Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

The A-Z of Summer School, Part III

imageA-H     I-Q



A site that opened without a single Returner would be quite the shiver and nightmare maker. When I first did Centre Director I relied heavily on the two I had. But Returners can also shaft you as they have worked under people that knew what they were doing. Any sign of weakness and they’ll peck your eyes out. Lead even when you don’t know what you’re doing but get their help for all the details. Next year, you’ll be a Returner and you can watch others walk the wire.



A relatively inconsequential part of my daily life is opening and closing the safe twenty thousand times  a day. Until it gets stuck, wedged closed on an envelope or cash bag. Or the battery pack powering the combination runs out and I can’t find the external battery pack that will jump start it. Or I have the external battery pack but the metal bit has warped in the heat – yes, heat in England! – and I still can’t open it.

I’m surprised this actual event, lived far more times than I can remember, doesn’t form part of my Summer School anxiety dreams.


Hiring the right people is the deciding factor in the success of a Summer School.  In neatly distilled form over such a short time, there’s no hiding weak links or misfits and every opportunity for people to shine. Since we started running Employee of the Week, I’m happy to say it’s been difficult to choose each time because most people go the extra mile every day.

I think it’s hiring the right people, the infrastructure and the induction that make Bede’s the best Summer School I’ve worked for and 5th best in the country, according to EL Gazette’s compilation of British Council points of strength. Apply in January and save yourself the last minute scramble for some cowboy school by the seaside.



If you’ve got 15 students arriving on four different flights at three different terminals but two of them get stuck in immigration and one has lost their luggage, what’s the best thing to do?

If two of those students have brought enough luggage for a family each and the taxi you’ve booked is too small, what then?

If you’ve got 30 odd flights coming in between 5:25 and 20:45, not quite enough staff to send a person for each job and no staff can work more than their allotted hours, including you, how do you plan that day?

Welcome to my next Sunday and the following four weekends after that. Actually rather than seeing this as a hassle, I think of it as logistics – which it is – and that’s a lot more of a brain challenge than I give myself for the rest of the year. I would say it’s the first time I ever used my university education to any benefit, but I did Philosophy so that’s still not paying its way.



Unaccompanied Minors are what give transfers that extra little twist. In order to release a child from the protection of BA or to hand them over into their suffocating embrace you have to be able to give the name, phone number, last meal request and the exact shape of the nostrils of the person who will pick them up at the other end. If you can’t do that, or if the parents have neglected to book a UM for a child that is under a certain age, you have to build a plane and fly them there yourself. Under no circumstances can you check them in or put them on that plane.

Luckily this is one area where getting the parents involved is far more effective than your Summer School staff could ever be and letting one of them chew the ear off someone at the ticket desk is almost fun.


Venomous children

Judging by the relatively small numbers of kids we get that belong in We Need To Talk About Kevin, I predict that most of you reading this have, or will have, wonderful children that go on to become fine members of your community and who you can send off to summer camp knowing that they’ll be a joy to all they come into contact with.

A few of you, though, will produce offspring that torment everyone they meet. The following examples all hail from one country which I don’t need to mention but, if you’ve ever done Summer School, you’ll guess.

Two girls who made it their only goal to hound Activities staff for not being old enough or academic enough to have any influence over them. They took people’s photos, tried to get their full names and threatened to write about them on the internet in their own country. I had a book out that year so I was all for it, but as far as I know, nothing ever came of it. They also videoed any kids that annoyed them and then showed the pictures to their parents via Skype.

A boy who got another boy in a choke hold and had to be pulled off  by other kids. That in itself was less worrying to me than the fact he didn’t seem to have had any idea what he was doing. Expelled for everyone’s own safety which was a shame because he was generally very sweet when he wasn’t having a psychotic incident and his father was very good looking.

Another one who bought a load of lighter fuel on excursion and then set light to it on the driveway. I felt bad for him because that was probably a lot of fun but in two hundred year old, mostly wood and brick public schools, that’s not a risk we can take.

There was one (from a different, but guessable, country) who couldn’t poo unless his aunt drove all the way from London to pick him up and take him to her toilet. A four hour round trip which he insisted on at least twice a week.



I think of this as My Centre because it was a new site when I took on the role of Centre Director having previously been Academic Manager at a smaller centre. I went from managing 7 teachers, doing something I knew plenty about, to managing 27 staff and doing something I had no clue about. We couldn’t have had a much harder start either as there was a festival on the school grounds the day we arrived and we couldn’t use the building for about 5 critical hours in the afternoon.

This year we have an even bigger challenge as we can’t use the site until the morning the students arrive ie we have to set up and handle arrivals all on the same day with no prior set up day. Last year we had the British Council inspection to handle which I was involved with on two fronts since we were an inspected site, plus I’m responsible for the academic side of the entire network of schools year round.

I’d never have thought I could handle all that 6 years ago but the reason I can is purely because Summer School gave me the chance to and then taught me on the job anything I needed to know. I obviously think my own centre is the best but I have the school minibus drivers telling me the same so it must be true!



Sex at Summer School isn’t easy. Segregated accommodation and no privacy makes for the necessity of resourcefulness. You could sneak off to the tennis courts. No-one’s going to find out and sweep round in a car to catch you full beam in the headlights, surely?

Or get to know two of your new colleagues a little bit better on the induction night. Getting together early on can’t backfire in a residential job, surely?

Or you could drive off to a local farmer’s field. In broad daylight. And get caught. And chased. And drive back to your workplace where he can find you and make a complaint to the host school so your Centre Director has to get you to write a letter of apology.

A hotel has to be less hassle, surely?



It’s gone.

Forget about it.

Being good at Summer School means planning ahead. There’s too much going on not to and tomorrow comes around a lot faster than in a regular job. You’ve only just got your new class on Monday (or maybe even Tuesday) but by Thursday you need to write a progress report and be on track for finishing your project lesson on Friday.

Academic Managers need to be one day ahead of the one day ahead that teachers are planning for and Activities Managers need to be in mental Wednesday while Sunday’s excursion is underway. Centre Directors are looking at Saturday’s arrivals on Monday and all the managers are thinking in Week 1 who they’re going to let go when student numbers drop.  I can’t think of a better training ground for a high flying, demanding job (or running your own business for that matter) outside of ELT than that.



I manage on about five hours a night during the Summer. Even if I do get a lie in for the late shift, or finish at 7 and get an early night, I’m surrounded by kids and they can’t do anything without screeching or thundering around. The shower installation next to my room has hydraulically loud taps , there’s bound to be a fire drill – that I organised and then forgot about when doing the rota – or I just can’t sleep because there are too many things racing through my head. Either that or I’m having Summer School anxiety dreams although usually those start well ahead of induction and involve staff not listening to me when I’m trying to give instructions.

A-Z spells…

… the best job I’ve ever had and one I plan the year round to make sure I can do. It saved me in some very bleak years and financially keeps me afloat so I can do the other thing I love – write. I’ve made some of my best friends and been given the chance to develop professionally in an environment that’s more testing than most year round jobs could ever be.

And it gives me things to blog about! The funniest things to write are often necessarily the grimmest and the amazing things are neglected. Like working with young learners and teens in an environment that brings out the best in most of them; likewise the staff who I have seen excel and grow year after year; the feeling that you’re making a difference in a hundred ways as you create, and then dismantle, a little universe in a few weeks. See what a dull paragraph that made?

I honestly don’t understand anyone who doesn’t do at least one summer to see if they catch the bug and I’m happy to guide anyone that does in Bede’s direction. We pay better than most schools, offer the most structure for teachers in terms of planning, resources and support and don’t make teachers do wake ups or bedtimes.

Activities staff tend to stay with us for a few years as they are often university students with less changeable circumstances and the opportunities for promotion are high. I went in as Academic Manager and moved to Centre Director and Academic Consultant and we’re always on the lookout for teachers and activities staff that want to take on senior positions.

See you next year! 🙂

The A-H  of Summer school or the  I-Q


5 comments on “The A-Z of Summer School, Part III

  1. Pingback: The A-Z of Summer School, Part II | Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

  2. richardwhiteside
    July 7, 2014

    Just caught up on all three of these. Brilliant stuff, I remember it all well and somewhat fondly. I really enjoyed being a Centre Director, despite all the problems. I would actually go as far as to say some of those summers have been the best jobs I’ve ever had. I loved the challenge of the transfers, the rota (sometimes), the creation and updating of all the procedures, attempting to make sure the students didn’t sneak out at tonight or get into the rooms of members of the opposite sex. The stories you come away with are phenomenal, because such WEIRD stuff happens.

    I think you could have added:

    Teachers – because they have a qualification, albeit one that took only 4 weeks to complete (if you’re lucky), and perhaps some experience and extra years on the activity staff, they think they are the ‘superior’ staff member, and ergo the activity leaders should do all the dirty work. Often it’s the ALs who the students love, because they’re younger and ‘fun’, and have to use less discipline than the teachers, which can lead to significant jealousy. However, despite always complaining more than the ALs about being over-worked, trips into the classroom often reveal some awful ‘teaching’. Chaotic classroom management, piles of worksheets ready to be dished out one after another to avoid actually doing any work and rather than dealing with disciplinary issues themselves, they just send unruly students to the office, expecting the over-worked and busy management staff to do that dirty work for them. There’s also the ‘web-quest class’ and we all know what that means.

    • Nicola
      July 7, 2014

      Thanks! You can come and work for us if you feel like turning nostalgia into a real memory lane 🙂

      Although I can’t pretend I don’t know exactly what you’re talking about from other summer schools I have worked we don’t get too much of that at Bede’s as firstly, we recruit carefully and pay better.
      Teachers get paid to prep so it’s not tacked onto their free time (in which case I would say don’t prep! If your employer doesn’t value your lesson planning enough to pay it, why should you?) so we have very high quality lessons.
      Secondly we have an indepth induction where we help teachers think about what summer school lessons should be like ie engaging, fun, active.
      Thirdly, we promote the right culture and so it shows in the pride people take in their work and we have early drop-in observations and a later, formal observation in order to help them do the best kinds of lessons, plus a weekly input session from their manager. In fact, some teachers get more professional development in a summer than they do in their year round schools!
      I plan to observe some lessons myself this year to cadge ideas about teaching teens in order to write materials (not, God forbid, teach them) and I am very sure I will get loads of great ideas from really good lessons. We also have a clear procedure for dealing with unruly students, but we’re only on day 1 so I admit there hasn’t been time to go into that one in detail yet!

      • richardwhiteside
        July 7, 2014

        Ha ha! No, but thanks for the offer.

        We did offer most of those things, to be honest, and most teachers were good. The occasional bad feeling did always exist. Do your teachers have to be ALs when they aren’t teaching? Ours didn’t get paid for prep and had to run activities as well.

      • Nicola
        July 10, 2014

        we’ve experimented with various formats of the teachers joining in activities and you can never make everyone happy. Some teachers love and some hate that aspect. After two years of having teachers do none we felt that it was a shame to deprrive them of the chance to interact with the students in a different context and that it can create the division you mention. So this year, we’re trying the rule that they can be rota’d on to an activity up to once per week but they wouldn’t lead it. In practice they could of course volunteer onto activities anytime but I found that even teachers who complained when they no longer had any activities, wouldn’t volunteer!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This entry was posted on July 4, 2014 by in Summer School.
%d bloggers like this: