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Holidays become academic

"During the summer holidays I just sit at home and get bored. So this summer I'll be taking art and language courses to improve these skills, and hopefully my grades when I get back to school."

This summertime lament of 14-year-old Rita Miah seems fairly typical in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, where pupils are being tempted back into classrooms just days after breaking up. They are sampling higher education - minus debt and long-term commitment - by enrolling on courses at Britain's first summer university.

Gary Ewer, director of Cities in Schools in Tower Hamlets, which is co-ordinating the project, dismisses the idea that young people are not interested in holiday schools. He says: "At first, people said children would want to chill out or lie in bed, but our work has shown that they find six weeks too long a break and want motivation to get on."

Enrolling on the scheme costs only Pounds 2 and the weekend after schools officially closed, 1,000 applications were being processed.

Mr Ewer believes it is a natural progression from summer schools to a summer university, particularly in a borough where youth unemployment is double the national rate. "In summer the youth service resources are put into play schemes. The summer schools have given young people a positive outlet. Surveys have shown a marked reduction in juvenile crime and racial tension on those estates targeted."

Josette Kooraram, director of modern languages at Swanlea School, who gave up her holiday to organise the language course, says she is "delighted" by the response.

The many taster courses on offer to 4,000 14 to 21-year-olds include languages, music, computing and IT, theatre studies, and sport. All activities will be based in school sites in the borough. The summer university aims to simulate student life, motivating children to consider higher or continuing education.

The scheme was prompted by an alliance of Michael Young, who is director of the Institute of Communication Studies, the charity Cities in Schools, and Queen Mary and Westfield College, the East End branch of London University.

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