Not many things are clear-cut in education, but here's one: targeted revision help at Easter has a direct and significant effect on how well GCSE students do come the summer.
Research backed by the Government, which followed 8,000 children through three years of schooling, showed conclusively that all kinds of out-of-school study support helped students to do better, but that "Easter revision courses in year 11 had the largest and most consistent impact on GCSE results". The study found that students who got study support attained, on average, one more GCSE pass at grades A-C, than those who didn't. Which means most students who take a specialist GCSE revision course can expect to get at least one or two higher grades.
And so they should. Because these courses are expensive. To study three subjects over five days with Justin Craig Education, a company specialising in GCSE and A-level revision, will cost £370. To take eight subjects over 12 or 13 days, on a residential course, costs £1,100.
Is it worth it? "It depends on your priorities," says Marilyn Craig, the director of studies. "I always say to people it's cheaper than a school skiing trip. And any student who comes to us and wants to work is going to benefit."
The keys to success, she claims, are good teachers, tiny classes, and an easy "jeans, jumpers and sweatshirts" atmosphere. And the spin-offs are not just that students get specific subject teaching, but that they also learn exam techniques, study skills, and can gain general confidence.
But be careful, she warns. The field is full of cowboys, including some prestigious private schools who think setting up at Easter revision course is an easy way to earn a quick buck, but who don't give much thought to the classes they put on. Beware the glossy school brochure with an Easter revision schedule slipped inside, and quiz anyone offering courses about class sizes, and who will be teaching your child.
It is also worth checking to see whether there are any free revision opportunities on offer, because maintained schools and local education authorities are increasingly cottoning on to the value of the big Easter push and setting up their own holiday programmes. And never sign your child up just because others are doing it.
Candidates benefit in the shared experience of studying with others rather than in isolation. They burst with new-found confidence, develop good examination techniques and can expect to achieve good grades. If you can afford it, let your daughter choose the courses she wants.
Sandra Butler, Middlesex
Some tutorial colleges offer Easter revision programmes flexible enough for each student to choose what he or she wants to study, and for how long. Ask your daughter about her strengths and weaknesses within each subject. If she decides that she needs a couple of hours to sort out one tricky topic in maths, a whole morning revising an English set book and regular, short practice sessions for French oral, there are colleges which will provide exactly that.
Jane Darwin, Westminster Tutors, London
Three Easters ago, our son understood that if we were going to pay to get him out of a hole, then he had to buckle down and pay attention. As a result he did better than any of us expected on his GCSEs. But a friend of his was booked by his parents against his will, and did not benefit at all. Attitude is everything.
Lesley And Andrew Schwartz, Hertfordshire
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