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Surviving summer;Summertime

An education camp will keep the kids occupied this holiday, says Valerie Hall -and they might even learn something.

I'm bored!" is the common refrain of young people during the long summer break. Parents in full-time work can only spend so much time keeping their children entertained and even non-working parents run out of ideas sooner or later. A solution is to follow the American lead - pack them off to summer camps where they can have fun and still learn. And it needn't you cost the earth - many schools, supported by sponsorship and government funding, are doing it for themselves.

In addition to its existing programme of 1,200 literacy and numeracy schools, the Department for Education and Employment recently announced a pound;1 million pilot scheme of 25 summer schools, intended to pave the way for lottery funding next year. Several target ethnic minorities and special needs pupils, and many incorporate information and communications technology (ICT).

At Bircotes and Harworth Community School, Nottinghamshire, for example, pupils aged nine to 14 can spend two weeks producing magazines, newspapers and website information about village history and the lives of local children. And at a five-week summer learning festival at Minsthorpe Community College, Wakefield, and local outdoor activity centres, 300 eight to 18-year-olds from the secondary school and feeder primary schools will hone ICT skills, produce a student newspaper and take their pick from photography, sports, residential outdoor pursuits, French, drama, or recording studio and DJ workshops.

The summer school of Kirklees local education authority involves 600 eight to 16-year-olds in art, music, sport, literacy, ICT, media and citizenship activities at sites including Huddersfield University, schools and community centres. Partners include the National Literacy Association and the Lawrence Batley Theatre. Other NLA projects include a six-month initiative for 12 "looked-after" secondary pupils in the New Forest area and their foster carers, who are out with Acorn Pocket Books this summer to record what they see.

Charlie Griffiths, NLA project director, says: "They will produce reports in a legible, presentable form using multimedia, which will have street credibility and help increase their confidence and expectations. Quizzes and drama workshops are being run and gifts of books will be awarded. We meet them every six weeks and support them by phone."

Many schools that ran summer courses last year using RM software, such as the integrated learning system SuccessMaker, plan to repeat the exercise. This literacy and numeracy-based program incorporates a diagnostic management system and allows teachers to monitor pupils progress and diagnose problems.

Mayfield School, Portsmouth, last year organised a two-week transport project for pupils with reading ages below their chronological age who were about to start secondary school. Each day comprised 30 minutes on SuccessMaker, and three hours of concentrated teaching, as well as sports, word processing and fun activities. They fired questions at a traffic policeman and a White Line ferry captain, inspected a police car and fire engine and took a trip on a local bus. "Students improved at a higher rate than the control group we've been monitoring," says Colin Swettenham, Mayfield's learning resources manager. "We hope to include numeracy as well this year."

Alternatively, summer schools can provide an opportunity for pupils to pick up extra certificates. At King Harold School, Waltham Abbey, for example, which is aided by a European Social Fund grant, several 16-year-olds gained a City and Guilds Certificate in basic computing and a telematics certificate (Internet, email and desktop conferencing). Tuition by lecturers from Harlow College introduced pupils to teaching methods they will encounter in further education. Malcolm Burnett, director of Lea House, one of three houses at King Harold School, says the atmosphere was relaxed and enjoyable and students left the school with higher self-esteem. Family literacy and basic parenting programmes are expected to run this summer as well.

If money is no object, there are a number of American-style camps in Britain that build ICT into their programmes. Futurecamp, for example, is available at two of Camp Beaumont's residential activity villages: Runton Sands, on the north Norfolk coast, and Kingswood, Staffordshire.

Here children can create cartoon animation, build an interactive Lego amusement park, create a homepage on the Internet and make a "Beaumont documentary" using the latest in camcorder and digital camera technology, not to mention all the usual range of sports, go-karting, caving, circus skills, fencing, drama and art activities. A week's stay costs pound;298 to pound;318, plus an additional pound;30 for Futurecamp.

Another option is Futurekids Learning Centres and partnering schools, which offer one- to two-week summer camps for ages four to 15 in Pinner, Wimbledon, Tamworth, Purley, Edgware, Sevenoaks, Birmingham, Chiswick and Edinburgh. The camps develop themes of young inventors, robotics, junior entrepreneur, cartoon and adventure at a cost of pound;80 to pound;100 for a week of two-hour sessions.

For an experience more akin to the traditional American summer camp, try ACE Computer Camps. The organisation was set up in the US five years ago and now attracts more than 20,000 eight to 17-year-olds each year. ACEhas set up a UK operation and will run camps at several English universities and colleges in July and August.

Campers choose between a programming curriculum (seven levels) and general curriculum (keyboard skills, spreadsheets, word processing) and all can create web pages and use email. Taught sessions are mixed with quizzes, supervised free time, non-compulsory sports, music, video and software workshops.

The fee is pound;550 per week residential, pound;350 non-residential, with up to 20 per cent of places available free to disadvantaged children, thanks to sponsorship by companies such as BT and PC World.

* To win one of five free places atan ACE Computercamp see ourcompetition on page 41.

DfEE summer schools: 0171 925 5555

National Literacy Association: 01202 484079

Mayfield School: 01705 693432

King Harold School: 01992 714800

Camp Beaumont: 0171 922 1234

Futurekids: 0171 584 8111

ACE Computer Camps: 080 800 22677

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