Tick tock, tick tock, the exams are coming. And so the debates about study support begin.
I have a personal aversion to Easter revision classes. If a pupil does little work all year, then turns up for a revision class in the holidays, the magic dust that they expect to be sprinkled with in that two hours of revision is unlikely to work.
There are, of course, those pupils who work all year and use the Easter revision classes as a way of getting a couple of extra hours on top of the high-quality revision they do at home. I would have loved to have had that Easter revision experience as I grew up in a chaotic household with six children, with – by the time of my exam years – a widowed mother. Quiet was something that only happened after around midnight. Studying was hard.
In those days, too, people had a great plan – get a maths tutor. That was all you needed to do, get a tutor. It was far too far out of my price bracket, though. These days as maths teachers, we all get emails quite regularly asking if we’re interested in doing some maths tutoring. I used to tutor for a while, until I realised that almost every single one of my tutees could have got support from the school’s free revision classes and that their parents had been wasting money. And, anyway, I think 7.30pm is too late for learning when you are in a classroom at 8.30am every day anyway. As someone who is not a fan of tutoring, I don’t think it would be fair to charge parents for my tutoring services.
Evening revision classes suffer from fatigue
Time is a big issue in teachers’ classes, so how do you ensure that pupils get a chance to revise exam-level questions through the year when they are still being taught the course in class time? This is where I think professional dialogue is interesting, as it seems the best results for some schools involve changing the set-up every year. Do you only invite pupils who nearly passed the prelim (or “mocks”, for viewers outside Scotland) or the ones who nearly failed the prelim? Do you bring the parents along to join them? Has anyone found the magic solution that makes a difference in the long term? It's hard to declare a new method a magical solution if it isn’t hasn’t proven itself over a good few years.
It's a source of frustration in education circles that people often do not like turning up after school. Apparently – and I don’t understand this at all – it isn’t cool to be in the maths department voluntarily if your friends find out. One method we are trialling this year, then, is 7.30am revision classes. I offered it almost as a joke – but we get 20-23 pupils turning up. Coffee and tea are available, but no real gimmicks beyond that. What’s in it for us? Well, I haven’t been paid for study support since around 2004, so it isn’t the money. A chance to make a positive difference and to join these children on their journey? Maybe.
Sadly (for some pupils) we reached out to parents, who also love this idea. Around one-third of the attendees arrived in protest at first, but thankfully they did all join in and, so far, it is a positive experience. The elusive perfect solution that works for every pupil may or may not be out there – but for now, in the halls of our school, a 7.30am revision class happens every weekday morning.
Eddie White is a maths teacher in East Lothian