Summer School : Brasenose College, Oxford University

School may be out for summer but lessons don't stop for some. All kinds of people carry on learning while the sun shines
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The Independent Online
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a student at Oxford? This month, 60 A-level pupils from state schools around the country had the chance to eat, sleep and breathe the Oxford life in an all-expenses- paid week's summer school at Brasenose College, courtesy of past Oxford graduate, Peter Lampl.

Lampl, who read Chemistry at Corpus Christi College in the Sixties, wants to encourage more state school pupils to apply to his Alma Mater, particularly from schools with little experience of entering candidates for Oxbridge. By focusing on physics, chemistry, modern languages and history, Oxford University hopes at the same time to revive interest in these somewhat flagging subject areas.

Living in an Oxford college and dining in hall - "The paintings are a bit daunting the way they lean down over you," says one 17-year-old boy from Wales - may sound terribly Bridesheadish. But of course, you can't get the full flavour of student life if you don't do any of the work.

So in the physics laboratory, a group of summer school students is hard at it, constructing transistor switches. They have taken notes at undergraduate- style lectures, and are preparing for their first taste of the Oxford one-to-one tutorial.

"The first day, we just had lectures all day, and by the third lecture I was beginning to lose concentration," says Jane Galloway, from Glasgow. "I'm enjoying the work more now that it's more hands-on."

"It's quite hard, the work we're doing, because there is so little time to mull it over," says Daniel Rumney, who comes from Newcastle.

"But instead of busting my gut trying to get it figured out, I'll take it home with me and read up then."

Over in the language labs, a lively French class is recording a news programme in the style of French radio, having just completed an open- air rendering of a play by Moliere. Much of their week is devoted to the analysis of literary texts - less common now at A-level, but central to the Oxford modern languages degree. Not all the summer school students are convinced, however.

"It's been very intensive and challenging, speaking in French all the time - which we don't do at school because it's a mixed ability group," says Kate Baldry, from Matlock in Derbyshire. "But I'm not sure that a literature-based course really appeals to me. At school, we only did one book."

The young historians, meanwhile, have been set loose in the history faculty library, where Martin Lacey, from Sheffield, is in seventh heaven researching his project on the Muggletonians.

"Having access to this kind of library is fantastic - it must be one of the best research libraries in the world. I'd definitely like to be a student here. Oxford is just the perfect atmosphere for a historian."

Rosie Walsh, from Stroud, says she has found the two-and-a-half-hour periods of independent research quite taxing, "because my self-discipline is not brilliant". She thinks she might be better off at a different university doing a combined course with theatre studies, rather than just the straight history that Oxford prides itself on.

Playing hard at Oxford is as important - well, almost - as working hard. The summer school has laid on football and rounders, as well as the obligatory punting on the river. "It was great, we got jammed under the bridge and rammed by a Spanish fisherman," enthuses one boy. In the evenings, there have been improving visits to the theatre - A Midsummer Night's Dream at New College - and, for the physicists, the chance to view the night sky through the university's Whetton telescope.

Student night-life is a little harder to come by, partly because the real students are already on vacation, but mainly because summer school students are under a 10pm curfew. This has not prevented brighter sparks sitting up to all hours in the college quad, eating watermelon and singing rowdy songs. But some are already of the opinion that Oxford university life is a bit enclosed and lacking in freedom, despite the city's great beauty. For Rosie Walsh, Oxford's two or three nightclubs are simply not enough.

But for Khaled Hussain, from Ashford in Kent, and his friends in the French class, the week has been "brilliant".

"Oxford has a bit of a stuffy reputation, but actually it's quite normal. We haven't felt out of place here, we've made ourselves really at home," he says.

"The other day we were meant to be working, but we sat in the sun in the quad," says Matthew Barry, from mid-Wales, surely getting to the heart of student life. "The tourists were coming round the college and taking our picture. I think they thought we were the real thing"n