Teenagers who are too cool for school

A new four-part TV series charts the journey of a group of young Scots aged between 13 and 15 as they embark on the school trip of a lifetime – the freezing Arctic wilderness of Greenland.

In the first episode of Arctic Academy, we follow 20 youngsters from Bathgate Academy in West Lothian as they are put through their paces physically and mentally by explorer and Polar Academy founder, Craig Mathieson.

The young people have been whittled down from an initial group of 200 who applied to take part in a gruelling expedition.

Craig, a veteran of several successful expeditions to both the Arctic and Antarctic, set up the Polar Academy as a charity in 2013. Its aim is to help young people in Scotland combat chronic anxiety and lack of self-esteem by becoming role models to their peers. By his own admission, he is looking for the children he calls ‘the invisibles’; neither the high achievers nor the disrupters, who often pass through school unseen and never get the opportunity to shine.

In the first episode, cameras track the youngsters – together with Bathgate Academy’s pupil support manager, Ellis McKay – as they are put through a tough fitness and training programme before being whittled down to the final ten who will go to Greenland.

It’s a physical and emotional rollercoaster for the would-be explorers as Craig pushes them to the limits.

Craig has picked some of the country’s best mountain guides to keep his team safe. Nigel Williams is an expert on map reading. George MacHardy is a former Royal Marine and mountain expert. Naomi Dodds is the team doctor and an experienced expedition leader. Mollie Hughes, Craig’s newest recruit, is the youngest woman to have climbed Mount Everest from both sides.

The teenagers head out onto the hills and spend two nights high on the Cairngorms, trekking through the hills, pitching camp and climbing to the top of Britain’s second highest mountain, Ben Macdui. For most of them it’s the first time they have camped in the wild. It’s a tough challenge and worsening weather puts the team under pressure.

It’s December. The ten Bathgate teenagers will be going to the Arctic in the spring. But allegations of bullying have led to a last-minute change in the team. Craig calls on one of the reserves with unexpected news to tell him he’ll be joining the team in Greenland.

As the expedition departure draws near there is time for one more crucial training session. The teenagers spend the day dragging tyres along St Andrews beach to prepare them for the challenge of hauling sledges through the Arctic.

A year ago they were unexceptional teenagers from the middle ground of an ordinary school, invisibles among their classmates. Now they are a team of teenage Arctic explorers ready for anything.

The four-part series Arctic Academy begins on Wednesday 9 October on BBC Scotland, from 8–8.30pm.