Education: Country kids get away from it all: Burford, Oxfordshire: help is at hand for rural children. Julia Hagedorn explains

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The Independent Online
SUMMER holiday problems are not confined to city estates. The Cotswolds may seem like a rural idyll, but many children there are isolated from schoolfriends and unoccupied. Burford Community College, in Oxfordshire, has responded to the need by running a summer activity week for seven- to 11-year-olds.

One day might encompass trampolining in the school's sports hall, tennis, computer work in the craft, design and techology block and chess in the sixth-form centre and a keep-fit session.

Although Burford is a prosperous town on the edge of the Cotswolds, many of the surrounding villages are tiny and lack the facilities that urban children take for granted. Schoolfriends usually come from a different village, and parents have to drive their children to any social gathering.

Sue Haynes, head of community education at Burford, started the summer school when she took on her present job three years ago, because she saw a need to provide these children with activities that they might not otherwise experience, and the chance to make new friends, which is often difficult in the country.

Ms Haynes stresses that it is not a play scheme but a structured week with hour-long slots of core activities. These build up over the week so that children come away feeling they have mastered new skills. There is also access to the school's farm and swimming pool, as well as one-off activities, such as paper-making.

Jacob Coates, 10, explained why children are returning each year: 'They let us do lots of things we enjoy. And they treat us like the age we are, instead of saying do this and do that.'

The emphasis must be on having fun, otherwise the children would not come. Paul Nichols, who gives the sessions on computers and is head of information technology at an Oxfordshire comprehensive, says: 'Learning has to be fun for them and fun for me, otherwise I wouldn't be here. I have no authority, it's just bluff when I slip into teacher mould. It's summer and they are not here to be disciplined.'

Janey Slader, the keep-fit tutor, goes one further. In her patter to the children as they stretch their hamstrings, she says: 'Get your bums up - point them at the wall. I'm here to instruct, you're here to work out. I'm not a teacher - I hate teachers.' The children love it.

Parent volunteers keep the costs down and the week runs at a profit, despite costing only pounds 35 a child. This allows Ms Haynes to offer 10 concessionary places at half price.

This year, there were only three takers for these places - perhaps because of the need for transport, or because even that amount of money is too much for some families. Next year, Ms Haynes says, she will include a rider about sharing lifts and try to give bigger discounts: 'Because, much as I like providing facilities for middle-class children, there is a need to provide for those who will not be going to Disneyland for their holidays.'

(Photograph omitted)

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