Summer Schools: Summertime and the Studying Is Easy ; from Revision Techniques to French Civilisation and Kayaking, Taking Part in a Summer School Is the Ideal Way for Your Child to Learn a New Skill, Says Sarah Jewell

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Summer used to be the time to have fun in the sunshine, pack your bags, go on holiday, and forget about school. But not any more.

For pupils of all ages there is increasing pressure to spend at least part of the summer holiday studying, and to meet this need there are a multitude of summer courses to consider. Summer schools cover everything from a crash course in improving exam techniques to learning a language or sport.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, is keen to promote the idea of summer schools for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Last month he announced that new summer schools are being set up in further education colleges to give students a taste of university life.

The schools are being run in partnership with the Sutton Trust, which aims to encourage pupils from non-privileged backgrounds to go to the top universities. Tim Devlin is the spokesman for the Sutton Trust and he explains: "We run summer schools at Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham and Bristol and they give priority to students from schools and colleges that don't normally send children to those universities, and to children whose parents didn't go to university."

The summer schools, which are free, are aimed at 16 and 17-year- olds and have been very successful. "About one third of pupils go on to get places at the summer schools of the universities they attended," says Tim Devlin. He thinks their great value is that they introduce students to life on the campus and they can then make up their minds as to whether they want to go there or not.

He says: "A lot of students who come on these summer school weeks are very pleasantly surprised by the university; they find they are not such toffee-nosed places as they thought they might be."

Rebecca Lodwick, 20, is reading maths at Oxford, and she went on one of the Sutton Trust summer schools from her school, Stanground College in Peterborough: "I went to Oxford for a week and I really enjoyed it. It was the first time I had been to the city and it was nice to learn a bit about the university. I had talks and lectures on physics and did some practical work. I had thought that Oxford was a bit stuffy, but it wasn't like that, everyone went out of their way to be friendly and they were keen to have you apply."

For students who know which university they want to go to but are nervous about passing their exams there are plenty of crammer courses that offer the chance to improve revision techniques. Dr Mario Peters runs the Oxford Summer School and provides a selection of intensive revision courses for sixth-form and GCSE students. He finds that there is a big demand for his courses. "The days of cramming three or four A-level subjects into the end of a two-year course are a thing of the past, and by sacrificing one or two weeks of their long summer holidays, students can return to school primed and full of confidence. …