Every year, Chestnut Grove Academy's Year 12 biology students go on a field trip to Nettlecombe Court, on the edge of Exmoor in Devon. The trip is vital to their A-level course as it is the only opportunity they have to gain the fieldwork skills needed to complete the exams. Between ten and 20 students go on the trip. For many, the chance to visit unique habitats in the countryside and on the coast, go hiking and take part in outdoor research are things they have never experienced before. We are always the most multicultural school at Nettlecombe, and it is brilliant to see our students mixing with others. We pack the evenings and free time with extra-curricular activities and the students really gel together as a team.
The trip combines many aspects of fieldwork and research. This includes the humane trapping and tracking of small mammals and insects, as well as investigating sand dunes and comparing habitats for different animal species on the seashore. None of this could be done within the school grounds in inner London. Analysis of our exam results shows that the coursework completed enables our students to massively reduce the gap in attainment between inner city and non-inner city pupils. They score significantly above the average mark for this element of the curriculum when compared to a similar cohort. For those looking at a career in the field, the practical experiences are essential for a successful transition to university.
However, at more than £400 per student, the cost of the trip is prohibitive to some families. Since 2018, our amazing biology team have been rallying staff and students at school to help fundraise to subsidise the trip. The fundraising starts in January, so that we can provide the highest subsidy possible by the time the balance needs to be paid. The students organise sales at school (cakes, ice lollies and home-made lemonade), plus we run sponsored events and seek external support from parents and companies where we can. In 2020, the students set up a sponsorship page on the Friends of Chestnut Grove's Virgin Money Giving page to raise funds. This raised £457 before lockdown started, but unfortunately the trip was unable to take place due to Covid.
The lockdown in early 2021 impacted our return to school so our fundraising opportunities were limited, but we were adamant that the trip go ahead. Kindly, the 2020 cohort agreed to donate the £457 raised the year before, and we were also successful in receiving a £250 grant from the Alpkit Foundation. This meant that the trip took place as planned and was once again a great success.
Due to the impact of Covid and the increase in living costs on family finances this year, we made the difficult decision to shorten the trip to three days to ensure no family was excluded. We are grasping every opportunity to fundraise, including a 5K 'fun' run! This is taking place virtually and individual students and teachers are seeking sponsorship to complete this challenge. Thanks to some very generous anonymous donations, the page has already raised more than £800, including Gift Aid, which will make a huge difference to the families. We hope this long tradition of supporting our students will continue, enabling them to take part in a valuable and enriching field trip every year.
Sharon Noble, Priya Jindal and David Smith, Chestnut Grove Academy, Balham, London