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Provided by The Irish TimesHigh price for Easter grinds
04/04/2006
This Easter, many parents will be shelling out for their kids to go to grind school, but do they give value for money? Áine Kerr reports.

By The Irish Times

An Easter journey to the local grind school has become the norm for diligent exam students at the expense of their parents who are prepared to pay upwards of €800 for an intensive crash course.

In the coming weeks, aunts and uncles will receive that once-off phone call from their teenage relatives announcing that they require five nights' accommodation and a personal chauffeur service to a city grind-school. Other exam students will opt for digs or B&Bs for their week of "intensive revision courses" in the main cities and enjoy a diet of strict study routines with some warranted socialising.

Even though the student population is declining, the number entering grind-schools is increasing and the market is booming, with the Institute of Education alone earning a reported €9 million in tuition fees last year. Such is the popularity of grind schools that the "grind industry" is estimated to be generating €50 million annually.

In our survey of grind schools (see panel), The Institute of Education, which prides itself on being the most established grind school in Ireland, is coincidentally the most expensive when compared to similar establishments such as Bruce College, Cork and Limerick Tutorial College.

Early-booking students can avail of five subjects for the price of three at €320 in Bruce College or €390 in Limerick Tutorial College, whereas five subjects in the 35-year-old Institute of Education will cost €800. Most students, however, only avail of four subjects as this is the maximum one can study over the course of five days. Five subjects would require returning on a second week to complete just one subject.

Add the cost of a digs for a student travelling to Dublin from areas such as Laois, Offaly, Tipperary or Kilkenny, said Dr John O'Halloran of Limerick Tutorial Centre, and parents might realise how much cheaper it is to stay south and get grinds.

Principal John Morris of the Institute of Education, however, defends the cost by pointing to the institute's reputation as the oldest establishment, offering 33 subjects with 100 teachers who are "amongst the best in the country".

With most students opting to undertake revision of four subjects, €575 is a "clear investment", according to Morris.

"Parents are now budgeting for the revision course . . . the drop-out rates in some courses is as high as 30 per cent because you have students entering a career that they aren't interested in," said Morris.

"Parents are prepared to spend a couple of hundred euro or more if it is one-to-one grinds, if it avoids their child repeating the Leaving Cert or dropping out of a career."

Ironically, the "worst teachers are getting the best results", according to Morris who contends that, on Friday night weekly grinds, rows of one particular uniform are painfully obvious.

Almost 50 per cent of students in the top-performing Dublin schools in the Irish Times feeder-school lists attend part-time grind courses in the Institute of Education, according to figures from the institute last year.

On a different scale of fees, Bruce College, Cork enrols thousands of students every Easter, 70 per cent of whom undertake five revision subjects over the course of five days. The incentive for tackling the maximum of five subjects is the offer of five subjects for the price of three at €320 when booking at the start of the year. This fee increases to €390 after the special introductory offer ends.

With most Christmas attendees returning to Bruce College, Cork again at Easter for a blend of study and socialising, the principal Michael Landers is reluctant to state exactly how many the college will be home to.

"It will certainly be in the thousands over the two courses [ Leaving Certificate and Junior Certificate]" said Landers.

Effectively, a week's holiday grinds at both Christmas and Easter will cost the average student €640.

"It's a fair chunk of money to spend, but what we are offering is very good value . . . we as a school look at our prices and try to keep them to the minimum, without cutting corners."

The annual cost of attending Ashfield College on a full-time basis amounts to approximately €5,000, which is modest when compared to creche fees of €10,000 per annum, according to the owner Joe Griffin. "Children are cheaper as they get older," saysGriffin.

With new curriculum content in history up for examination for the first time this summer, Ashfield College will be home to an increasing number of students gripping valuable history notes.

"When there is a new subject, there can be a certain amount of insecurity and indecision among teachers and students . . . doing one of the courses here is a painless way of doing some revision."

Any illusions, however, that it is the mythical "pushy parents" forcing their child performers to obtain the maximum points by means of intensive grinds is dismissed by Griffin.

"By and large it is the students themselves that are choosing to do the revision courses. Parental pressure has reduced greatly in recent years since the number of options available to students has increased dramatically."

Of note, however, is the fact that fewer Junior Certificate students are now attending the intensive revision courses in colleges such as Ashfield, since it is no longer taken as seriously as its predecessor examination.

Ruairi Mulvey of Student Enrichment Services, which carries out extensive surveys of the numbers attending grinds on an annual basis, has witnessed parental frustration at the differences in grind costs.

He contends, however, that peer group pressure among parents and not always among students is leading to parents sending their children to revision courses.

"They see that four others in their child's class is going and that their friend is sending their child, and think they must send their child in order to give them the best chance," saysMulvey.

Although not opposed to the concept of grinds and revision courses, Mulvey contends that a lot of time is wasted simply travelling to and from grind schools when students could devise their own home study programme. A good teacher in a classroom is matchless.

"Students need to look at the costs, not in terms of money but in terms of their time. They need to weigh up the value of these courses and ask themselves if this is the best use of their Easter holidays study time."

Ashfield College, Dublin

5 subjects: €535

4 subjects: €485

3 subjects: €425

2 subjects: €325

1 subject: €185

Institute of Education, Dublin

5 subjects: €800

4 subjects: €575

3 subjects: €480

2 subjects: €385

1 subject: €225

Bruce College, Cork

5 subjects: €390

4 subjects: €350

3 subjects: €320

2 subjects: €240

1 subjects: €180

Limerick Tutorial Centre

5 subjects: €390

4 subjects: €350

3 subjects: €320

2 subjects: €240

1 subject: €180

Belvedere Institute Mullingar

5 subjects: €460

4 subjects: €410

3 subjects: €350

2 subjects: €280

1 subject: €160

Letterkenny Vocational School (privately run)

5 days: €280

4 days: €240

3 days: €190

2 days: €130

1 day: €70

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