Students get a close-up view of teaching

Michael Prestage

Questions from youngsters using the recently-created wildlife garden at Salisbury Road junior school tend to be directed at Simon Farr, writes Michael Prestage.

Simon, a third-year environmental science student at nearby Plymouth University, is taking part in a pioneering tutoring scheme.

Anne Newall, deputy head of the school, said: "We have been able to get far more benefit from using the garden with Simon around. He knows all the answers. An extra pair of hands is also valuable."

Six Plymouth schools, primary and secondary, and 18 students at the university have taken part in the scheme, where student volunteers work with teachers for an afternoon a week for at least 10 weeks.

Many on the scheme have decided to continue their placement. Although there have been teething problems - some volunteers complained of not being given a challenging enough role - the scheme is deemed a success.

The trial at Plymouth reflects national interest for the project. Since it was developed by Community Service Volunteers, the programme has expanded rapidly. In its first year in 199293, there were 2,500 students placed in 500 schools. Last year, that had risen to 5,000 students.

Simon Farr believes his placement has helped him to escape the scholarly environment at university and given him the chance to see things from the teacher's view. He has no plans to enter teaching - except as a last resort - but hopes to work in the education side of conservation. He says his time at Salisbury Road will provide valuable experience.

"I enjoy working with children and will continue until the end of term, " he said. "It makes a change from sitting in the library. I wasn't sure how I would cope but I have been given a lot of help."

As well as the wildlife garden, he has helped with reading lessons and accompanied his Year 6 class on trips. There have also been the mundane tasks, such as filling glue pots.

Vanessa Fitzgerald, the university's access co-ordinator, said: "The scheme offers tremendous potential. It has been particularly rewarding to watch students grow in confidence."

Gail Cann, the scheme administrator, said: "We have overcome some hurdles along the way and now we hope to get the scheme better known in the university and locality so that it can be expanded during the next academic year.

A recent Office for Standards in Education report on Parkside School, Devonport, another school in the scheme, said more needed to be done to find ways of giving extra in-class support without additional sums being available. The scheme has helped provide the answer.

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