Just let us get on with it

Today's A-level students are the very opposite of needy. All they ask for is good revision materials, a decent computer and somewhere to chill out, reports Sue Jones.

Today's A-level students seem a pragmatic lot. A new survey suggests that, as long as they have the right tools and materials, they are happy to get on with revising for exams and planning their futures themselves.

While they appreciate social and recreational facilities, and would like a say in how their college is run, what they really want are computers, revision materials, careers information, lunch, lockers and a tutor group.

However, despite their apparent maturity, they worry about bullying, a concern you might think they had left behind.

The latest national survey by the education charity Exam Aid questioned 2,475 students in 19 colleges and school sixth forms to find out how much they value the different kinds of support they receive outside the classroom.

Top of teenagers' wish-list is access to on-site computers, closely followed by revision materials covering the syllabus and past exam papers.

Supervised quiet rooms and after-school revision sessions are seen as valuable.

The students, almost all from Years 12 and 13 but including some 15 and 16-year-olds, were asked to evaluate 50 types of support, including learning support, advice services, and facilities, arranged in five equal categories: * revision and study facilities; * careers and part-time work; * social and recreational facilities and student representation; * time, money and housing; and * counselling and personal tutors.

They gave each of the 50 items a mark from 0, or "useless", to 10, or "essential", ranging through "would like to have but not essential" at five marks and "pretty important" at seven.

The highest priority for students are revision and study facilities with an average score of 7.4.

This indicates "an emphasis on those items which are concerned with facilitating students' ability to work on their own," says the report, compiled by Exam Aid's general secretary Bruce Harris.

The prominence given to computers (8.5 points) could show how much of students' work is PC-based and how hard they find it to get enough computer time at home, the report adds.

Information on careers and part-time work was the next most important category, with an average score of 6.9.

Within this, access to a careers library, detailed written notes on qualifications needed for particular jobs and one-to-one careers advice were rated most important, while practice job applications, interviews and advice on a gap year and working abroad were all valued.

The chance to have a social life, relax and get help in dealing with daily practicalities are also important to young people. On-site catering and lockers came within the top 10 items out of 50, with a sports centre not far behind. Students also appreciated facilities for socialising, clubs and hobbies.

For a generation said to be unconcerned about politics, respondents placed a high value on having a say in how their college or school is run.

Representation on the governing body scored 6.7 - rated as important as having facilities for social events and slightly more valuable than after-hours revision classes. Having a staff-student council was only a little behind.

Getting advice about the cost of future education and training was the main financial concern at 7.1 points. Information about benefits, housing, tax and the availability of credit and loans scored lower, but there was a wide range of marks for these items. A significant minority of students rated them very highly, suggesting that there is a group who have real worries about their financial future.

Counselling and personal tutors proved to be the most problematic area, though having a personal tutor with a group of 10 to 15 students was highly valued and scored seven points.

But the result that left Mr Harris feeling "taken aback" was the consistency with which sixth-formers across all institutions said they wanted an anti-bullying policy, including a teacher or lecturer to whom cases of bullying could be reported. Scoring 6.6, this issue still weighs surprisingly heavily with young people, even though they are beyond their years of compulsory education and about to enter adult life.

Having counsellors available on and off site was judged to be nearly as important as anti-bullying measures. But many students would rather take their problems to the student union than to mentors or peer counsellors, though the range of responses shows that these are important to some people.

And the Government may be disappointed to learn of the low opinion teenagers have of regular PSHE (personal, social and health education) sessions. This was judged the least important item in the whole survey, scoring just 4.3 points. However, some of the individual types of advice that might be included in PSHE sessions were rated important, and it seems to suggest a weak "brand" image.

The survey results were also analysed by age, gender and region. Age made no noticeable difference to students' priorities, possibly because, since AS-levels were launched, both Years 12 and 13 now live in a state of permanent examination.

Girls put items in much the same order as boys, but tended to mark them higher.

Boys marked pastoral issues lower than girls, but there was closer agreement between them on the importance of revision and study facilities, social and recreational facilities and representation.

Students from London and the South tended to mark lower than those from the Midlands and the North, except on social and recreational facilities, where they marked marginally higher.

Copies of the report are available at www.examaid.co.uk

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