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Labour picks up the study support flag

TEACHERS HAVE been assured that initiatives on study support and other out-of-hours activities are likely to be funded well into the future.

Helen Liddell, the Education Minister, told a Prince's Trust conference in Edinburgh that the Government would continue to fund an initiative that was central to raising standards. Both the Prime Minister and Chancellor backed it and there would be "no question of removing support".

Mrs Liddell was responding to questions about the uncertainty of three-year funding for projects. Between the Government's Excellence Fund and the lottery's New Opportunities Fund, pound;50 million is likely to be injected.

Her view was given added weight by David Campbell, Scottish representative on the opportunities fund, which will oversee part of the spending on study support, now a much wider concept than after-school, supervised homework.

Mr Campbell, chair of the Health Education Board for Scotland, said a third of all lottery cash would be distributed through the fund after the Millennium Fund was wound up. But he added: "If over the next three years this is the big idea whose time has come, I would like to think it would attract mainstream funding."

Mrs Liddell emphasised that study support was one of nine areas singled out in the excellence fund that would make a substantial difference to schools. "We do not often get a really exciting venture that can seize the imagination in education but this really is one. It's a toe in the door of lifelong learning," she said.

Forthcoming research would underline that projects before and after school, over weekends and during holidays were effective in enhancing self-esteem and motivation but activities and atmosphere had to be different to normal classes. Mrs Liddell believed every Scottish pupil should have access to a place.

But Tom Callan, St Stephen's High, Port Glasgow, warned: "Many pupils have to work immediately after school and although they may wish to attend they have social barriers and for many it is insurmountable."

John MacBeath, director of the Quality in Education Centre at Strathclyde University and lead researcher into the initiative throughout the UK, re-emphasised that out-of-school learning was vital. "Study support offers time in an informal setting to go a bit deeper, to get into deep learning and learning for understanding," Professor MacBeath said.

"Something like this should go right into school development planning and into what schools are all about. It's an exemplary development because it came from the bottom up and was endorsed from the top down."

Research had shown that homework was a "lonely and tedious" activity. Pupils gave up when they encountered difficulties because they had no one to turn to and study support promoted a "social context" after school.

"The big challenge is moving it from the periphery and we see schools now not with a homework policy or study support policy but a learning policy. At the centre of this is how we help young people become more effective, independent, interdependent learners," Professor MacBeath said.

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