By Frank Simpson
As one former student succinctly recalls: “Not three weeks in a lifetime but a lifetime in three weeks.” For a summer term at Gordonstoun International Summer School (GISS) is unlike any other.
For over 40 years the summer school, perched on the picturesque Moray coast in the north of Scotland, has been welcoming boys and girls between the ages of eight and 16 for a life-changing three-and-a-half week programme. Originally established to cater for children from the Middle East, the school now welcomes children from almost 40 different countries from around the globe.
During their Scottish summer school experience, students receive instruction in English as an Additional Language or, for those boys and girls who are fluent in English, they can choose one of the following: Information Technology, Literature and Creative Writing or Spanish Language.
Arts and Crafts, Technology, Confidence Building, Music Making, Drama, Sailing and Sport are integrated into the programme and students are helped to develop self-reliance through Adventurous Activities and Ocean Cruising.
Course Director Claire MacGillivray says the broad experience of a summer at Gordonstoun makes it a unique offering.
“Our whole timetable is carefully crafted so they enjoy a wide variety of experiences,” she says. “they speak English outside of the classroom and apply the language in a range of different contexts which makes for a robust learning of the language.
“Our programme is hugely diverse because we have this wonderful campus with all that you would expect from a school like this.”
As well as the above academic studies, students have the added experience of three days sailing off the West Coast of Scotland. “They’re living on a yacht and in our Adventure Centre,” adds Claire. “They’re working together in teams and integrating. It’s the pastoral care that’s paramount but giving them a programme which lets them really challenge themselves and have fantastic time makes such a difference.
“Students get a real snapshot of a Gordonstoun education in three weeks. And for many of our students their parents will be amazed at what can happen in three and-a-half weeks. Students have increased self-awareness, the ability to work in teams and start to develop resilience, compassion and confidence that comes from being in a new environment with 30 to 40 other nationalities.”
Such is the success of the school, children return year after year. Claire MacGillivray adds: “They bring their siblings and friends and we now have second generation GISS children. Because we’ve been operating for over 40 years former students are now sending their own children. The feedback from parents is that they witness a significant change in confidence and self esteem in their children. What we give on top of academic achievement is this unique experience in the programme and the global friendships they build and keep for life.”
It’s the highly qualified and experienced GISS staff that set the tone for the school, adds Claire MacGillivray, pointing out the high staffing ratio. “We have one staff for every two students,” she says. “That’s critical because you’re getting children from over 40 different cultures and you have to respect those cultures and ensure you meet all their specific, religious, dietary and general requirements but also help them to integrate and mix across the nationalities. “What matters is how children feel; we know they learn when they feel happy.”
As another former student commented in an email to the school after attending two consecutive years, his time at GISS was among “the most magical moments I have yet experienced. What you do is awesome. All these experiences and connections and cultures mixing together are truly special.”