Choosing a summer school - 15 questions you should ask
Which is the best English Language summer camp in the UK for children or teenagers?
There is no shortage of summer camps and courses claiming to be the best. But really it is very important for a child’s first experiences of learning English to be positive. Parents, teachers and agents should therefore consider carefully before choosing. Here are fifteen questions you should ask:
1. Is the school Accredited? Accreditation UK is the quality assurance scheme provided by The British Council in partnership with English UK. Accreditation means that inspectors visit the school to check standards of management, teaching, resources and welfare. This encourages excellence and ensures that children will be well taught and cared for. Only Accredited schools are allowed to display the ‘Accredited by The British Council’ marque. You can check to see if a school is Accredited at https://www.britishcouncil.org/education/accreditation/centres
2. Is the school a member of the Young Learners special interest group of English UK? Membership is voluntary and indicates that an organisation takes its responsibilities to young learners seriously, over and above the requirements of Accreditation. Members agree to continually evaluate and improve standards of safety, welfare and child protection and to enhance procedures and standards for staff selection, recruitment, and performance of all adults working with children.
3. Does the school have a credible Child Safeguarding Policy including bullying? Ask to see this document.
4. What kind of accommodation is provided? Check that the accommodation is suitable for the age of the child. Consider carefully before choosing between a residential or homestay course.
5. Is the course multinational? The more nationalities the better, to encourage English speaking socially. Does the school accept groups from any one country? Exactly how many students who speak the same language will be attending at the same time as your child? Remember that speakers of Russian, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese may come from more than one country. Don’t be satisfied with vague assurances: ask for specific figures and promises.
6. When are the course dates? Do students arrive / depart weekly or all together at the beginning and end of courses? Weekly arrivals / departures are convenient but can also introduce instability into lessons and friendships. It's easier to structure courses with a proper beginning, middle and end when students arrive and depart on the same date.
7. Where is the school and how will your child get there? Consider the logistics and cost. Are there varied and interesting places to visit in the locality? Are excursions included in the price?
8. Is the setting safe and secure? Do you want town or countryside? What do students do during free time? Is there a swimming pool on site? Are there opportunities for the students to play golf, tennis, etc? Are there alternatives to sport for the less athletically-minded?
9. How are students supervised? How many students are there for each qualified member of staff? Is medical help always available if needed? Is this included in the school’s insurance?
10. Is the English teaching programme innovative and interesting? The pupils are on holiday: they are not likely to be interested by lessons that they could easily receive at home. Lessons should try to 'bridge the gap' between holiday and learning - eg. through the use of out-of class projects and educational workshops. Is there a course magazine to provide a focus for written work? Do lessons make appropriate use of technology including smart boards and computers?
11. Are there adult students or group leaders on site at the same time as your child? If so, how does the school ensure they understand their responsibilities with regard to children? Are students grouped appropriately according to age? Teenagers, for example, have very different needs and interests from younger children. What is the age range in lessons and in the accommodation? Are separate sports and activities organised for younger and older students? This is essential to ensure safety and to avoid discouraging younger children with unfair competition. Are separate excursions organised for younger and older children?
12. If the school accepts young children (eg. 7 - 11 year olds) is there someone specifically to look after them, to ensure they wash / change clothes regularly / get to activities on time, etc? Do they have their own accommodation - washing facilities and bedrooms - separate from older students, so that they will feel secure and go to sleep at a sensible time? Is the teaching programme suitable for young children? For example are lessons led by teachers experienced with primary age children and do they include games, songs, stories, etc?
13. Are there clear channels of communication and clear procedures for monitoring children’s progress? How will the school keep you informed about your child's progress?
4. Is this a listening school? Is there a forum where children can express their views during their stay? Does the school gather comprehensive feedback from parents, agents and staff to ensure ongoing high standards? Can you see this?
15. What is the reputation of the school? How many students choose to return there? Is there a list of parents / teachers / agents who you can contact for a reference?
Of course you may have other questions. But if the summer school or summer camp you have in mind can answer the above to your satisfaction, you are well on your way to making the right choice.
© Christopher Etchells, 2019
ECS - English Country Schools
Learn more about ECS British Council Accredited English Language and activity summer camps: