11 October 2016 – Saint Andrew’s Chaplain Father Deon Lombard, together with grade 10 boys Ethan Travers and Martin van Rooyen, recently spent three weeks at Ripley St Thomas Church of England Academy in Lancashire as part of an exchange between the two schools.
In the third term, three boys and a teacher from Ripley St Thomas – Joseph Baldwin, Isaac Thornton, Adam Robinson, and maths’ teacher Scott Cameron – spent time at Saints. This time around their families hosted the Saints’ boys.
Origin of the exchange programme
The exchange programme began with a visit by Ripley St Thomas’ Sam Cheesman in 2014. After that, he proposed the Chaplaincy exchange and Father Deon travelled to the UK in 2015 to assess the feasibility of the idea.
The two schools, though, are rather different. While Saint Andrew’s has only 300 boys in the high school, Ripley St Thomas has between 1 700 and 1 800 pupils, both boys and girls.
It wasn’t all work for Saint Andrew’s Chaplain Father Deon Lombard on his UK visit
“Chaplaincy is very similar to our school,” Father Deon said on Tuesday, but because of the size of the school each grade at Ripley St Thomas had Chapel only once a week, with their Chapel holding 280 people, roughly the size of each year group.
The lone counsellor
At Ripley St Thomas, the Chaplain is the lone counsellor for a very large school, which means he is kept very busy. “Every day there was a stream of young people coming in to talk” Father Deon shared, adding that the problems he had to deal with were not unfamiliar. “People are people wherever you go”, he explained.
However, there was one new phenomenon he hadn’t previously had to deal with: selective mutism, an anxiety disorder in which people had chosen to speak to one or two people only. That meant sometimes calling in an interpreter, or asking the pupil to write down their thoughts.
First XV rugby
Turning to the two Saint Andrew’s boys, with a laugh, he explained that Ethan and Martin had quickly been drafted into Ripley St Thomas’ rugby team: “Being South African, they had no choice. They were told ‘we know you like rugby, so you’re playing’.
“We arrived on a Tuesday. On the Wednesday, they played a game against Morecombe Bay. I travelled with them the following week to Bury, near Manchester. In the last week, they played their final game at home against AKS Lytham.”
The biggest difference between Saints and Ripley St Thomas, Father Deon said, was the fact that extracurricular activities are included in regular school hours at the UK school, which meant Ethan and Martin practised rugby during school.
On the academic front, they were slotted into the Sixth Form and worked on a different time table each week, focusing on three or four subjects, which is the norm in the UK. These included agriculture and horticulture, with Ripley St Thomas having its own farm, including “Alpacas, sheep, goats, horses, rabbits, bearded dragons, spiders, hydroponics and tunnels”. Some of the other subjects were more familiar, like business studies and IT.
“I think it was a worthwhile venture. First of all, the boys have been rather insular here [at Saints],” Father Deon said. “They’ve got an idea that in England everything is going perfectly well, but at this particular school (being a non-fee paying school) they got exposed to the fact that there are some people that come from very poor backgrounds in England too. Not everyone is as privileged as they imagined.
“A sense of community”
“It also opened their eyes to a sense of community. We talk about community a lot, but there are so many people in that school it is impossible to build a communal sense. You have to form small friendships. I think they definitely learned life lessons.
“It also opened up and broadened their horizons to see that there are other opportunities out there. From a university point of view, they don’t only have to consider South Africa.
Similar study material
“They also saw familiarity. I think they realised that a lot of the IT and science work and the accounting material was the same as they are studying here. It helped them to realise that the standard of education in South Africa is not as bad as everyone claims. They could be doing the same thing in England.”
He concluded: “The boys came back quite encouraged. It helped them to see that they are on a good wicket here at Saints, and they have the opportunities that are being offered overseas. It provided them with a good perspective.”