Out of school but still in class

21st April 2000 at 01:00
They say a change is a good as a rest. Ever more Higher pupils are signing up for holiday studies to try to improve their grades. Eleanor Caldwell reports.

Easter holidays are last chance revision time for fourth and fifth year secondary pupils throughout Scotland and this year the four-way split in school holiday dates means out-of-school exam study has been spread over more than a month.

The holidays notwithstanding, many senior pupils have left the swotting corners of their bedrooms to attend extra lessons and enjoy the benefits of revising with others. Showing a positive commitment to learning, they have been willing to give up their time to try to improve their exam grades.

Easter schools have rapidly become an integral part of extended supported study schemes, thanks to support from the Government's Excellence Fund. The pupils targeted range from low achievers with potential to high achievers who lack confidence.

The main focus nationally has been on Higher subjects, with up to nine being taught in some centres, including music and art and design, though staff availability and pupil uptake were critical factors affecting which courses have been run. Low demand in some subjects, such as Higher French and German, can render classes unviable. But in East Renfrewshire, a demand for French classes at Intermediate 2 level has led to the creation of a viable joint HigherIntermediate 2 class. Also, Standard grade classes across the curriculum have increased considerably this year.

Courses last on average four or five days, and attendance has been remarkably high throughout the country. North Lanarkshire cites past attendance rates of those who signed up for Easter courses at 97 per cent.

Recognising the problems of rural isolation, several authorities provide free transport to their courses, particularly if they are centralised. In North Lanarkshire, for example, which has well established Easter schools at further education colleges in Cumbernauld, Motherwell and Coatbridge, pupils have had to bear no travel costs.

Highland has adopted a two-pronged approach to running courses for around 500 pupils: about 200 get together centrally in Inverness College and the others are spread across eight secondary schools from Thurso to Portree. The authority hopes to include Sabhal Mor College on Skye as one of its study centres next year.

Feedback from staff and pupils who attended courses at the further education college at Inverness has been very positive. Nearly a quarter of the S5 pupils attending Higher courses there this year took up optional sessions on time and stress management. Pupils learned personal study techniques in tandem with basic cognitive psychology.

Gordon Macdonald, development officer for raising achievement in Highland, said: "Going into the college helps to remotivate the young people who are beginning to get tired of school. It's a nice learning atmosphere in which they can prepare for the future."

In Glasgow, holiday courses have taken place in six FE colleges and some 20 secondary schools.

In East Renfrewshire, pupils from different local schools were brought together to revise for both Standard grade and Higher exams. Barrhead High and St Luke's in Barrhead joined forces and at St Ninian's in Giffnock, pupils from Eastwood in Newton Mearns, Woodfarm in Thornliebank and Williamwood High in Clarkston came together.

Education officer Ian Fraser likened pupils' enthusiasm for Easter schools with the council's winter residential weekend Higher schools, where pupils also study hard in a holiday setting.

In East Lothian, a more devolved school-based approach has been adopted, with skills sharing among schools. Classes across the curriculum in Higher, Intermediate 2 and Standard grade were timetabled across the six East Lothian schools over a period of nine days. Pupils did not pre-select classes but wer able to choose courses on a day-to-day basis. When a subject, such as Higher graphic communication, was not available at a pupil's own school, the authority hoped they would attend the "master class" where it was timetabled - in this example at Ross High in Tranent. Transport to Easter schools was free, making that a realistic financial possibility.

East Lothian is now keen to develop extended study through new technology, building from an existing telephone helpline into email support and distance learning programmes.

Two schools in Dundee have adopted a quite different model for exam revision. Two groups of 30 pupils from S4 and S5 at Craigie High and Braeview Academy had the chance to attend four-day residential courses at St Andrews University during term time before the Easter holidays. Each course was subsidised by Dundee Council, with parents making a donation towards costs.

From Monday to Thursday of their study week, Higher and Standard grade pupils worked through a 9am-5pm day, planning the most effective use of their time. Subject teachers from the schools visited the halls of residence during the week to deliver lessons and offer advice. Two teachers stayed with the pupils, so they also benefited from practical sessions in the evenings on study skills and stress relief.

David May, headteacher of Craigie High, was enthusiastic about the residential aspect of the course. "It creates an ideal atmosphere for learning and also makes some pupils, who might not have done so before, begin to consider going to university."

Easter school staffing takes different forms in the different regions. In North Lanarkshire, where pupils are taught by a team of teachers selected on application from a range of Lanarkshire schools, pupils have appreciated being taught by a different person with a new approach to the subject. In Clackmannanshire, where Easter study takes place in pupils' own schools, the importance of staff "engaging with their own pupils" is seen as a key factor to the success of the scheme.

Recruitment for holiday study courses has posed few problems in most subjects. Teachers volunteering for work have been selected in most areas not only on the basis of recent and successful teaching in a subject, but also for their ability to work professionally and effectively in a less formal way. With the exception of North Lanarkshire, where colleges have offered help with the payment of teachers, staff are paid from schools' extended study support budgets.

In the spirit of positive reinforcement, some councils have offered their Easter students extra incentives to give up holiday time. In Highland, all pupils who attended classes were rewarded with a ticket to any production at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, a Warner cinema ticket or a ticket for Inverness golf course - all valid for a year. In East Renfrewshire, students are rewarded with a daily pound;2 luncheon voucher and a pound;2 leisure voucher which they can use for to go swimming at a council sports centre or for a session on the Internet at the Log-In Cafe in Barrhead.

However, small rewards such as these are not necessary incentives. In areas where study places have been restricted in the past, parents have been known to telephone councils and offer to pay for a place on a cost-free Easter school. And one boy's comment best commends the system: "I should never have got a D in the prelim. I managed to get back up to a C at school, but I'm pretty confident I'll get a B now."

Scotland Feature H13 TESJapril 21J2000 Mind over matter: Craig Mackay and fellow students on an Easter course at Inverness College investigating the power of positive thinking Matter of mind: Jill Eardley of Culloden Academy leading an optional Easter class at Inverness College 'I should never have got a D in the prelim. I got back up to a C at school, but I'm pretty confident I'll get a B now'.

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