When fish are not enough

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
If most of your neighbours are cod you have to look further afield to build friendships and find cultural stimulation. Jennifer Hawkins reports

It was in an article in The TES that headteacher Stuart McLeod described his school as surrounded on three sides by the English Channel and and his catchment area as cod and herring.

"The road ends at my school gates and 200 metres away is a cliff-top vista nature lovers die for. It sounds magic, but it has its limitations," he said.

One of the limitations is teaching the 200 pupils at Southwell primary on the island of Portland, Weymouth, about the rest of Britain and its multi-cultural population.

By advertising his plight, Mr McLeod was looking for a school in very different circumstances to share the experiences and lifestyles of its pupils.

And this is how he and members of Year 4 and their parents found themselves visiting the Gurdwara Sikh temple, Southall, west London, which briefly appears in the Bollywood film, Bride and Prejudice.

As the children were led through in the main praying area, one child noticed a man sitting down and reading the holy book in a glass-panelled room. The child whispered: "Is he their real God?"

The trip was the first time that Southwell and its "twin" school Dairy Meadow, a primary twice the size with pupils of different nationalities, in Southall, had met. And the trip to the temple was a highlight.

The pupils had corresponded and learned a little about each others' lives but getting together proved more difficult.

Some parents objected to the trip. Mr McLeod said: "One parent said, 'It's too different for them' and others said 'London is too far' or 'my child will be too overwhelmed'. At 5 o'clock on the day before we were due to leave some parents finally said yes, their child could go as long as they could go with them."

Some children were anxious when they first arrived. Rachel Day, aged eight, did not know what to expect. "I was nervous about the trip because I did not know whether my penpal would like me."

But despite their reservations most of the children quickly made friends.

They took part in a wide range of activities, listened to Asian music played by some of the older children, sampled a different lunch menu and visited the temple.

While most of the Portlanders opted for chips and beans at lunch, Liam Hughes said: "I had curry for dinner and it tasted spicier than our curries on Portland. It was tasty."

Brandon Tizard said: "When I walked inside the temple I had to take my shoes off. It was very nice with marble floors. And I had to wear a headscarf." Amber Barnicoaton said: "It was bigger than our church. Inside it had different colours from ours and there was a sign made out of flowers."

Kate Bailey, head of Dairy Meadow, said: "I think my pupils have been given a pride of their environment and culture and they had that validated by the visitors' responses.

"Seeing the Southwell children's faces when they went into the Gudwara, in awe and wonder, made it all worthwhile."

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