Easter revision: The short, sharp shock of cramming

Before the days of league tables, schools scorned extra coaching. Now, writes Simon Midgley, they see it as a way up the educational ladder
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The Independent Online
THIS is the time of year when many worried parents start wondering whether their children might benefit from the short, sharp shock treatment of spending a week or two over Easter revising for their impending GCSE and A-level exams.

Having just received the results of their offspring's mock examinations, not a few parents will be waking up to the fact that much work still needs to be done if their child is to get into the sixth form or the university of his or her choice.

One option is to send your children on a one- or two-week Easter revision course. These are run by tutorial or independent sixth form colleges - what used to be known as crammers - and by other specialist providers.

The idea is that a child should revise intensively for one A-level or two GCSEs a week in small classes. The days are usually long - eight hours - and involve intensive revision of subject content, answering past exam questions, practising essay writing and brushing up on revision skills.

Paul Redhead, co-principal of the Cambridge Centre for Sixth Form Studies, says that during the last term preceding the public exams a lot of schools are still involved in introducing new material to students, so actually finding the time to do good-quality revision is quite difficult. "Easter is the major chance to make big inroads into the revision programme," he says.

Historically, many schools have been sceptical, if not hostile, to Easter revision courses because they have regarded them as unnecessary and as an implicit criticism of their own efforts to prepare their pupils for exams.

However, there are signs that with the advent of league tables of school examination results, quite a few are discovering pragmatically that anything that helps lift the school's grade averages is a good thing.

Easter revision courses are laid on throughout the country but there are concentrations of independent sixth form colleges in London, Oxford and Cambridge. Some courses are residential. Booking is usually on a first- come, first-served basis and often no interviews are required. Pupils will be expected to attend regularly and punctually and abide by the rules of the college or course organisers.

Some subjects - for example, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology - lend themselves more readily to A-level revision courses than others, for example theatre studies, art or practical laboratory work.

Teaching methods vary but will usually combine a mixture of traditional instruction from the front of the class plus working on your own with occasional guidance from a teacher.

Such courses are quite expensive. Fees in the 30 colleges belonging to the professional association governing standards in independent sixth form and tutorial colleges, the Conference for Independent Further Education, range from pounds 400 to pounds 520 for a one- week A-level course and from pounds 200 to pounds 280 for a one-week GCSE course.

Mr Redhead says that sending your child on an Easter revision course should not be regarded in any way as an implicit judgement on the quality - or lack of it - of his or her school.

"The fact that it is someone different telling them things, that they are in different company, they are not with the same class mates, they are in a different setting - all of that can actually shake people up a little bit and get messages through that a school might not have been able to.

"It is almost like your parents telling you something. Sometimes you cannot get through because it is your own child and someone else can get through far more effectively."