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'The teachers don't shout and you don't have to put your hand up'

Finding the right learning style is the first priority for teachers at the University of the First Age. So when a class of Year 6 children from Deykin Avenue primary in Birmingham arrive at Millennium Point for a half-term taster session, they learn how to tie knots in triplicate.

First they listen to a tape in which a sailor with a heavy West Country accent explains how to tie a figure-of-eight knot. He uses words such as "bight". Children find it hard to follow, but they find they can solve most of the problems by working as a team.

Then they learn another knot from a series of pictures, and this proves to be easier. The they follow as a demonstrator guides them through it.

The children are being gently led around new ideas about which learning styles best suit them - and which approaches best match the material they need to learn.

If they stay with the university, they'll do more and more activities that explore learning styles. A modern languages summer school, for example, is based at the Birmingham College of Food and Technology.

"It's very multi-disciplinary, based around Spanish music and food," says Phil Bashford, the session tutor at the college.

The pupil-tutor relationship is purposeful but informal. Mr Thompson, who has a day job as a learning mentor in a comprehensive, says: "The idea is that it's complementary but different. We encourage kids to call us by our first names. They find it difficult at first, but they get used to it."

And the children are keen. The consensus is that they know perfectly well that they are learning, but that it is very different from school.

Ten- year-old Simone from Deykin Avenue says: "It's not as formal as school - they don't shout at you and you don't have to put your hand up."

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