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'Stress-free zones away from home'

Thanks to the Prince's Trust, almost 100 new study centres are due to be opened laterthis year, providing invaluable help for disadvantaged children. Elaine Carlton reports.

Almost 100 new study centres, to house homework clubs and lunchtime study programmes, will be launched this September, following awards from the Prince's Trust.

The trust and its partner, BT, this week handed out grants worth Pounds 181,000 for 181 new and existing centres, taking its total investment in the study support scheme since its launch in 1991 to more than Pounds 500,000.

The new centres join more than 200 created with the help of the trust over the past five years. Their aim is to give disadvantaged pupils at inner-city schools a quiet place to do their homework before and after school and at lunchtime.

The study centres, which are often in school libraries, technology blocks or local youth clubs, have staff on hand to help, and computers which the pupils can use.

"Giving students the opportunity to learn outside of the school day is the easiest way of balancing up disadvantaged children with more well-off children," says Mary Marsh, headteacher of Holland Park school, London.

Despite having failed in a bid for almost Pounds 13 million from the Millennium Fund earlier this year, the trust is aiming to help 1,000 schools with their study support schemes by the year 2000.

It is now considering another bid for lottery cash.

The trust first threw its weight behind the scheme, which has become extremely popular, after it saw the idea in practice in Scotland. It launched a pilot scheme in four schools, whose success led to the scheme being rolled out across the country.

Children who have nowhere to do their homework and no one to help them with it are flocking to libraries and youth clubs where the programmes are in action.

Sedgehill school in Lewisham, south London, where 30 per cent of GCSE pupils achieved grades A-C in 1995, has been developing its study support scheme over the past four years.

In an area of 38 per cent unemployment - the highest in south London - the school aims to overcome a negative attitude towards homework among its 1,700 pupils.

In its library, before and after school and at lunchtime, pupils can now work on nine computers. Staff and library prefects are also on-call if pupils need help.

Senior teacher Patrick Stack says: "We have started a club, for pupils in Year 9 who are failing or lacking in confidence, which will get them thinking about what they will do in Year 10, and a girls' club to focus on assertiveness training and health matters."

Youth clubs too have joined the network, eager to provide study centres for pupils who prefer to get out of school when the bell goes.

"A stress-free zone away from home" has been created by the Goldcrest Youth Club, according to 19-year-old Emma Baker, who has two younger brothers and finds it impossible to study at home.

Donald Cooper, who runs the scheme, says he found the youngsters were bringing their homework problems along to the youth club sessions, so four months ago a homework club was launched.

"The club is open for two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays and pupils can relax in between a session with a game of table tennis and refreshments."

Funding is still a problem, however. The computers were funded by the local authority, but the books, which were donated by people in the area, are mostly out of date.

Preston Manor school in Wembley, many of whose pupils come from the notorious Chalkhill Estate, is set to launch its study scheme in the autumn.

It is selling some of its land to fund the project.

Senior teacher John Bowerman says: "We have gutted the school library and are planning to install computers.

"Many of our pupils go home to a one-bedroom flat where they have nowhere to work. The study centre will be open at lunchtime and for an hour every night after school."

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