Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Micro travels day 2

Micro travels day 2


Another day, another micro journey and once again another list, this list

having been to Cambridge yesterday I obviously had to change the fifth choice on the dice, that done I once again rolled the dice and this time it came up 6, so it was off to Bury St Edmunds in the morning for me, 
I arrived in Bury just before midday and set off into the town centre, the Abbey Gardens were the first place I went to and spent quite a while wandering around the ruins, an interesting thing I didn`t know was that it was in the now ruined abbey where the Barons of the land swore an oath in 1214 to make King John sign Magna Carta, the basis of democracy in England,

with the Abbey Gardens explored I made my way into the town centre, during my wanderings I came across possibly one of the best discoveries, The Nutshell, the smallest pub in Britain, a mere 15ft by 7ft and just about enough room for ten or so people, so I decided to call in for quick pint because it would rude not to,
after I had my pint, I spent the next few hours wandering around seeing what else Bury had to offer until sadly it was time to make my back to the station and once again make my way home ready for the next days journey

Monday, 22 September 2014

Micro travels day 1

Micro travels

A couple of weeks ago a picked up a book called micro adventures by Alistair Humphreys, its a book that I would highly recommend to anyone, the basis of the book is that adventure is a state of mind and that it doesn`t take a huge amount of time, money or effort to go on one, with this in mind and not having much money I decided to go a few one day adventures to different places around the local area, this will be the first in a series of short blogs about these travels, to make this a true adventure I chose to randomise where I was going each day, to do this I chose six places with train stations and then rolled a dice to see where I would be going.



The Sunday night before I set off on my first journey I made a list of six places I haven`t been before the six choices were Woodbridge, Sudbury, Norwich, Lowestoft, Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds, if I`m honest I was secretly hoping for Woodbridge or Sudbury but that wasn`t my choice as I was leaving it in the hands of fate and fate would have to choose the furthest destination, namely Cambridge,

as I was in no great hurry I looked at the departing times from my local station and decided to catch the 9.50 train, which would get me to Cambridge around 12.15, however due to delays I didn`t actually get there until nearer 12.45, as I said though I wasn`t hurrying anywhere and the only time factor was the departure time of the train back, knowing I had about four hours before my train was due to depart I set off into the city to try and see as much as I could.
Originally being from the other major university city in the UK, I was surprised at how much the architecture of Cambridge reminded me of that place, the other thing that reminded me of Oxford was the amount of bicycles and university shops there were and how it seemed impossible to turn a corner without seeing one of these shops somewhere along that street, my wanderings finally inevitably brought me Kings College where a very famous picture, perhaps the most famous picture of Cambridge is taken and I thought as I was there, I might as well try and replicate it, however they wanted to charge me to enter so that put pay to that, until I wandered down another street and crossed the river Cam, where I got the idea to try and walk back up the other side, that was easy and Kings College soon came back into view with its famous church , however I couldn`t get as close as I liked as the Uni had cut off access to the side of the river I was on and wanted to charge entry, they don`t go to uni for nothing these guys! below is the best I could do,

some of you might be thinking there`s something missing in this picture and you`d be right, the river Cam, its actually in the middle of the picture and from this angle looks like it concealed in a little   ha-ha, with that done I walked a little further to look for a way back across the Cam and another picture opportunity arose 

with time running out I made my way back to the station to catch the train back home fired up and ready for the next days adventure.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Canoeing the Stour

Canoeing the Stour

 its been quite a long time since I wrote my last blog so I thought it was about time to do another, this time about something I haven`t done for a little namely canoeing, this is mainly because I don`t actually own my own canoe sadly, however I saw a leaflet in a local supermarket advertising canoe hire I jumped at the chance to get back onto the water.
as I would be on my own for the trip I agreed with the hire company not to do the full distance normally suggested, from Sudbury to Cattawade, but to go from Nayland to Cattawade, even this shorter distance would take me most of the day to complete, having put in at the Anchor Inn, I headed downstream, it took me a little while to remember what I was doing but eventually it came back to me which was just as well as the first part of the Stour was narrow and very overgrown requiring alot of manoeuvring between reed banks and overhanging branches and it would be this way for quite a while down river.


 eventually the river widened and became easier to navigate and the journey became alot more pleasant, after five kilometres of paddling I came to the first obstacle, Boxted mill, now a private residence, because the mill would at one time have had a waterwheel to power the machinery, it would also have had a pond to hold the water and a weir to control the flow, obviously I couldn`t have paddled down the weir and so had to portage around this, thankfully the owners of the land had thoughtfully provided a path to do just this but how was I to move a 16ft/40kg canoe by myself? by putting wheels on the bottom of course, I`m not kidding

 see wheels

having successfully portaged around the first problem I carried on my journey, a few kilometres later I came across my second problem, Langham flumes, again these were originally built to control the flow of water downstream, if I actually owned the canoe I was paddling I might have actually attempted to go down them in the canoe but as I didn`t I decided not to and portaged around it.

after this there followed a couple of kilometres of easy paddling, and fairly soon the bells from Higham church could be heard,

 this was soon passed and I was heading quickly towards Dedham. after another portage around Stratford St Mary lock

and paddling along the border between Essex and Suffolk I reached Dedham mill, where I once again had to portage around the weir,

 this is where the journey got a little difficult and I had to change my position in the boat from towards the back to the middle to give me more manoeuvrability around all the other boaters, usually called unfavourably (or Not) "rent a crash" or "rent a wreck" this was the hardest section of the journey and would last until I reached Flatford, if your of an artistic nature you may have heard of Flatford as its where Constable painted the Hey wain and involved yet another portage.

thankfully that would be the last of the portages and I was now only about an hour from the end of my journey, not far after Flatford came the potentially frightening Judas weir where the stour split and signs along the river warn you to "keep left at Judas weir", as it turned out, you couldn`t do anything but keep left as the weir had actually been blocked off by floating buoys and the water was barely flowing through it, but that wouldn`t prevent Health and Safety having their way, 45 minutes after passing the (not) very scary Judas weir I was reaching the end of my journey but before I did I had chance to try my hand at wildlife photography and judging by the result National Geographic should be on the phone any day now, 

  and so my day ended, I would recommend this to anyone wanting an adventurous but pleasant day on the river.
my thanks go to the Outdoor Hire Centre for the hire the of the canoe and for ferrying me to and from the centre 


Monday, 6 January 2014

Are We Not Teachers?

Are we not teachers?

Over the Christmas period of 2013 I, like many people, spent the time with various family members and had to endure the usual rhetoric of how my cousins were wonderful and brilliant and how two of them had been promoted within the schools that work at and how education should be something I should look into, to which I replied "I do work in education, alternative education" this was met with scoffs and general mockery of the outdoor education business of how it wasn`t real education and isn`t recognised officially or paid the same rate as teachers (funny how salary seems to be the be all and end all of a worthwhile job!) which got me thinking, are we not in fact teachers?
After all the industry I work in is called Outdoor EDUCATION, so with a title like that surely a little credit should be given, as it turns out no it isn`t, there is a saying in the teaching industry that "those that can do, those that can`t teach, those that still can`t teach, teach PE" well it seems that there should be another line saying "those that can`t teach PE, do outdoor education" it seems, certainly within the UK, outdoor education is seen as almost a non entity, something which can be mocked and ridiculed but lets look at certain facts.
There are those that say "outdoor education isn`t a real teaching qualification because you don`t need a degree to teach it." this can be true but what about teaching assistants? you don't need a degree to be one of those and for the record I hold a recognised University Degree in guess what...OUTDOOR EDUCATION, I`ll repeat that OUTDOOR EDUCATION, so there are recognised degrees in the subject of OUTDOOR EDUCATION, even if certain people don`t want to realise this. which will probably lead on to the next criticism of "yeah but its a mickey mouse degree like media studies or photography"...pretty thin argument considering both of those degrees are recognised by employers particularly media.
The next argument would probably be "we have to do both a degree and a PGCE to become a teacher" OK not going to deny this, what I will say though is once you have this degree and PGCE, which takes 4-5 years in total, how many times do you have to go back and completely retrain?...for us certain qualifications have to be completely renewed every three years otherwise we can`t instruct it anymore, so by the time you`ve got your teaching degree we`ve already renewed our qualifications twice.
"You don't get paid the same as teachers" again for the majority of us this is true, however there is a good argument for this situation and it was the labour government that brought in the minimum wage law, this law states that everyone has to be paid minimum wage but nothing was put in place saying people have to be paid above minimum wage meaning even if you have the right qualifications, skills and experience, and as outdoor instructors are still not recognised as teachers and therefore classed as "unskilled labour" (a point I will come onto later) we do not have to be paid above minimum wage, again from a personal point of view I am worth a lot more than that, £15000 for uni, £400 for Mountain Leader Training, £400 for Mountain Leader Assessment, £150 for climbing award training, £150 for climbing award assessment, 5 first aid qualifications between £50 and £500 plus countless other awards (archery, air rifles, cycling, high ropes etc) ranging between £100 and £200.
"What do you actually teach though?" little tricky to quantify this one I`ll admit, after all outdoor education instructors don't have a curriculum to go on or results tables to boast about, we do have our own personal results and we can link alot of these back to key stage work, OK our results may show 0 across the board for Maths, English and Science, but when we have a terrified child on the end of climbing rope convinced the it`s going to break and they are going to plummet to their death does this really matter? if however we can give that child confidence to believe that they are perfectly safe and that the rope can hold the weight of a minibus which weighs more than them, 3,500 kg as opposed to 80-90kg (Maths) and to turn around and enjoy the view above Ullswater where Wordsworth wrote Daffodils (English) and that even if they were to slip the friction through the belay device will hold them (Science) does this not teach them something even if its self belief?
“Yes but we teach skills for life”...allow me to answer this with a question, when was the last time you saw a child use algebra outside of a relevant space? or Pythagoras? or having an in depth discussion on the soliloquy within Hamlet? or discuss the application of non Newtonian substances beyond walking on custard?! and how many would actually be able to remember it? however ask the same people about the time they started a fire by doing nothing more than rubbing two sticks together and they`ll remember or the time they learnt to set a bearing on a compass both more or less irrelevant in the modern day for the vast majority of people but then again isn`t algebra… so the real question should be what is a life skill? for most people its all about the soft skills, being able to communicate effectively, work in teams, be effective leaders, take responsibility and organisational skills, skills that are transferable and visible and whilst it may be possible to teach these within a classroom environment, these skills can be taught far more effectively in an outdoor environment, particularly when its pissing it down with rain and everyone wants to get back inside!
“But we embrace alternative education we have a forest school within our school and we go on a outdoor camp every year…” Great! let me ask this though, how many of those teachers that do forest school or go on the school trips actually want to be there? why not get people in that actually enjoy doing these things or would it mean having to admit that we are teachers?
for the next part I will lay down a gauntlet, Outdoor education instructors are seen as unskilled labour, I challenge any teacher without outdoor ed training or experience to plan, prepare and execute an expedition, or to set up a rock climbing and abseiling session or canoe a river without any accidents or near misses, expeditions require a huge amount of planning and I challenge a teacher to sort out routes, access, escape routes, checkpoints, campsites, timings and bearings. when it comes to a climbing session I challenge an untrained teacher to set up a safe climbing system that won`t fail, to tie the correct knots, put the harnesses on right, I also challenge the same teacher to set up a safe but releasable abseil system so that the person abseiling is safe, the teacher is safe and all the lines are safe, trust me it ain`t easy to learn, when it comes to canoeing can an untrained teacher read a river so they know where all the dangers lay? or pick the best route through a section of rapids? oh yes these skills can be picked up but by the time you have done them you wouldn`t class yourself as unskilled anymore and as a final thing to think about, when schools are writing out risk assessments for classrooms are serious considerations given to death? if so by how many means? lets face it little Jimmy sat in the classroom learning Math is very unlikely to have that happen, unless its a freak accident,  but the risk assessment for most outdoor activities will have it at some point through a variety of means and what is the best way of minimizing the risk, having competent, qualified and skilled staff…(oops can`t say that we`re not “skilled” after all)
teachers have to act as in loco parentis, instructors don `t” teachers act as in loco parentis during school hours, instructors are in loco parentis from the second the group arrives to the second it leaves again, 24 hours for up to ten days, how long are the kids at school again?...
Whilst I am not saying teaching is easy, I know it can be bloody hard, I am saying its time for a little bit of recognition and respect to actually come our way, all the arguments above have been said to me at one point or another and I have given the responses back, to which counter agruments have become thinner and thinner until straws have been clutched at, so its time for the education boards to man up, grow some balls and finally admit that we are teachers and lets us take our rightful place but then again they won`t listen to outdoor education instructors because they aren`t teachers are they?

Are They?