St. Michael's CE Primary School's Trip to the Opal Coast

School / Group
St Michael’s CE Primary School
Teacher / Group Leader
Mary Hillier
Opal Coast

What was your main aim/objective for this trip?

Among other aims and objectives, to give pupils a real-life purpose to speak French and to see some of the similarities and differences in French/British culture.

Why did you choose this destination?

We’ve done this trip before. It’s close and there’s plenty to do.

We walked up to Cap Gris Nez, to look towards England and all the ships etc. in the Channel. We looked at and discovered the history of the Dover Patrol Monument and we looked at WW2 concrete fortifications.

We looked at chalk rocks etc. and compared the landscape there to the English coast.

And we discussed what happens to chalk and vinegar and linked that to acid rain.

We found the grave of Col John McCrae and recited ‘In Flanders Fields’ together. Our vicar accompanied us, and we had a short prayer of remembrance. This was a very enriching experience.

We had lunch and played on the beach at Boulogne. Each child bought an ice cream, speaking in French with adult support.

We drove to Boulogne’s old town and enjoyed some shopping on the main street and associated market stalls, again speaking in French.

Why did you choose these visits and activities?

We have done them before, and we know they work. They offer opportunities to speak French, look at French culture and bring in snippets of geography, history and worship, and see the reality of the WW1 history they have learned.

All of these activities are free and we can change our timetable as we go along if necessary, as we’re not bound to any museum entry times etc.

What will be your lasting memories of this trip?

The children leaning into the very strong wind on Cap Gris Nez.

Whispering French phrases into the ears of 44 children buying an ice cream, as well-practised phrases disappeared from their mind.

The respect shown by every child in the war cemetery.

The text from my headteacher who was waiting with parents for our return saying that one parent was loudly telling the rest how wonderful we were to do this. Most primary French teachers would not dream of it. “You could feel the love” was the phrase my headteacher used.

The gratitude from French shopkeepers etc. that we were back after 2 years. And being given a free ice cream after helping 44 children to buy one.

Real life opportunities to speak French and see similarities and differences. Freedom to make their own decisions about spending their own money – budgeting.

And probably too much sugar!

Why did you choose Halsbury for this trip?

We had used them successfully many times before. Even though I am a seasoned hand at this trip, I would not do it without an agent.

There is enough admin to do with passports etc. without the added complications of booking coaches, trains and venue tickets.

And as rules and regulations have changed recently, I have had to check all sorts of things and Halsbury is my one stop shop.

Were there any guarantees that Halsbury were offering that made it easier for you to get senior leadership and/or parents on board?

Senior leadership were already on board and parents hoped the trip would happen anyway.

But the Covid Guarantee and travel insurance put my mind at rest. No one asked about them, but I mentioned them to parents in the very first communication I had with them and to the school’s finance department at the outset. The travel insurance as part of the package even before Covid has been a good selling point anyway.

A little bit daunting. I have run this trip many times but there were things I had forgotten about.

Some post-Brexit and post-Covid admin changes were irritating and time consuming (I was concerned about children with EU passports) but it was lovely to be back in France.

The welcome from the shop keepers and stall holders in Boulogne was heartfelt - “thank you for coming back after 2 years. We will stay open as long as you want us to this evening”.

How would you describe the experience of working with Halsbury on this trip?

How you put up with endless questions and requests for changes, I will never know. My name must have been mud at times. [Note from the Halsbury Team – absolutely not, that’s what we’re here for!]

I knew I could always ask for help and advice. Very positive.

Would you recommend Halsbury to your friends and colleagues?

Yes, I would – and indeed have done. I know at least one local school who have already been to Boulogne with you this year after one of their staff came with us on a recce before Covid.

As mentioned previously, I feel I can ask anything at any point. I also feel that if anything goes wrong when we are away, you will sort it out for us!

I am (semi) retiring at the end of the year. If my colleagues want to continue this trip, I will help them out organising it and attend as a helper – not visit leader! - and recommend that they use you.

Do you have any tips for other teachers planning their first trips since Covid?

Do a recce trip if you haven’t been before. If you are going abroad, take out Covid insurance.

This is also the first trip since Brexit proper. Expect things like passport control to take a lot longer (three passport inspections now rather than one).

Take an extra adult who is not responsible for the group, in case someone drops out at the last minute.

Use a tour operator, like Halsbury. Ask them everything you are not sure about. Put aside a lot of time for admin before you go. Expect it to be hard work, then when it all goes smoothly, you can be happily surprised.

Enjoy it. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?!

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