Summer schools: Summertime, and learning is easy

What heatwave? Summer also offers a chance for keen students to get ahead
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The Independent Online

For many students, summer is a time to relax. For more serious-minded individuals, it's a chance for further study - and academic summer schools are becoming increasingly popular.

The reasons for attending vary greatly, and choosing the right course depends on what you want to gain. There's a huge variety of summer schools catering for a range of abilities and budgets.

In alliance with the Government's Aimhigher initiative, many universities run free summer schools to encourage teenagers in years 11, 12 and 13 to consider the benefits of higher education. Catherine Baggley, 17, has just finished a residential summer school at the University of Nottingham. "It was brilliant," she says. "If that's what university is going to be like, it's going to be great."

Baggley took a course in creative learning as part of Nottingham's "Get on 4 Uni" masterclass. "The lecturers had different styles and were very interesting," she says. "We had loads of fun in the evenings; I met lots of people." The scheme, funded by the university, offers year 12 pupils the chance to experience university and student life.

Nottingham also hosts the Sutton Trust summer school for high-achieving students from under-represented backgrounds. Through this scheme, aspiring accountant Mitesh Chotai got the chance to study at one of the country's largest business schools. "The teachers certainly made my subject fun and we could talk to the students too," he says.

For younger students needing extra tuition, the Oxford Science Studies Summer School runs many courses. It accepts all-comers from key stage 3 to A-level, as well as undergraduates whose memory of A-levels is a little rusty.

The founder and principal, Dr Mario Peters, says that, at school, most pupils are required only to memorise information rather than understand it."In a normal school, the examined skill is reproduction, which is distinct from absorbing," he says. "Students really don't get enough opportunity to practise. We focus on understanding and reproduction."

Tutorial groups of three or four people learn key study skills, and assessment is frequent and regular. The course director, Nick Strugnell, says: "We teach syllabus-specific and student-specific courses and try to deliver what students need rather than what we think they need."

Oxford Summer School's course are highly successful, Peters says. A mother of three agrees: "We sent our first daughter to the school when she was finding her physics GCSE course very hard and we couldn't find a local tutor. She gained an A in her physics A-level. Our second daughter loved it too; she went back for four consecutive years and is now studying law at Oxford."

Summer fun isn't ignored. The Oxford Summer School timetable is designed to promote a good working ethic by rewarding students with social activities in the evening, from punting and theatre trips to laser tag games and skating.

For degree-level students and professionals, university summer courses such as those run by the London School of Economics are a chance to gain extra degree credits and enhance sector knowledge. "The selling point is that the courses are condensed versions of LSE courses taught by its lecturers," says summer school manager Lyndon McKevitt. "It's a very strong product and a great chance to train at an international education centre and mix with overseas students."

Bence Teo, a lawyer from Melbourne and LSE Summer School returner, says: "You get to meet heaps of people from all over the world. The lecturers are world leaders in their field and you have direct contact with them. You get a real global perspective here."

Fellow student Emily Reguerio-McKelvie is using the school to complete her degree. "The timetable is really student-friendly - it's intense, but there's also time to relax," she says.

The LSE's programme is very popular, with admissions in 2006 totalling more than 3,500, of which 15 per cent are returners.

While the Aimhigher schemes are free, fees for Oxford Science Studies Summer School start from £590 and the cheapest LSE course will set you back £1,075. However, the summer school culture seems to be catching on in the UK and prices may drop as competition increases.

For students looking to sharpen their skills, summer schools offer brilliant opportunities and give you the chance to meet new people and broaden horizons.