Ashley Anderson loves clubbing. Not the late night variety - he's only 10. But show him an after-school club in football, dance or black history, and you'll find Ashley ready to attend.
He's no angel, you understand. He much prefers school after hours to during hours and his teachers at Little London Primary in Leeds openly use his predilection as a lever. No work Ashley, then no clubs.
Little London has been surviving in a series of temporary classrooms since the school was torched by local youths four years ago. It serves the 11th-poorest council ward in the country - the Little London estate - a vast swathe of local authority housing near the city centre. Crime, drugs, ill-health, low pay, unemployment and illiteracy are all common. Sixty per cent of the school's children take free school meals; 30 per cent have special needs.
Peter Hall-Jones, the headteacher, is a 39-year-old crusader in his fifth year of trying to turn the school around. Builders are currently raising a school from the ashes of the old, but bricks and mortar cannot make a difference on their own.
Mr Hall-Jones believes he has been successful in breaking the cycle of pupils with an anti-school ethos living on a diet of worksheets from staff with a siege mentality. Even though the school now operates a no-exclusion policy, test results and behaviour are radically improving. Last year 70 per cent of pupils achieved level 2 and above in key stage 1 and between 50 and 60 per cent are achieving level 4 and above of the standard attainment targets at key stage 2.
On top of all this, OFSTED inspectors have praised the good behaviour of the children. How has this been achieved? Undoubtedly Little London's curriculum and its delivery has been radically overhauled, but one of the first things Peter Hall-Jones did on his arrival was to start up after-school clubs to provide his pupils with opportunities they might not otherwise have and positive role models apart from teaching staff. He explains: "Our aspirations are all limited by our own experiences. I want my children to experience more and more so they can make better-informed choices."
Such words have struck chords with Government ministers, who over the past two years have elevated study support - their generic term for after-school, breakfast, lunch-time, homework and school-holiday clubs and projects - into a major funding initiative. The Government believes that study support for disadvantaged children can provide opportunities in sport and the creative arts that middle-class parents provide as a matter of course.
Go-ahead education authorities such as Newcastle upon Tyne and Tower Hamlets saw the potential some years ago for study support to raise achievement and claim that their programmes have contributed significantly to raising standards in their schools. Organisations like the Prince's Trust, Education Extra and Kids' Clubs Network that have provided grants for out-of-hours clubs and projects have also done much to raise the profile of study support over the past five years.
On the back of these initiatives the Government recently announced that pound;205 million of National Lottery money would be made available over the next five years through the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) to create and develop regular out-of-school-hours activities. This will involve half of all secondary and special needs schools and a quarter of all primaries across the UK. Priority is being given to projects, such as those Little London has established, which address the needs of the most disadvantaged in society.
The Government believes clubs could take place in museums and art galleries as much as in schools and that some of the best schemes will come from innovative partnerships between schools and public and private agencies. Little London has run a steel pan club, an anti-racist club with the help of Leeds' racial harassment unit and a black history club - extending the school's "highly developed multicultural curriculum".
Mr Hall-Jones has harnassed the skills of the nearby student population, who come in to teach the children dance and offer access to the university's computer club. There is a choir club, and Little London children have sung all over the city. Dance club children have also performed at the university. "On one evening," says Mr Hall-Jones, "seven parents went on to the campus with their children for the performance. That broke down massive barriers. I want to sow the seeds that a university education is a possibility."
He instituted a football club run by Action Sport, a joint initiative of the Sports Council and the local education authority. Peter Hall-Jones believes the opportunity for his pupils to get out into other schools, to see how other children behave and to be taught by fit young men they can really admire, has had a dramatic effect on their attitude to school. "I wanted them to see the school as a team, and how their behaviour and attitudes might be letting the rest of us down. I wanted them to realise why we were at the bottom of the school league tables."
Having clubs children aspired to belong to also means the school can use the sanction of excluding pupils from clubs if they misbehave in school hours.
Little London is one of 10 schools which form the Inner North West Family of Schools in Leeds, an LEA initiative in which groups of schools co-operate to access funding and expertise. The group is involved in Spark (Sport and Arts Towards Knowledge), a project run by the West Yorkshire Playhouse, launched by Education Secretary David Blunkett in 1997.
The Playhouse established partnerships which were unique at the time and which captured Mr Blunkett's imagination. There were links with the likes of Phoenix Dance, the Leeds Rhinos Rugby League Club, Leeds United Football Club and the Royal Armouries to provide sport and arts activity after school and enhance arts and sports provision in the national curriculum.
It has also set up training called Spark Extra for anyone in the city involved in after-school sessions, in partnership with Leeds Training and Enterprise Council and Leeds University's School of Continuing Education.
Mr Blunkett returned to the Playhouse recently to address a Spark conference which attracted teachers, sports and arts providers from all over the country to discuss good practice. The children of Little London had much to tell him. Ashley Anderson and 11 others had been working for three months as Spark consultants, finding out from children in after-school clubs across the city what they wanted.
They worked with a video artist to produce Our Time, a video which was played to Mr Blunkett and which included their top 10 wants. Their message was significant - they wanted good games, the chance to meet famous people, plenty of trips, good food and drink, lots of attention from club leaders, space, freedom and a place to meet friends. The message is loud and clear. They want something radically different from school - different role models; a different environment.
Peter Hall-Jones supports his pupils. He doesn't want after-school to be more of school. And he doesn't want his teachers involved because he believes they are tired at the end of the day and need to focus their energy on statutory hours. He wants after-school to be led by artists and other experts who will provide a different kind of stimulation.
Diane McMahon, director of programme development at the Prince's Trust, agrees that study support is most effective when designed by pupils themselves. "That makes a huge difference," she says. She also believes that study support is most successful when it is part of the school's strategic plan, "not just bolt-on, but integral to the whole experience of learning".
Mr Blunkett knows what study support can do for self-esteem. He has vivid memories of his own schooldays, when boys from the nearby independent school would come to help out at his school for the blind. They oozed with the confidence that a lengthened school day full of activities and opportunities could give. He wants the same for state school pupils - study support has become a key player in the Government's social exclusion agenda.
Speaking to The TES at Leeds, David Blunkett seemed prepared to do battle with the Treasury for "staffing revenue" in order "to build for future programmes" beyond the current NOF initiative. This would be welcome news to Diane McMahon since the Prince's Trust, which over the past three years has doled out little short of pound;1 million to establish 1,000 study support centres nationally, has wound up this responsibility on the understanding that funding will be carried on through the NOF.
Schools are also anxious about the bureaucracy involved and the difficulty in establishing partnerships to make the NOF bids. Peter Hall-Jones says:
"Partnership is held up as the Holy Grail, but it is hard. I fear that many schools will say no to this money because the bureaucracy is so complicated."
'Extending Opportunity: a national framework for study support' is available from DFEE Publication Centre, tel: 0845 602 2260The Prince's Trust, tel: 0171 543 1234Education Extra, tel: 0181 983 0161 Kids' Clubs Network, tel: 0171 512 2112