Vacation Courses as a Taste of UK Boarding
Tony Binns is Registrar of Mill Hill School and has 30 years of summer school experience; the Mill Hill Summer School is now in its third season.
What Do Spring and Summer Schools Offer?
An increasing number of UK boarding schools are offering courses, either directly or through an outside organisation, in March/April or July/August, when the main school is in its holiday period. Some courses are designed solely for international students, whilst others also cater for UK pupils. The majority of courses combine English language teaching and/or academic study with sporting and social activities, plus excursions. There are many other courses to choose from, such as music, dance, drama, film-making, golf, tennis, soccer or cricket.
Courses are generally residential, and the standard of accommodation offered by UK boarding schools continues to rise. Some schools offer single and twin rooms, with en-suite bathrooms. Another possibility for international students is staying with a host family, which offers a fuller immersion in British life.
Why Choose a Spring or Summer Course?
Most short-course students return home having developed an area, or areas, of expertise, in English, sport or drama, for instance. Beyond this though, they will have formed lasting friendships with other students from around the world; learned to live independently, mastering UK ways of life; and discovered corners of the UK that will become places fixed in their memory - the bustle and excitement of London, the tranquillity of our countryside or the buzz of our seaside towns.
Details which should be apparent from the course prospectus are the numbers of lessons each week and the duration of each lesson - they can vary from half an hour to one hour in length. Another point to check is the number of students in each class. Obviously, where students are taught in classes of up to 30, the academic level is unlikely to be as high as in class groups of around six students. One other question to ask might be how much individual work is expected from each student. Some of the best courses offer supervised individual work on weekday evenings - the equivalent of ‘homework' in the traditional British educational setting.
Course content will vary according to the age of the students. Children as young as eight years old may be accepted on to some courses. The course information provided usually specifies what age of student is accepted. For example, one independent boarding school in the southwest of England makes it clear that it offers a ‘high-quality intensive residential programme with a full English curriculum for boys and girls aged eight to seventeen'.
Even courses that emphasise the academic element do respect the fact that for many on the course it is their holiday time as well. Those courses offering on-campus accommodation usually organise full evening and weekend activities for students, frequently including sightseeing visits to local places of interest. Most institutions offer an impressive range of sporting and other facilities. Typically, these will include a swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, football fields, squash and badminton courts. Many courses can make arrangements for students to have access to other, perhaps more specialised, activities such as horse-riding, rock-climbing, canoeing and windsurfing. Recreational facilities in addition to sports may include ‘common rooms' equipped with table tennis, pool, table football, television and videos.
The ‘fun' activities often provide the students with more vivid memories than the solid academic advances made during the course. Good courses, however, will often test students on arrival and test them again at the end of the course. A written academic report is usually available at the end of the course, and this can be useful for teachers in the student's home country. They can see the subjects and topics covered, and how well the student performed. There is often an indication of areas of weakness that need further work as well.
A Taste of British Boarding
In addition to learning life skills, spring and summer courses offer a perfect chance to sample life in a British boarding school. The positive experience of a well-run course will give students a welcoming taste of boarding school life.
Courses offering an element of English, or other academic subjects, will also help to prepare the student for the intellectual and linguistic challenge of their new environment. Students can choose one of a number of courses designed specifically as preparation for boarding school life, or choose an international study centre summer course, which can then be extended into longer-term preparation for entry to a UK boarding school.
CREDIT: Image header taken from BSA member school Stamford School