wee cracker." Losing only one person in Barcelona and that was one of the staff. Brilliant, loved it. Loved them.

KEN CUNNINGHAM - General secretary of School Leaders Scotland and former head of Hillhead High, Glasgow

Nothing quite prepares you. A wall of faces. A cacophony of horns sounding, the human and animal cries. The humidity. It was 1998, and I was visiting India and Pakistan with my depute.

It was a signal of interest to my parent body and that of a school with which we were merging. My school already had a large ethnic minority community from around the world, but we would now have a significant proportion from the sub-continent.

It was a whirlwind three weeks. Schools and religious sites around Delhi, with a whistle-stop run to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. The death-defying ride back in pitch darkness, avoiding the elephants with no tail lights, the U-turn lorries, the odd donkey and cart and the ubiquitous sacred cows.

Thence to the Punjab, Chandigarh and Amritsar. The relatively uneventful train journey from Delhi to Chandigarh, blissfully unaware of the accident affecting the train that left before us for Amritsar, wiping out all 350 passengers - or the world news broadcast that both our wives had heard back home.

Too many memories: the walled garden where the massacre of the Sikhs took place - bright in the sunlight but chilling in the atmosphere. The personal tour of the Golden Temple. The engagement party in Amritsar. The walk across the border, eventful in itself. Tensions were high in 1998.

And then the culture of Pakistan: Lahore with its colonial artefacts still to be seen; Karachi with its edginess - on a crab fishing boat with cameras in front of the Pakistan naval fleet was not the cleverest move.

But above all, wherever we went, the abiding memories of smiling, cheery faces of young people utterly committed to learning, their discipline and behaviour impeccable. In classes of sometimes 60 upward, hanging on the teacher's every word.

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