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What did you do in the holidays?

Forget sun, sea and sand. If you want to get ahead, try summer school, writes Gerald Haigh.

Many years ago, a local head could be seen at 5pm on the last day of each summer term leaving town in his Austin A55, caravan in tow. He'd return the day before autumn term started.

It wouldn't happen now. There's too much to do - planning, sorting out the library, supervising renovations.

But what about career development? A fortnight in Benidorm and a week's archaeological dig in the stock cupboard still leave three weeks of potential study time - and plenty of teachers make use of it. Angela Preston, deputy head of T P Riley School in Walsall, for example, says: "We have people going on an Open University summer school, and others doing mountain leadership."

She will spend two weeks on the final assignments of her National Professional Qualification for Headship. "As deputy head I do some holiday duty in school, " she says. "So I will combine some of my study with that."

At Sacred Heart primary in Peterborough, Nicola Burton, in charge of maths, library and key stage 1, has just completed a 20-day maths course at Leicester's De Montfort University. Over summer, she will write the long assignment needed to qualify the course as an MA degree module.

"I enjoyed studying," she says. "And I miss the theory side -doing the MA will give me that."

So will she work at the start of the holiday, or the end? "I'm getting married in the middle of the holiday. I plan to work solidly for two weeks when school breaks up, and then when we come back from honeymoon. I might end up taking the books on honeymoon, but I hope not."

Loughborough and Bath universities are among those institutions where UK teachers - and overseas staff - can take higher-degree modules in the summer holidays. At Loughborough, explains administrator Paula Cross, "teachers can do one or two-week courses as stand-alone study or as part of an educational studies MA."

Nicholas Johnson, head of the Bolitho School in Penzance, Cornwall, took two management modules at Bath last summer. "The courses were of untold value. As a result I've presented a marketing paper for my governors and a development plan for the next three years."

Angela Preston says teachers, whether formally studying or not, always have the job in mind. Teachers of French tend to holiday in France, for example, "and return loaded with materials".

Dave Cooper, deputy head of St Giles junior school in Warwickshire, is a case in point. St Giles has good links, through the European Community's Comenius project, with schools in Sweden and Denmark. And Mr Cooper will holiday with his family in Sweden, visiting four partner schools which, by then, will be back in session. "I'll talk to pupils and teachers and take them some videos and photographs."

Deputy head at St Giles for 17 years, Mr Cooper says the Scandinavian link has broadened his professional outlook. "It makes you look around."

* Bath University department of education international summer school, tel: 01225 826120l.

* Loughborough University department of education MA summer programme, tel: 01509 222777l.

* The British Association of Advisers and Lecturers in Physical Education also runs a successful summer school at King Alfred's College, Winchester. Contact: David Gott, Hampshire education authority. Tel: 01252 814766.

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