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Pilton Bluecoat.... and Beyond!!!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, It’s Pilton Bluecoat Academy’s Space Balloon!!

After a year awash with lockdowns and restrictions in school, the staff at Pilton Bluecoat Academy in Barnstaple were keen to create an event which could bring the whole school community together in purpose and spirit.

Pilton Bluecoat Academy has a long history of “Big Events” which are used to inspire the children's learning and it was important for the school to inject awe and wonder into school life and to find a way to symbolically show that their curriculum will return to the full and exciting offer it was before Covid.

What better then, than launching their own Balloon into Space?!

I spoke to Pilton Bluecoat’s Head of School Dan Polak who introduced the project and was tasked with finding a big enough balloon to transport the gopro camera which captured the amazing footage. We asked him more about the project…

Q. How did this project come about?

We felt the children deserved something special after what has been a tough year, we wanted something we could all focus and strive for and by bringing all the children together we have undoubtedly achieved this.

Q. What happened in the Pilton Bluecoat classrooms before launch day?

The whole school worked on this project but each year group had different metrics to learn about and measure. Some made anemometers to measure wind speed, some devised ways of testing wind direction and others learned about the calculations involved in filling the balloon accurately. We had several whole school assemblies run by our teachers Mr Hick and Mr Northmore which discussed the technical aspects of the launch, but also the ethics of it. What if we lost the balloon in the sea?, what if we inadvertently caused damage or harm? Should we spend money on something some may see as frivolous? We discussed these issues in the weeks coming up to the launch.

Q. The excitement was obvious from the video, were you nervous too?

Plan A was to retrieve the balloon and have the spectacular footage we ended up with, but we were always aware that this was high risk. As staff, we shared our worries with the children and worked hard to reduce the risk of failure. We used this as an opportunity to demonstrate endeavor and calculated risk taking. Although we might be worried about failure, we can't go through life dodging the likelihood of things not working out. We told the children that you won't always get what you want, even when you have worked incredibly hard at it. We saw this as an opportunity to experience that together, in a safe environment where we could manage the children's disappointment if it didn't work out.

Q. How did you know where it was going to land?

We used a flight predictor which we obsessively checked daily. Some days we would enter our numbers and it would end up in France, some days in the Bristol channel. We had to clear the launch with the Aviation Authority three days in advance, so our biggest worry was the reliability of the British weather! 

Q. What have the children gained from this experience?

‚ÄčWe feel like a project of this ambition and risk proves to children that it's worth stretching a little further than is comfortable. The children's cheers can still be heard long into the flight and it was incredibly special for Bluecoat to share this launch with our neighbours at Pilton Infants'. It brought us all together and we needed some inspiration after a tough year- the children have been bouncing around the school since the launch because they've all touched space, in their own way.

One child said: "I want to be an astronaut or a teacher, because both of them get to go to space."

Another said: "It has been the best day of my life. I have never had so much fun!"

Dan finished by saying "We think that the act of endeavor in itself is a worthy one. We weren't guaranteed this footage but with plenty of research from the adults and scientific measurements from our children, we gave ourselves the best chance of success. We all want our children to learn that sometimes you need to take a leap beyond what is safe to get something extraordinary in return."