Brighton teacher offers hope in the east

Posted On 23 Nov 2011 at 5:20 am

School teacher Sophie Gaston is a symbol of the ambition being shown at the new academy in Falmer.

To illustrate the point, ask yourself where you would expect a group of children from Moulsecoomb to go on a school trip.

To the seaside? To see the bright lights of London? Or maybe to the slums in Mumbai?

In our cautious world of health and safety with its form-filling tick-box culture of risk assessments, many teachers still think twice before contemplating a school trip.

So staff at the new Brighton Aldridge Community Academy could have been forgiven for playing it safe.

Instead Sophie Gaston has just come back from Mumbai and the Indian city of Pune.

The 30-year-old took six girls from the new academy – formerly known as Falmer High School – having offered the trip to the whole school.

BACA girls at a school in Pune

She took the girls – all aged 13 to 15 – to an orphanage, where they spent a day working as volunteers.

They also worked with a charity in the Mumbai slums – think Slumdog Millionaire and then try to imagine the stench in the 40 degree heat. Talk about expanding horizons!

Miss Gaston, who started teaching languages eight years, said: “It’s not usual to take a school group to India.

“We weren’t with a large tour company.

“People are wary of taking school trips because of the responsibility involved and because it can be quite a bureaucratic and lengthy process.

“But the benefits to the students outweigh all that.

“The girls were living with families. They were going to a local school and they were working with a charity in the slums.

“Amazingly none of them were sick. They were fine with the heat. They were a real credit to the school.

“We had one girl who said she only wanted to eat pizza at the start of the week. She was in to Indian food so much by the end that on the plane back she was asking for it on the flight.

“We had a ten-hour flight. A lot of them hadn’t been on a plane before. What we’ve tried to do at the school is open their eyes.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is around aspiration. We want them to think big.

“We’re trying to do a lot around social entrepreneurship and enrichment – and enrichment not purely in financial terms. They really saw the best and the worst of India.

“We wanted them to see social entrepreneurship in action.”

Sophie Gaston

When asked to define social entrepreneurship, Miss Gaston said: “It’s about recognising a need in your community and making it happen.”

As well as teaching, Miss Gaston is the entrepreneurship manager for the Aldridge Foundation, the academy’s sponsor. She was supported on the India trip by the foundation’s chief executive Honor Wilson-Fletcher and academy head Phil Hogg.

Academy sponsor Rod Aldridge talks about entrepreneurship simply as problem-solving and it’s a specialism at all of his academies. They include the one in Falmer and the newly opened Portslade Aldridge Community Academy.

Barely were Miss Gaston and Mrs Hogg off the plane than inspectors from Ofsted came to call – just two months after the academy moved into its £28 million new building.

Mrs Hogg seemed unphased by the two-day Ofsted inspection.

She shared Miss Gaston’s enthusiasm for making the most of the pupils’ trip and they will be making sure that the whole school sees a film about it in assembly.

And in just over a fortnight, Miss Gaston said: “We’re having a fundraising event. We’re going to show a film of the trip to children, parents and people who live in the local community.

“The girls who went will wear Indian clothes and we’ve got a Bollywood dancer coming in to perform.”

A selection of Indian food will also be served at the event.

Miss Gaston said that pupils would be raising money for the Oscar Foundation, a charity which uses football to engage children in education in places like Mumbai.

With Brighton and Hove Albion in their own new premises next door, it’s no surprise to learn that Miss Gaston was introduced to the foundation by Albion in the Community.

She hopes to take more pupils to India next year and two colleagues have organised a school trip to Morocco for Easter.

Miss Gaston said of the children who went to India: “It was extraordinary to see the transformation in the way some of them were thinking about the world and thinking about their school and their lives back at home.”

For now, the trip may be over but the lessons continue.

BACA girls at the Gateway of India

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