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After-school clubs offer haven

In an era of coursework and after-school clubs, middle-class pupils are generally assumed to have the edge. Finding a safe, quiet place to work is much harder for poor pupils than for their middle-class counterparts.

A study carried out in September last year revealed that poorer children struggle to find a noise-free area away from television, music and external disruption in which to do their homework.

The extent of the problem is so great that even Jilly Cooper has commented on it. Researching her novel Wicked!, which is partly set in a comprehensive, the author said: "I'd no idea that some kids have nowhere to do homework, or that their parents are out of it on drugs."

And poorer children are more likely to take on part-time work in order to supplement their pocket-money, cutting into valuable study time. A recent survey found that 29 per cent of children with jobs were sometimes too tired to do homework.

Many disadvantaged pupils rely on after-school clubs to provide time and space for study. Where these clubs work best is when they are not an extension of the school day but a place of personal space and autonomy, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

But, while pupils in less affluent areas are often most in need of after-school homework clubs, demand does not always equal supply.

Noreen Collins, headteacher of St Columba's Primary in Bolton, said she would be spending pound;10,000 of her budget next year to keep breakfast and after-school clubs going. She has already had to abandon plans for provision during school holidays because she could not secure funding.

Meanwhile, middle-class parents have the means to subsidise their local clubs and therefore reap the benefits. But there is a downside. In November last year, the national Primary Review found that middle-class children's lives are becoming increasingly scholarised and regimented, with the demands of homework cutting into their free time.

With the introduction of extended schools, pupils have little time to themselves. Parents are increasingly feeling compelled to use weekends and holidays to help children catch up with schoolwork.

And having a room of one's own in which to work quietly at the computer is not necessarily an advantage for schoolchildren.

Research carried out by key stage 3 pupils in Lancaster, as part of a competition run by the National Foundation for Educational Research, found there was a negative correlation between the number of hours pupils spent playing computer games and their homework grades.

But, while parental income can affect homework, its effect is not as significant as the absence of parents.

Research conducted by Parents and Children Together, a voluntary adoption agency, showed that the early growth rate of children's brains can be affected by how much emotional stability they have in early life. Many looked-after and adopted children without stable lives find it almost impossible to catch up with their classmates.

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