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College break leads to better Highers

John Clark reports on an Easter study school in Cumbernauld.

An excited babble of conversation filled the canteen at Cumbernauld College last week as 140 pupils from North Lanarkshire secondaries took part in an Easter revision school. The scene was repeated at further education colleges in Coatbridge and Motherwell where similar numbers of fifth and sixth-year pupils took part in a pilot scheme to boost their chances in the forthcoming Higher exams.

At Cumbernauld the popularity of the school was shown by an attendance rate of 95 per cent. Maria Campbell, a fifth-year pupil at the nearby Our Lady's High, said: "I think I am doing more study at Easter school than I would staying at home. It is not that my biology and English are weak, but I need to upgrade my knowledge."

Nadia Mahmood, in her sixth year at Chryston High, enjoyed the informal atmosphere. "The teachers are more relaxed than in school and are easier to approach."

A friend interjected: "And you can smoke here and don't get a letter home. "

Gail Bennie, also from Chryston, said: "You don't know anyone's level in the classes, so you don't feel intimidated asking questions in case you appear stupid."

An education department official said: "Private tutoring is not an option for a great many of the young people in our area. But all young people should have the option of accessing extra support, tutoring and study skills which they require at this time."

Increasing confidence and raising aspiration were among the aims of the week. Most of the time participants were taught exam subjects, focusing on revision of key concepts, but there was also a chance for individual study. Pupils were encouraged to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and to prepare a study plan leading up to the exams. Sessions on stress management and time management were also available.

Elspeth Kent, one of the organisers, is assistant head at Cumbernauld High, and says the project has raised standards of achievement. "All the tutors have commented on the positive vibes they are getting from students, who have been bringing in work for their study session and have been signing up for timetables made up of a mixture of subject tutorials."

The focus was on English, maths, French, biology, chemistry, physics, history, geography and modern studies. The volunteer teachers from schools across the authority were taken on as temporary college lecturers for the week. The criteria were that teachers should be able to work informally and be receptive to pupils' needs. They should also have a good track record with Higher classes and have current experience.

Pat Haughey, principal teacher of biology at Greenfaulds High, Cumbernauld, admitted that being paid for an extra five days was an incentive for involvement. But he added: "The other aspect is that this is an important time in the year for students. We should give them as much support as we can. They respond to the informal setting. They feel more adult and also as if expectations are raised about their exam performance."

Pupils nominated by their school received travel expenses, lunch vouchers and T-shirts with the the council's "Aiming Higher" motto.

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