Summer study helps pupils shine

1st August 1997 at 01:00
In an initiative that would have been unthinkable a few years ago, around 1,000 secondary pupils in central Scotland and 150 teachers are giving up one or two weeks of their summer holidays to go back to school. Both groups report substantial benefits for class work.

Twelve holiday schools in the former Strathclyde area and three in the Lothians are attracting more than Pounds 50,000 of funding from the Prince's Trust, the principal force behind the study support initiative. The schools combine a mix of academic study, creative and recreational activities and are continuing over the next two weeks.

The Scottish end of the trust has won more than Pounds 300,000 of lottery funds to promote the skills and self-confidence promoted by study support. Industry is matching the cash.

At Balerno High, Edinburgh, last week - one of three centres in the Lothians which are pulling in 300 underperforming fourth-year pupils - teachers, volunteer students and pupils were engaged in anything from mathematics and French to photography, touch rugby and excursions. Guidance and learning support staff at 23 city secondaries recommended pupils for the early return to school. Pupils get free transport and lunches.

Helen Woodhouse, a Prince's Trust study support co-ordinator, said target pupils came from disadvantaged backgrounds and many lacked confidence or had problems with independent study or Standard grade projects. Low motivation was often a factor.

Wendy Rutherford, who is going into S4 at Drummond High, was reluctant to accept a place. "At first I thought it would be boring. I would not know anybody and I was a bit nervous. But I'm enjoying it because you can choose what you want to do," she said.

Her mum offered to buy her new clothes if she went, so she came. "Summer holidays are boring anyway and I am anxious to go back to school to see my pals," she said. So what is the attraction? "The teachers are more friendly, it's not so formal and you can call them by their first names. They treat you more mature."

Wendy was busy on a computer, building her national record of achievement, including a photograph on screen.

Her new friend, Catriona McLay, from Castlebrae High, was equally anxious about going to another part of the city where she would not know anyone but had quickly overcome her fears. "Maths is good. I do not like maths normally. They make it more fun for you. We had to do puzzles and it was like a competition. We had five minutes to do a puzzle," she said.

Teachers had more time to give in smaller groups. "When I go back to school, I'll probably work harder," she confessed.

Shona Thomson, principal learning support teacher at Liberton High, said: "I had a student from my own school last year who was very timid and who would not ask questions in class but after the summer school she went on to speak in front of Prince Charles at a Prince's Trust conference."

Many pupils wanted to come back for a second week, she said. They had to give a presentation on their achievements at the end of the course."It is getting the kids to ask for help and saying to them it is OK to achieve."

The Prince's Trust believes there are lessons for mainstream schools in the atmosphere and motivation created by study support but Ms Thomson points out schools are heavily structured and timetabled. One parent phoned her last week after a couple of days to report how much her son was enjoying the programme. "If schools had such flexibility, he would be at school every day," the parent admitted.

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