Kevin Brown reviews the impact of out of school hours programmes on attainment and achievement
HE emphasis on raising achievement and attainment, the first of the five national priorities, was reinforced when the Higher results showed an improvement this year - by whatever percentage.
Several contenders claiming the credit for this improvement have laid out their stalls - high quality teaching (the Educational Institute of Scotland), hard-working students (the Education Minister), and greater familiarity with the Higher Still formula (the Scottish Qualifications Authority). All these elements may have contributed; but why is there no mention of study support being the major difference in raised attainment?
Research undertaken by the study support national evaluation and development programme into the impact of out of hours learning in 52 secondary schools in 11 authorities in England and Scotland has shown conclusively that it raises academic attainment. In The Impact of Study Support, published in June, this longitudinal study reported that "students who participate in study support do better than would have been expected from baseline measures in academic attainment, attitudes to school, and attendance at school".
Achievement, though, is a much broader and richer arena than attainment. Out of hours learning has also had an impact through summer schools, outdoor education, drama, creative arts, sports, and so on. Achievement leads to higher self-esteem and to greater motivation to achieve - the virtuous circle. This can spin off into a self-belief and an investment in achieving academically for those who would otherwise be disaffected. But this form of out of hours learning requires a different methodology - not academic subject-based clubs or revision sessions, nor necessarily school-based or run by teachers in overtime.
The second priority set out the importance of the right framework for learning. It is through increased understanding of differential learning, multiple intelligences and learning styles, and recognition that people learn better within an inclusive, voluntary and collaborative ethos, that out of hours learning has made a significant contribution. Teachers are given opportunities to experiment with learning modes in informal settings which they can then transfer to the classroom.
Inclusion and equality, the third priority, underlines one key finding of the research - that there was an even greater improvement in attainment for students from ethnic minorities. The involvement of partnerships of people - teachers, librarians, senior pupils, parents, classroom assistants, volunteers, business partners, community education workers, family literacy workers and the students has provided a richness of approaches and an ethos of inclusion.
The voluntary nature of out of hours learning has been found to be its key element. Students identified as more in need of out of hours learning have been targeted in subtle but not exclusive ways (avoiding stigmatisation). Programme planners have had to think through how to engage the disengaged, and motivate the unmotivated - if they get it wrong, the kids just do not come.
The fourth priority on promoting values and citizenship also provides scope. The potential for out of hours learning to deliver this may be strengthened by the next round of the New Opportunities Fund to be launched early next year, one stream of which is the "transforming communities" programme.
The fifth priority on learning for life links naturally. The impact of "outward bound" type activities on character and personality is well-evidenced. Another new New Opportunities programme, covering PE and sport in schools, endorses this by making pound;21.75 million available for physical activities including outdoor education and cultural studies, with a similar amount for activities which divert young people from crime.
One experienced community education worker noted that out of hours learning is really about "arresting disaffection" which, hopefully, means helping young people become open to education in later life.
The Scottish Executive can rightly be proud of what its pound;27 million investment has achieved. But there is as yet no news of funding after March next year. We need to build on what has been achieved - and not rely on the New Opportunities Fund to provide this.
Kevin Brown, director of the Scottish Study Support Network, writes in a personal capacity.