PUPILS at Swindon Academy put their studies on hold to devote their time to the community and explore life beyond the classroom.

For the first time in the school’s history, lessons were suspended for five days last week and replaced by an activity-based curriculum week, or ABC, to allow students to gain hands-on experience and enjoy a little freedom at the end of the academic year.

Year Seven youngsters opted to take part in the Make A Difference national week of action, going on a litter picking drive, volunteering to tidy up local gardens, cooking for elderly residents and knittingwoollen blankets for the homeless.

About 70 Year Eight students enjoyed the great outdoors, going to Hastings to camp in the grounds of Ashburnham Place and join in a series of physical challenges.

They also fashioned art installations in the woods and learned to play the samba drums.

Those in Year Nine chose more physical pursuits and were coached in everything from yoga and martial arts to Irish dancing and futsal throughout the week.

Year Tens chose to get a peek into their futures by embracing life as young professionals.

Pupils had the opportunity to visit a range of workplaces and businesses to gain an understanding of how different departments of a company work.

Whatever their goals, task or challenge throughout the week, teenagers made the most of the opportunities presented to them.

Swindon Academy’s principal, Ruth Robinson, said: “We think education is not just about the classroom and the subjects they study, it’s broader.

“We threw out the schedule and made sure our students got a range of opportunities.

“We are very proud that they made such a good impression in all areas of the wider community.

“It was a massive feat of organisation but it was a great success. The aim was to have fun, make memories and build friendships.”

A group of 50 lucky youngsters from Years Eight to Ten were even swept off to France where they visited Eurodisney World as well as Bayeux, and the final resting places of the thousands of men who lost their lives during the Second World War.

While their schoolmates practiced their language skills or discovered the highs and lows of full-time employment, Year Seven students threw themselves into their volunteer work.

Kai McCarthy, 11, said: “We were helping the community.

“The community gives us something, so we have to repay them. It was quite fun. I think we’ve learnt we should respect the community and the community will respect us.

We got the thumbs up from one person when we were litter picking.”

As part of the camping trip, Year Eight pupils held their own mini-Glastonbury – complete with the obligatory rainfall and mud.

“We learnt the song Hey Ho by the Lumineers and people got up on stage and performed it at a music festival on the last night,” said 13-year-old Emma Halls.

“It was raining so it was like Glastonbury. We also found twigs and made art installations on the trip. We’ve learnt a lot.”