Talkback

28th April 2000 at 01:00
Good Friday couldn't come quickly enough; it meant we were halfway through the job. To explain: I'm one of a growing band of teachers who forsake their Easter holiday to moonlight at revision courses, cramming students for GCSEs and A-levels.

Justin Craig pioneered Easter revision 19 years ago and now runs six residential and three day centres in Yorkshire and the South-East. Their entire business is based on two weeks at Easter and one at Whitsun half-term. Most courses are now run by schools, such as Wellington college and Harrow. Oxford Revision runs a centre at St Hilda's college as a sideline to a tuition agency.

This morning I complete a class. The students do 12 hours with every teacher - in that time I cover most of a GCSE course, mixing in exam practice and some advice on study and revision techniques. At the end I write a short report. It surprises me that I already know my students well enough to give personalised advice. Revising with small groups of nine or fewer is very different from teaching a normal class.

John approaches me. He tells me I'm the best teacher he has ever had and asks whether I do private tuition. I tell him I live in Bedford and he says: "Where's that?" Meanwhile Natalie has been using her mobile phone to call a friend at the front of the lunch queue. "What's for lunch?" she asks. The choice is inadequate, apparently, for she arranges an expedition to the Chinese restaurant in town. She can afford it. Revision courses cost about pound;80 per day upwards. Few students come from comprehensive schools. Among he students, Pran is considered rich. He calls Kenya on his mobile. Daily.

In the afternoon I teach a new group. I ask them to list the topics they wish to cover - with nine students it's easy to tailor the teaching to their needs. Melanie can't remember any topics in physics so I list a few of them: waves, light, sound. She scribbles "all of them" on her card.

Does it work? Most students report increased confidence and most of them improved their grades. Justin Craig claims a 97 per cent satisfaction rating on the company's annual student survey - and that two-thirds of their customers attend on personal recommendations.

Half the students on theWhitsun half-term coursealso attended at Easter.

Later, in the pub, I ask the teachers why they do the job. "Cooked breakfast every day," jokes Marjorie. "No washing up. It's just like a hotel." Peter is here to get away from his wife. Ten days of being a bachelor again. He dashes down to the pub each night. "Trouble is, I'm too tired to do anything more than drink," he groans.

The money helps. You earn about pound;1,000 after tax for two weeks' work. It is gruelling: eight hours a day with no free periods and no weekends, for nearly two weeks. But it breeds camaraderie. We're proud to have survived. I feel as if I'm acting in an episode of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. We're contract workers in an alien environment, thinking only of the next meal and the families we've left behind. Only a few more days to go. Then it's back to school.

Dave Appleby Dave Appleby teaches in Bedford


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