It is apparently too far to walk to Trnava High School, so Mata (our host co-ordinator) said she would bring her car and drive us over in batches. Gyula, who drove here from Hungary with his girlfriend, said he could help with this. Three of us duly squeezed onto the back seat this morning, but before Gyula could get the car into gear, Mata had accelerated to the end of the street, turned right, and disappeared from view. So we had to wait.
Trnava High School is towards the western edge of the city, a large concrete building surrounded by other large concrete buildings (blocks of flats), but with plenty of trees – so overall, it doesn’t look too concrete-y. The headteacher (or, rather, one of three headteachers, I think – some things did get lost in translation today) was very smartly dressed in a bright blue shirt and plum velvet jacket. He welcomed us to the school and then explained all about it, with Mata again doing an amazing job of translating.
There are about 700 students, some residential, most aged 15 to 18, but some staying on until they are 20 to do a further qualification, which mature students also return to do part-time over four years. The school offers vocational qualifications in the following subjects:
- Waitering (although frankly I can’t see how anybody can possibly spin this out into a three year course)
- And something else. The something else is floor-laying, but we have struggled to come up with the English word for it. Pumbing was easy; Mata said ‘pipes and water?’ But flooring?
We then had a little tour. Some of the practical activities relating to construction take place off site some 5km away, so we didn’t see them. But we saw the practice beauty salons, the canteen, and the staff room. The beauty salons contained some students practising on each other, and other students playing with ‘Girls’ World’ heads and spraying each other with water; the canteen contained a lot of strapping lads eating pasta; and the staffroom was clearly a room for work, not for relaxing between lessons – it was all desks and pigeon-holes.
We also saw the IT suite. It had more of a mixture of vintage PCs and laptops than at Abraham and some unfortunate class had, judging by the whiteboard, recently had a go at the VLOOKUP function in Excel. By this time the students had had break, so we then went to see a Hairdressing Theory class. This mostly seems to involve studying hairstyles and drawing pictures of them. It was here that I finally found an intelligent question to ask: how many hours a week theory do the students have, and how many hours of practical work? The answer was, they do alternate weeks of theory and practical work. I was a bit surprised by this – I mean, how much theory can there be when it comes to hairdressing? But it seems they also learn essential business skills, including a foreign language.
The school offered us free haircuts and facials, if we wanted them. I did wonder about having my (currently waist-length) hair trimmed, simply so that I can spend the next five years referring to my Slovakian hairdresser. But on balance I decided to opt for a cup of coffee. Much to my excitement, there was a kettle in the canteen, and for a moment I thought my quest for a cup of tea was over. But then I remembered they wouldn’t have any milk. There was a teapot in a display cabinet, but there didn’t seem much point in giving them a lesson in How to Make English Tea without milk.
While we were spinning out the time between coffee and lunch (those of us who hadn’t opted for haircuts or facials, that is), Leos, who is the headteacher of the music school in Czech Republic hosting the second part of the visit, asked me to explain what a governor does. This is a hard question to answer when it’s asked by a native English speaker with some understanding of local education authorities, so it was a bit of a struggle explaining to Leos (although his English is very good). But I left out some of the governor-speak (‘critical friend’ and so forth) and I think I managed to give him a reasonably clear answer.
The catering students had laid the table beautifully for our lunch, and to start with served us the traditional chicken and noodle soup. Well, in fact, they didn’t serve it (perhaps they were first years) – they brought tureens to the tables and we served ourselves. (And in Slovakia you start eating as soon as the food is in front of you, which has taken a bit of getting used to.) The soup is delicious, but quite hard to eat. The noodles either slide out of the spoon, or spill over the edge of it so they have to be slurped into the mouth in a very unladylike way, and dribble down your chin. But it really is lovely soup, once you’ve dealt with the noodles.
After the soup we had a meal similar to the one served on Saturday, but mercifully less hearty. We had chicken, stuffed with mushrooms and onions, wrapped in ham, and cooked in a cheese sauce with melted cheese on top; a dome of rice; tomato, cucumber and sweetcorn; and either pickled cabbage or shredded lettuce in a dressing, I wasn’t sure which (but I liked it). And then there was coffee, but I skipped this in favour of standing outside the school having a cig and trying to log onto a wi-fi network (the hotel’s internet crashed last night and hadn’t recovered in the morning). To be honest, I was crashingly disappointed that the meal hadn’t included any of the work of the advanced pastry-chefs, which we had been told about during the welcome talk.
While I was standing outside the front door, students were arriving. These were university students. There are three universities in Trnava (again, unless something was lost in translation) and some of the students use the High School’s accommodation. Today was the first day of the new university year, so girls were arriving with duvets and cases and bags of assorted stuff, sometimes in pairs from the station, cases trundling on wheels after them, sometimes on their own, with a long-suffering dad unpacking more and more things from his car. Some things do not need translation.