Education Quandary

Do summer camps for pupils applying to university give those who are fortunate enough to go on them an unfair advantage?

This query comes from a parent who is worried her daughter will be left behind in the great university application race, and wonders why her school did not put her forward for a place on one.

But most of these camps are run for the kind of less-advantaged students who might not automatically consider themselves university material, or whose families have no experience of the world of higher education (see page 6). Far from giving participants an unfair advantage, they exist to give them a leg-up to the place where this girl, in all probability, already is.

On them, students get to enjoy the company of other bright kids. They find out more about themselves, about what university is like and about the opportunities it can offer them. Many pupils are put off by the idea of student debts, but learn that there are long-term financial advantages to getting a degree.

Mostly, though, they come away with boosted confidence. Seeing themselves outside their normal setting, on a university or public school campus, learning to mix and mingle outside their usual circles, they come to see that they can step up and take their place in the world of higher education just as readily as anyone else.

Another kind of summer camp offers places for exceptionally clever children to enjoy working at an advanced level with university teachers.

Maybe your daughter doesn't fit into either of these categories, but you can help her prepare for university by encouraging her to stick at her studies, taking her to see any universities she's interested in and, if she is likely to be interviewed for a place, making sure she gets some practice in answering the kind of questions that she might be asked.

Readers' advice

School pupils feel confident about university if they are familiar with them and with the learning that takes place there. National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) students can work with universities across the country throughout their secondary years. They can attend lectures, take part in short courses and attend summer schools. Confidence can come through the route of regular, limited access, as well as through intensive summer schools. Check out our website (www.nagty.ac.uk) to see if your child is eligible to join NAGTY and take it from there. Also talk to someone at your daughter's school. Youngsters there are missing out.
Professor Deborah Eyre, Director, NAGTY, University of Warwick

As an A-level teacher, I have been asked to put forward the names of pupils who might benefit from summer camp places. I chose two whom I felt would make the most of what was on offer, even though their circumstances were less needy than those of some of my other students. It wasn't a fair decision; it was a pragmatic one.
Joyce Sedini, Manchester

If your daughter is even halfway good at what she wants to study, and can show in her application form that she is an interesting person who will benefit from three years at university, she should have no problem in getting a university place. Why do you need to begrudge others their lucky opportunities?
Maisie Field, Buckinghamshire

Next week's quandary

Will giving every parent a bag of books really give children from disadvantaged homes a better start at school? Does the Government have any evidence that it will work, and how do they imagine these books will be used? Is this the best way to promote educational equality? Or is the scheme just another New Labour gimmick that wastes taxpayers' money?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, by next Monday, 8 August, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to h.wilce@btinter net.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi pen pack

h.wilce@btinternet.com

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