Carole’s presence at that first revision weekend in 1991 was a happy accident, because she was exactly the right person to take on the event and make it
work. Growing up in a male dominated world had meant that she had learnt to be pro-active and assertive – “otherwise I’d have been squashed”.
She started her working life at ICI, in the analytical and standardising departments, near her home in Yorkshire. After transferring to work as a school
technician in Elland, she got married, but had to leave her job when 6 months pregnant. Sadly, she lost the baby. She applied to return to work at her previous
place of employment, but her old job was given to another lady who had older children and therefore “would be less likely to have time off”. Instead, she
obtained a job as a laboratory assistant in the physical testing laboratory of a firm manufacturing non-woven materials. After giving birth to her second son, she
became a school biology laboratory technician, and took A-level biology, beating the students at her school by a whole grade. It was only when she started
helping a colleague who was doing an OU course that she realised she was capable of doing a degree herself. A technician’s certificate followed, in which
Carole got the highest grade in England. She moved on to a job as a chemistry lab technician – the only female applicant, she got the job, beating five male
graduates, and then got A-level chemistry under her belt – again, outperforming the students. In 1985 she started her first OU course – S101 – simultaneously
with the last stage of her technician’s certificate. Carole had been brought up in an atmosphere where women were not expected to study: “boys were
expected to go to university – girls weren’t expected to go anywhere”.
With the technician’s certificate finally completed, Carole started her second level study, gaining distinctions in both the chemistry courses, and in 1989 the OU
presented her with an International Soroptimist Award (given to women who have helped to advance the status of women), which got her into the pages of
the local paper; and after studying some third level courses she was awarded a first class honours degree. In the meantime, she also acquired a teaching
certificate and progressed from being a lab technician to teaching, and was eventually made Head of Chemistry at the college where she worked. She took
early retirement from that job in 1996, but returned to work once more as a technician.
By this time, Carole was also an OU tutor, and the revision weekend was in full swing; in fact she has been on all three “sides” of the weekend – organiser,
tutor and student.
Revision Weekend Pioneer Calls It A Day
CAROLE ARNOLD has hung up her clipboard for the last time, after 18 years of involvement with what started out as the Chemistry Revision Weekend –
now known as the Science Revision Weekend (SRW).
The Chemistry Revision Weekend was set up in 1991 by three members of the OU Chemistry Department – Stuart Bennett, David Johnson and Jim Iley.
Carole attended that first event, held at Birmingham University, as an S343 student. The weekend went well, so some of the students asked the organisers if
they would run a similar event the following year. When there was no immediate response, Carole and two other students offered – independently, and
unknown to one another – to help with the organisation of a follow-up event. Stuart put Carole in touch with the others (Tony Brearton and Sally Janes), and
offered help if they took it on, although he did not want to run the event single-handed.
The three decided to repeat the weekend, but not at Birmingham, which had not proved to be a popular venue. Carole wrote to all the universities in England;
it was necessary to find one that could accommodate a large number of OU students over a weekend at the end of September, just before the start of the
exams – but at that time of year, many universities would be too busy welcoming back their own students after the summer vacation. (The Birmingham event
had taken place at the end of the first week in September, but this was considered too early, as many students would not have finished their course units by
then). Only one institution fulfilled this requirement – the University of York.
With Stuart providing access to tutors via his OU links and Michael Gagan offering to do the accounts, the Chemistry Revision Weekend started its long
association with York in September 1992. Carole was responsible for what she modestly refers to as “housekeeping” – room bookings and teaching materials –
while Sally and Tony looked after the register of students. David Johnson tutored at the revision weekend until he retired.
In 1994 the OU Chemistry Society (OUCS) was formed, with Carole lending a hand to help it get off the ground. The revision weekend enjoyed a close
relationship with the new society, but it was always a separate event.
Sally and Tony soon left, so that Carole became sole organiser, although Michael Gagan continued in the rôle of advisor until he retired a couple of years ago.
In the late 1990s Carole got help from another student, Paul Everett, whom she had met through an OUCS event, but she was under considerable pressure,
with a lot of domestic responsibilities, “and I was getting older”, she says, “and it was becoming impossible”. She threatened to give up unless further help
could be found, but was persuaded to stay on for another year when the students begged her to continue. Pat Wilson, on behalf of the students, presented her
with a cut glass dish in recognition of her efforts. The “one more year” turned into another, and then another; but eventually more help did arrive, in the person of
Lorraine Durcan, who took on registrations. The event had grown over the years – nowadays attendance is some three times the original figure of 80, and has
been as high as 330 – and more courses had been added, broadening out the scope of the weekend. Course choice was always driven by the students – if
enough people asked Carole to add a certain course, in it came, provided a suitable tutor could be found. Physics, in the form of S271, had arrived very early –
in about 1993 – and several other physics courses joined it in 2004, when the maths revision weekend, run by the M500 society, outgrew its venue and could
no longer run them. This expansion brought in Fusion, the OU physics society, which had been formed in 2001, as co-organisers, and the event was renamed
the Science Revision Weekend. In 2005, the decision was made to leave York, which had become very commercially-minded and wanted to charge too much;
Carole found an alternative venue at Yarnfield Park in Staffordshire, and the SRW moved there the following year.
Carole has many memories from her time as revision weekend organiser. Her first year – the first at York – attracted 100 participants. Anxious to ensure that
they would not be bored, she organised a barn dance on the Saturday night, but not everyone was interested. “Three groups materialised – the barn dancers,
the Saturday night clubbers, and the stay-at-homes”, she says. The first group was not really big enough to justify the cost of the barn dance, so it was
discontinued, and in subsequent years students wishing to leave their course units behind for the Saturday night were simply instructed to follow the tutors into
town. In fact, the Saturday night became an institution on its own – the first time I attended the weekend as a student, there were several others on the same
train who were bound for York, but not for the university – they were revision weekend veterans who had finished studying but still made the annual
pilgrimage to the pubs and clubs of York. (This is hardly surprising, since York is a popular venue, at least among OU students – as another event, known as
the “Not Summer School” proves – this was another pilgrimage, made in the summer, by a group of OU students who had run out of summer schools to attend,
and so organised their own – minus the actual studying!)
On the other hand, Carole would probably prefer to forget the time a tutor tried to write on a screen (necessitating a hasty trip to the chemistry lab to get some
solvent), or the year there had been a shooting at York University just before the weekend. She laughs now at the time she and Michael Gagan put on a
champagne reception for the students, but it was no laughing matter at the time, because both forgot about the corkage charge. “We were nearly slung out”,
Running a large event like the SRW is a risky business if you are just a group of dedicated individuals with no formal status. Carole has managed to keep the
event afloat over the years by very careful management, never committing herself to more students than her financial reserves will cover. Although it has
been hard work, running the weekend has taught her a lot of skills, which she uses in her other OU pursuits – such as organising dayschools. And although
she is letting go of the revision weekend, she continues to tutor OU courses, and is currently involved in S104 and S154. Will she ever stop? “No … it’s boring
if there’s nothing else to do … it’s a challenge, and I enjoy it. It keeps the brain cells active.”
There are an awful lot of people who would like to thank her for her efforts. The revision weekend has helped countless people through their exams, improved
their grades, and started many friendships.
Jim Grozier 2008