1st June 2001 at 01:00
(Photograph) - A weekend in the life of Maidstone grammar school, Kent

Maidstone grammar, a boys' school that took in its first pupils in 1549, has, says director of studies Chris Renn, the biggest sixth-form in the UK, with more than 400 students (including some girls). It also has a Combined Cadet Force, involving around 100 pupils from Year 9 and above.

As well as the weekly Thursday activities after school, in which children learn to work together, practising such skills as drill, signals and weapons training, the CCF goes on an annual field day, usually to a Ministry of Defence site. These pictures were taken on this year's trip, when the Army and RAF sections spent a cold March day at Hillingdon Activity Centre (foot and mouth disease having forced the change of venue).

Down in the woods, the boys and girls had their work cut out as, split into three teams, they raced over ropes and obstacle courses, and plunged straight into a competition to build and race rafts.

But perhaps the most fun was the simulated night-time raid, when the junio troops donned blackout goggles and took turns to lead their teams - in silence - across enemy lines. Officers encouraged their charges to stay on the straight and narrow by telling them they faced a five-metre sheer drop if they stepped too far to the right or left.

Mr Renn admits that some people find the militarism of the CCF offputting, but he counters such criticism by pointing out the positive values of self-discipline and leadership it imparts. He says that on night exercises normally talkative pupils will stay silent for hours on end - and you can't argue with that.

Snaps by Chris Renn

* Here we go: each team had 30 minutes to make a raft

* Hold on: learning the ropes

* The blind leading the blind: all quiet for a simulated night-time raid on enemy territory

* Brrr! Yes, it was very cold in the water

* In the dark: avoiding the five metre drop

* Easy does it: helping each other through the spider's web

* Wetsuits on: everybody gets ready for the big race

* Your turn: going down 'the death slide'

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