Backlash to pressure for summer school

28th July 2000 at 01:00
Views are split on the value of holiday classes, write Julie Henry and Adam Coulter

AS thousands of pupils returned to class this week, a government survey has revealed that three-quarters of parents want their children to attend summer schools.

Summer schools have mushroomed over the past few years. A total of 1,800 literacy and numeracy schools will run this year, catering for 54,000 pupils, compared to 1,200 courses in 1999.

The cost of pound;20 million is shared between the Department for Education and Employment and education authorities. The DFEE is also funding 500 classes for gifted children nationwide.

And there are 32 pilot schemes for 2,000 16-year-olds who have just completed their GCSEs. They will be offered courses including climbing and watersports.

More than 44 per cent of parents said they were very interested, and 32 per cent were "fairly interested", in sending children to summer schools. Just over half said that was because the children could new learn skills.

But the growing trend is not universally popular. Fears have been raised that the pressure to improve standards is forcing schools to offer increasing amounts of teaching outside normal hours.

At King's Road primary in Manchester, the option of booster classes for 11-year-olds who are on the borderline of hitting government targets, has not been taken up. Headteacher Monica Galt said: "We approached those children who chieved level 3 and fit the criteria but so far their parents are not interested. They feel the children have been working incredibly hard for their national tests. For some, level 3 was a tremendous achievement.

"Parents feel that they have done their best and need a break."

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary Peter Smith said:

"Children can benefit from taking part in summer school activities. However, we want assurances that this is not a way of introducing the five-term year through the back door."

The Government is claiming that more than two-thirds of schools in England have increased out-of-school learning activities in the past two years. Its survey of 204 English schools, carried out by MORI and BMRB International, showed 71 per cent provided more than seven hours of activities, including sports, music, creative and performing arts, homework and computer clubs. The survey revealed that sport was the most popular activity for girls and boys in primaries and secondaries. Girls were more likely than boys to join music, dance, drama and book clubs.

A typical primary pupil spends nearly two hours a week on these activities and a secondary pupil three hours.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said schools need more staff for after-school activities.

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