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The summer of literacy

Some parents fear Labour's drive on writing and reading will stigmatise children. Linda Blackburne reports

Fifty summer literacy schools opened this week to improve 11-year-olds' reading and writing before they start their secondary education in September.

Two schools, in Doncaster and Mansfield, were oversubscribed. But such popularity is not universal: some parents think the special attention will stigmatise children as poor readers, while there have been complaints that the summer holiday should be a well-earned break for teachers and pupils.

The 50 schools are a pilot scheme established by the Government with help from business. News International, publisher of The TES, The Times and The Sun, gave Pounds 250,000 to almost double the number of projects. And WH Smith, Trutex, Alton Towers, and theatre producer Cameron Macintosh have given money or help in kind.

Project leaders have tried to make the camps fun by including trips and activities linked to reading and writing skills. The aim is to use the 50 hours' tuition to raise the reading ages of the pupils to their chronological age. Most are two years below it.

The National Foundation for Educational Research will test the children in September to evaluate the scheme. Some project leaders and headteachers are unsure whether the schools will achieve their aims. Bob Salisbury, headteacher of Garibaldi comprehensive in Mansfield, thought 50 hours is "probably not long enough".

However, Denise Hardy, project leader at Northcliffe secondary school in Conisbrough, near Doncaster, thought it was "fair".

Mrs Hardy said: "If I can get the level 3s up to level 4 and the level 2s up to level 3, I will be highly delighted." The Government says typical 11-year-olds should reach level 4.

Thirty-three parents out of the 96 contacted by Northcliffe school were interested in a place. The school took all their children on despite having only 30 places. The 96 were chosen after advice from primary schools, and because their offspring scored below level 4 in the national curriculum tests.

The 33, who include bright pupils, have fallen behind in their reading and writing for a variety of reasons, including chronic illness, hearing problems, low self-esteem and a "plodding" attitude to work.

Mrs Hardy, a special needs teacher employed by Doncaster's teaching support service, said: "They're a happy, lively bunch. They have been really excited about the course. I think they get very bored in six weeks. There isn't a lot to do here."

Summer-school pupil Michael Grimwood turned down the idea at first because he was worried it would be too like school. But the organisers have gone to a lot of trouble to ensure it is very different. One activity will be a barbecue for which children will write recipes, menus and invitations.

The child:adult ratio is 5:1 at Northcliffe thanks to the help of youth workers, and there is one teacher to 15 children.

At Garibaldi comprehensive the child:adult ratio varies between 1:1 and 3:1 depending on the session - sixth-formers and parents help out.

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