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Club crawl from ceramics to computers

Two north London schools run award-winning out-of-hours activities. Reva Klein reports.

It's not fair" is a constant refrain among the young but when they say it's not fair that they can't do a GCSE in religious studies, an adult has to listen. Donna Dailey, a religious studies teacher at George Orwell School in Islington, had to agree with a group of Year 10 and 11 pupils when they protested.

And she did more than nod her head in sympathy. She thought up a way of giving them the RS they wanted, at the level they wanted it - in her own time, and theirs.

As head of RS, Ms Dailey set up a weekly lunchtime session, found suitable distance learning materials and a workable syllabus. There are now a dozen young people working for their GCSEs in religious education and they're neither swots nor religious zealots.

"They came with a pragmatic desire - not for general knowledge, but to get another GCSE. I think it does something for their self-esteem," says Ms Dailey. As it should, not least because all those from Year 10 speak English as a second language. A happy postscript is that because of their demands, Ms Dailey has also been able to secure funding for RS to be an option at GCSE level for the coming year - in class time.

This is not an unusual story for George Orwell. The school has just won two awards for its lunchtime and after-school activities, curricular and non-curricular. The awards, made to 57 schools in England and Wales, were presented by Education Extra, a two-year-old organisation which promotes educational and recreational activities on school premises out of regular school hours.

Around half the teaching staff at George Orwell run clubs at lunchtime; after school, the numbers rise to 80 or 90 per cent - work which is all undertaken voluntarily. Along with the RS lunchtime club, the school offers maths, science, French, Spanish, Turkish, English as a second language, history, media and art, technology and computing and a group called Readers, Spellers and Writers for all pupils who want to work on literacy. There are also activities like games club, self defence (separate sessions for girls and boys) and a variety of sports.

Some pupils use the clubs for things that they can't do during lessons. Last summer, Year 9s attending the art club made an animated film with the help of a professional animator who came in for a one-off session. Others do paintings, textiles, ceramics and computer-aided design work. Many come to other clubs to catch up on coursework. Tech Club gives pupils who don't have computers at home - the majority at George Orwell - an opportunity to write up reports or to look through new painting and drawing programmes. Computer games are not a pull because they don't exist - a policy decision by the head of department who knew games would monopolise the computers.

Not all the clubs are about catching up. The maths club is for high-flyers, allowing them to soar to greater heights than class time allows. In the club, teachers can gauge things at a level that will keep advanced maths pupils on their toes - something not easily done in mixed-ability groups.

On a different tack, the heads of science and art are about to set up a photography group which will allow participants to do the subject at GCSE level if they wish. But the initial idea is to run the session for general interest and enjoymentI"and the spin-off is there if they want it", says deputy head John Crew.

While some of the clubs are focused and activity-led, the Quiet Club can be a sanctuary for children in Years 7 and 8 who don't want to fend for themselves in the concrete jungle that is the playground. Every lunchtime they can sit with friends - or on their own - and play board games or do homework. For those who are living in cramped bed and breakfast or rented accommodation, having a bit of desk space, some peace and quiet, is something of a luxury. For those boys and girls who simply can't cope with the social pressures of structureless playtime, it is a haven.

John Crew sees these clubs as a part of the ethos of a school - the children's needs may be different from those elsewhere but when they are met, they respond by achieving. In a school with between 50 and 60 per cent of children speaking English as a second language, the fact that 80 per cent of all pupils went on to further education last year says something about standards of teaching and the level of commitment on the part of pupils and staff at the school.

"A lot of refugee children see the importance of education and are keen to catch up on whatever they feel they've lost out on," says John Crew. "They'll come up and ask us 'can you run a science club at lunchtime or a modelling club?' These clubs are giving them a secure environment with teachers who they can ask for help from if they need to."

Kentish Town Church of England Primary in nearby Camden is another Education Extra prizewinner, getting an award for its after-school drama club. Run by headteacher Kate Frood and deputy Sarah Deale, it is open to all pupils aged between 7 and 11 and has, among its regulars, children with learning difficulties and physical disabilities.

The drama club is not about stage training as much as confidence and self esteem. "Children who wouldn't speak in class have come to the club on their teacher's recommendations and have come out of themselves," says drama enthusiast Kate Frood. "In drama there are lots of little triumphs."

The sessions are meant to be fun. The group starts off with music and noisy non-competitive games, and then goes on to games that require quick thinking, voice exercises and small group work in which the children are set role-play exercises.

At the end of the session, they present one-minute improvised sketches. "I think it would be different if the deputy and I spent our lunchtimes on computers," says Kate. "It's drama that affects the whole school. The children perceive me as valuing liveliness and spontaneity and having a sense of humour."

While the emphasis of the activities is on having fun, laughing and focusing the mind, the content is purposefully built around a particular play which the group studies for a whole term. King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream have featured most recently.

It is not only inner city London schools that have won awards this year. Alongside rural and urban primary and secondary schools, winners include Barton Moss Unit in Eccles, a secure unit for boys aged 12 to 16, and Chapel Grange Special School in Bradford, whose pupils include severely autistic children.

Education Extra was set up two years ago by Lord Young of Dartington he of the Open University and the Consumers' Association. The organisation promotes the use of school facilities beyond the timetabled schedule on two scores: for the stimulation and enjoyment of children and for the alternative to a latchkey existence - unsupervised, undirected free time after school.

To encourage and reward schools with good programmes, Education Extra has devised an enlightened award system. Donations are solicited from firms and charitable foundations.

Some like Midland Bank, W H Smith, Whitbread PLC and the Sir John Cass's Foundation donate cash. Others have provided resources - goalposts made by a local blacksmith, greenhouses, an outdoor chess set and funding for assertiveness training as part of an anti-bullying programme. Charters comprehensive in Sunningdale, Berkshire, won Pounds 600 worth of CD-Rom discs to contribute towards homework and research facilities in the school library.

Kentish Town C of E school's prize must be one of the glitziest yet: theatre impressario Cameron Mackintosh has donated Pounds 900 worth of top seats (thirty Pounds 30 seats) for his West End production of Cats. Many of the drama clubbers will have never stepped inside a theatre before, let alone sat in such creme de la creme seats.

But the experience will go far beyond that performance, as far as Kate Frood is concerned (even if the children are busily preparing little cat costumes to wear to the theatre). She is already planning next term's activities - on cats in literature.

Education Extra: 081-983 1061

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