Case Study: High time for a trip

Date Posted: 16/12/2014

School: Westbury Park School, Bristol
KS: 2
Destination: Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

The landmark bridge designed by Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel is the symbol of Bristol, and in 2006 nearby Westbury Park School was instrumental in developing lesson plans to promote the Brunel 200 celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of his birth.

As such, learning about Brunel is an important part of the school curriculum and Bristol Suspension Bridge brings Brunel’s work to life in an awe-inspiring way.

The educational programme at the Grade 1 structure spanning the River Avon covers all ages, providing plenty of opportunities for work in History, Science, Design and Technology, Mathematics, Geography, ICT and Art.

Pupils will hear about Brunel, his family and the story behind the bridge, learn how the bridge works, how it is maintained and about how people crossed the gorge before it was built. In December a new visitor centre opens with exciting updated displays and a dedicated education space.

Richard Bamber, Westbury’s acting deputy head teacher and Year 5 teacher said: “I have worked at the school for over ten years and learning about Brunel has always been an important part of our curriculum.

"We believe that having an understanding of local history is an incredibly important part of children’s learning. Brunel’s influence on Bristol, the UK and the world was profound and having such remarkable feats of engineering history on our doorstep is too good a learning opportunity to miss.”

“In addition to this Brunel demonstrates some key characteristics of succesful learning. He was hard working, creative and resilient and an example we can hold up to the children.”

Due to the school’s proximity, pupils usually walk the couple of miles to the bridge, passing Bristol Zoo and the historic merchants’ houses that line the road into Clifton village.

“As you approach, the sight of the bridge is impressive,” said Richard. “When we arrived on our 2013 visit we were met by the guide. One guide can work with 30 children although it is possible to have two guides.

"We decided to split into our two classes. One group took the tour whilst the other group, led by their teacher, went up to the observatory that lies just above the bridge to take in the views and sketch the magnificent sight of the bridge and gorge.

“Our guide was energetic, lively and had an excellent rapport with the children. We were given facts and told strories which really brought to life the learning we had done in the classroom. Many of the children had seen and been on the bridge before, but our guide pointed out things that no one had noticed, such as the difference in the supporting towers. A memorable part of the visit was seeing how the whole bridge was constantly moving.

“When we walked across the bridge the children were very excited and the views and scale of Brunel’s genius inspired questions that would not have emerged unless we had made this visit.

The guide took questions and we took away children inspired to learn more not only about history but also about engineering and design. Back at school we designed bridges, built towers, painted the view and then looked at what else Brunel had achieved in his life. We could not wait to visit the SS Great Britain the following week.

“This year we are returning to Clifton Suspension Bridge and are hoping to be able to visit the new visitors’ centre and take part in the celebrations to commemorate 150 years since it opened.”

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School Travel Organiser's Guide