Teacher Focus JAGS Russia

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Brilliant guides, great communicators. We were looked after so well and the students had a fantastic time.

Ted Savill Head of History

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Corrine Barton
Head of History, James Allen's Girls School

JAGS brought a group of 90 girls and 10 staff to Russia with us last October, requiring 2 buses and 4 guides in each city. It was their first time travelling with TCBC and they hope to repeat the experience in two years' time. This interview was conducted in the Hermitage café just before heading off to the airport for their flight home.


TCBC: Corrine, this is your first time travelling with us. Have you been satisfied with the service?

Corrine Barton: Extremely satisfied, yes.

TCBC: What's impressed you the most?

CB: Well, as a veteran of many school tours, probably the fact that the guides have been so superb. There's nothing that we've asked them that they haven't been able to answer. We're an enormous school party and nothing's been too much trouble. Their level of knowledge, the fact that they've enabled everything to run like clockwork and things have gone so smoothly - that's the most impressive thing really.

TCBC: Why did you choose to travel with us?

CB: It was quite spooky actually. We feel really quite strongly that if we've got an enormous trip certain things are important for the staff like for example having a single room in the hotel. The tour companies we were negotiating with didn't get back to me about that and were trying to do something like charge us extra. In the middle of this negotiation a completely random email from TCBC plopped into my inbox saying "planning a trip to Russia?" and so I emailed back and the rest is history.

TCBC: What's the value of a school trip for your students and how relevant is it to their curriculum?

CB: It's a joint History and Russian trip. From the Russian point of view I think it's obvious, the girls of which there are about a dozen out of the 90 who actually do Russian, have been able to use their Russian. It's the cultural reinforcement of what they're taught in school. The overwhelming majority of the girls do history and we do a huge chunk of Russian history. The younger ones concentrate on the Russian revolution, the older ones do 20th century Russian all the way through to '64, so to see what they've been taught about, to extend what they've been taught about, because we don't do the 19th century, they're going to have a really strong grasp of Alexander 1st, the 1812 defeat not to mention the 18th century. So it's enrichment, it's an extension of what they learn it's a reinforcement of what they've learned and it's actually being in the places that they've just read about and seen, for example Winter Palace square, 1905 revolution, amazing. They have found it tremendously exciting and tremendously thrilling to be here.

TCBC: You brought 90 girls and 10 staff. Logistically has this been easy to manage?

CB: Once we've got here, with the help of the guides and yourselves, it's been really much easier than we thought. We took the decision to assign 9 girls to each member of staff as you know and that's made it seem almost intimate because we know where they are at all times. We've been obviously very aware of losing people and here we are in the last 2 hours of the trip and so far so good!

TCBC: Do you have any tips for teachers wanting to bring students to Russia?

CB: Plan carefully. Obviously go with your company. But also I think have a sense of humour. Have a sense of perspective. Be aware that this is a cultural exchange as well, and so don't expect to have smiling happy faces other than from your guides and just be prepared for the unexpected. Certainly I would do the paperwork first. Make sure you've got everything to do with the passports, the visas, lined up and just the obvious administrative stuff. But I think like all school trips just keep an open mind, go with the flow, don't lose your sense of humour, or your sense of perspective when you have the lost cases and just make sure that you've got everything in order to deal with the unexpected really.

TCBC: Has the trip gone as expected? What has surprised you, stood out for you? Highlights?

CB: Well, there's been a lot of highlights. St Petersburg has been a huge highlight because we've been really lucky with the weather, we've had beautiful brilliant blue sky so that's been fantastic. We've had the unfortunate occurrence of a girl losing a suitcase when we arrived in Moscow, but that was dealt with. The highlights have been the erudition of the guides really and the fact that they've known so much and been able to tell us so much. There hasn't been a single question that they haven't answered. And the highlights have certainly also been the Russian folklore show and the supper afterwards at the Nikolayevsky palace. I would thoroughly recommend that - i think that's a wonderful way to spend our last night and it coincided with two girls in the group having birthdays. So that was fabulous. They couldn't have done more for us and made it very special.

TCBC: How about the night train?

CB: The night train is an experience. Interesting in the Chinese sense. And of course there are particular issues when you have 90 young girls. If you had mixed groups that might not be quite such a problem but we had enough staff to be able to divide up between the carriages and again as long as you know what you're in for and prepared for it you're going to be ok.

TCBC: Have you been pleased with our guides?

CB: Oh I have. Marvellous. Every single guide we've had has been absolutely superb. Can't fault them.

TCBC: Have you felt safe in our hands?

CB: Yes very very safe. This is a real issue for teachers on trips and we've had the unexpected happen (lost suitcase on arrival) which of course can often happen on trips. That's why I say you can't always plan with the best planning in the world. We're very happy because you've helped us put things right when they haven't gone right.

TCBC: Would you be happy to come back to Russia and will you be coming with us?

We will definitely come with TCBC again, there's no question of that. We've done Russian trips in the past and this has been the best without a doubt. We will certainly come again because although we're an enormous group of 90 girls we had to disappoint over 60 of them that we couldn't bring that were the younger members of the school and so they're chomping at the bit to come next time. So the answer's yes.

TCBC: Would you be happy to recommend us?

CB: Oh without a doubt. Absolutely. Yes. To anyone. Not just for Russia. It has been absolutely superb.

TCBC: Thank you Corrine!