Thank God it's Friday

21st April 2006 at 01:00
The great outdoors can fill pupils with confidence. Phil Bloomfield would settle for dry feet

Monday I am off on a residential week with 10 key stage 3 students from the Springfield special school where I'm a governor. We're at Woodlands, an outdoor pursuits centre on the Wye at Glasbury, Wales. Chris, one of the centre teachers, has an immediate rapport with our students. He takes us for a short walk in the hills in the afternoon, I suspect to see how they'll cope with the week. I walk up the steepest hill hand-in-hand with Tom and Marie. Tom has left his calliper in the centre and is in walking boots for the first time. Marie has Down's syndrome. They are both determined to get up the hill and start racing each other.

Tuesday Gorge-walking today. We get kitted out in the waterproofs and hard hats, but things look more ominous when Chris makes us all put on harnesses. We have to climb over short sections of rocks, so he uses the harnesses to connect the students to him with rope. Not paying attention, I slip on some algae next to a rock pool and put my right leg into freezing water. Everybody laughs.

Tom smartens himself up for the evening by copying one of the other boys who has put gel on his hair. Unfortunately, Tom peaks up his hair with shower gel, which we discover when he starts bubbling up.

Wednesday I'm more than 6ft, so less enthusiastic about caving, today's planned activity. It turns out to be really enjoyable. The students scramble about, squeezing through narrow gaps, marvelling at the structures and giggling with delight in the trickle of pure filtered water gurgling from the cave ceiling. We put smears of mud on our faces "for our complexions" and then sit in darkness when we put out our torches.

Thursday Jordan is scared of today's challenge: canoeing. We lash the canoes together in twos to make little rafts to paddle five miles to Hay-on-Wye. Jordan shrieks and cries, worried by the slightest ripple in the water. Our raft gets stuck in some shallows and I get out, pushing it off. My foot slips and in I go, soaked up to the waist this time. Everybody laughs again. I paddle on, with a couple of pints of river in each wellie.

After a while I notice that Jordan is fully absorbed - another demon defeated. He tries to splash me with his paddle when we go too close to his raft, but he can't make me any wetter.

Friday It's the jungle gym this morning, with tree-top activities that scare the students rigid. Jordan trembles, but he overcomes his fears. I am pleased to see that there is no water in this particular jungle and I am still dry at lunchtime.

Then it is time for packing to go home. We are delayed in trying to find everyone's clothes, toothbrushes, slippers, but we get home almost on time.

Parents wait anxiously in the car park but are relieved when they see their children looking so happy and confident. "You didn't get too wet?" asks Jordan's mother when she meets him. He looks at me and smiles.

Phil Bloomfield is a governor of Springfield special school in Witney, Oxfordshire

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