What is summer school?
As you may have guessed, summer school operates in the summer months and usually provides language lessons, extracurricular activities and excursions to a variety of landmarks and towns of notable interest. In other words, students learn some English, have fun and get to do some sightseeing and hopefully learn something about the places they visit. We may summarise these activities by describing them under the umbrella term of vacation English.
Where are summer schools located and why?
In the UK, most summer schools are in the South East of England, in close proximity to London. This is not to say you can’t find schools anywhere else in the country, but many students are enticed by the bright lights of the capital and surrounding towns and cities, which also have major tourist attractions. Say to your students Buckingham Palace and Stonehenge and you are likely to get some reaction, say Hadrian’s Wall and Lindisfarne and you will probably get blank stares.
How about facilities?
In order to house staff and students, universities with halls of residence and private boarding schools make ideal locations. It benefits the summer school provider who needs a location to run their business, and the university or school that would otherwise have an empty building during the summer.
How about accommodation?
As students come from countries outside the UK, bed and board is usually provided. Although a small percentage of students stay with a host family, many choose to live in the summer school they are attending. It’s also typical for teachers to live in, too. This is ideal for those teachers who are looking to come back to the UK from abroad to make some money.
What are the age groups?
Although there are summer schools for adults, the overwhelming majority of students are young learners between 9 and 17 years old, with a large proportion of those being in their mid-teens.
How long do they stay?
On average, most stay for a couple of weeks and typical come in groups from the same country. This is not to say there aren’t students who come for shorter or even longer periods of time. You may meet someone who has been sent to your school for months!
What is a group leader?
Groups of students are typically accompanied by a group leader who represents their interests while they are in the UK. The group leader could be their teacher back home, but equally could be someone employed by the tour agency for the purposes of the visit and not connected to the student group in any way.
What is an agency?
95% of students book their stay through a tour agency. This is because the majority of summer schools only supply a service, meaning they look to businesses around the world to provide their custom. In terms of what an agency looks like, some can be very small and effectively created for the purposes of a group’s visit, but they can be very large indeed and generate a lot of business. As you work, you will hear the same agency names crop up regularly. These are big players in the industry and very important to the business as a whole.
Who are individual students?
Around 5% of students book directly with the summer school. This small minority are typically placed under the banner ‘individual(s)’ and are looked after differently from students that arrive in groups.
What qualifications do you need to work in a summer school?
Being a native speaker of English is just not enough to secure employment with a reputable organisation- you need at least a CELTA, or equivalent and probably a university degree. Weekend TEFL courses or courses with no teaching component will limit your scope. The reason for this is that most school are accredited by organisations such as the British Council who set these standards, although there is sometimes the possibility of creating a rationale if someone does not quite have the essential requirements. It should be noted, however, there are limits to how creative these justifications can be.
What courses are typically offered?
The overwhelming majority of students come to study general English, which usually has a substantial spoken component to each lesson and arguably less focus on grammar. This is not to say that language is neglected totally but there is a tendency to focus on spoken communication and the skills associated with speaking and listening. If this is not reflected in your school’s schemes of work and materials, it probably should be. Summer school is not for quiet reflective study, rather this is a time to motivate learners to communicate and use the language they know.
You may have some students expecting a bespoke course. What this course looks like will have been arranged in advance. It could be an exam preparation courses e.g. KET, PET, FCE, Trinity GESE speaking exams etc. or something completely different. Teachers who are experienced in teaching exams are usually asked first as it often requires some prior knowledge of the exam itself. This is not to say that a novice teacher shouldn’t or couldn’t teach these courses but the learning curve is steep giving the time frame- a teacher may have to deliver a 50 hour exam preparation course in two weeks, for example.
Who else works in a summer school?
Summer schools employ teachers to deliver lessons, and activity leaders to run the activity programme and lead excursions off campus. Sometimes in small centres or centres with reduced student numbers, teachers may also be expected to be activity leaders as well.
It’s worth noting that in centres were these are defined roles, there is a noticeable divide between teachers and activity leaders. Sometimes, there is a concerted effort to get the two departments to bond more but experience shows this is often difficult. This is because teachers and activity leaders do different jobs and there is not much crossover. Also, age plays a significant part. Teachers are typically older while most activity leaders are under 21. Teachers often return every year to do summer school as part of their working life while activity leaders may still be at university and are looking to make a bit of cash and have fun.
What is the management structure?
A teaching centre is typically run by a Director of Studies (DoS). This person is responsible for the day-to-day running of the academic department. In larger centres, this person may be assisted by a senior teacher (ST), and in those centres which are bigger still, there may be an assistant Director of Studies (aDoS).
Activity leaders are managed by an Activity Manager (AM) and depending on the size of the school could have further assistance similar to the academic management structure.
The whole school is overseen by a Centre Manager (CM) who keeps the school running smoothly. This person liaises with head office staff and group leaders more than the other managers.