Why summer schools are key to in-depth subject knowledge

25th August 2014 at 07:00

This summer, Annabel May, a student at Caistor Grammar School in Lincolnshire, earned the chance to attend a summer school at Eton College. Here she talks about how summer schools offer the chance to study a chosen subject in more depth than the school timetable can facilitate

The prospect of a summer school itself seemed exciting, but the opportunity of one at Eton College was in an entirely different league.

For ten days every year, in a break from hosting princes, Eton opens its doors to 130 girls and boys from state schools for the college’s University Summer School. It offers a range of subjects from history of art to double mathematics and includes guidance in applying to university – Oxbridge in particular.

Applications were chosen on merit of GCSE results and a 200-word personal statement (true to the ‘university’ aim, it was a taster of the dreaded Ucas character limit). I chose to read French and was amazed a few months later when I received an acceptance letter in the post.

I come from rural Lincolnshire, so I imagined it would be a shock to the system attending the school. However, everyone was made to feel incredibly welcome.

On the first day, we were all allocated to a boarding house and it didn’t take long until we had afternoon tea –  the first of many. That evening the students met with their respective subject tutors to be greeted with the first pieces of homework due for the following morning – a welcome gift, ‘Eton style’. The lessons themselves were representative of Oxbridge tutorials and the small class sizes allowed everyone to share their views on the subjects they were so enthusiastic about.

The Summer School prides itself on the way it disregards the restraining AS syllabuses and allows students to go beyond anything they have previously studied. For French, this included an entire play, novel, series of poems, grammar and oral practice all contained within the ten-day period.

It was intense to say the least. But being surrounded by like-minded people made it possible; after the first few days, everyone was compelling themselves to work hard in order to simply make the most of the amazing experience and university-level teaching from the Eton dons.

And it was far from all work and no play, as there was plenty of afternoon recreation, such as the infamous Eton Wall Game and a party at Dorney Lake at the weekend.

I would recommend going on a Summer School to anyone who has the keenness not just to study, but to practically live their subject – even on a glorious summer weekend. The experience of living and studying in Eton itself is something I shall always feel privileged to have sampled, but the overall success of this year’s Summer School – and summer schools in general – should not be measured by the amount of candidates who get an offer from Oxbridge, but by how many people leave instilled with a genuine passion to study their subject.


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