Extra Mile project is a runaway success

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
100 more schools join initiative to raise aspirations among disadvantaged pupils after trial takes off

An experimental project that gives the poorest pupils extra money and attention to prevent them performing poorly in lessons is being rolled out following its reported success.

About 100 more primary and secondary schools have joined the Extra Mile project, with the 23 already taking part now acting as mentors.

Heads are now urging the Government to keep the scheme going amid looming budget cuts.

Teenagers eligible for free school meals have spent the past year on the scheme running radio stations, doing adventure activities and studying with footballers as part of a scheme to raise their aspirations.

As part of the initiative, schools in deprived areas were given #163;10,000 to trial activities. Heads say the scheme has had a dramatic effect on their performance in lessons.

Observers say the project, which is funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and gives teachers the time and money to try out their own ideas, is in direct contrast to the National Challenge scheme, in which many of the schools are also taking part.

Extra Mile activities are designed to encourage a culture of respect, broaden children's curriculum, social and language skills, and promote good behaviour and support.

The aim is to get pupils who could perform better, or are too quiet in the classroom, to become engaged before the start of GCSEs.

Schools involved have reported healthy Sats results among those they chose to take part.

At Witton Park High School, Blackburn, boys ran a radio station and teamed up with Blackburn Rovers FC players to learn literacy skills. About 37 per cent of pupils at the school are eligible for free school meals. The school is also part of National Challenge.

Gwen Onyon, the school's head, said it has had a dramatic effect on children's self-esteem, and all 12 pupils went up two sub-levels in their Sats.

"It's well known that there is a level of underachievement from white boys on free school meals, but we didn't tell the boys this was why they were chosen - they just knew they were a special group," Mrs Onyon said.

"Their literacy levels weren't particularly good - especially listening - but now they run a breakfast show with music and sport and it's given them so much confidence.

"We didn't choose the troublemakers because they have enough attention. Those involved were the quieter ones, the middle of the road, and they and their parents are very pleased to be involved."

The students had the chance to visit a local radio station. Their attendance is now 100 per cent.

At Portchester School in Bournemouth, which is also involved in National Challenge, boys did adventure activities with PE staff, including orienteering to encourage group trust and support.

Attendance has gone up significantly, according to head Chris Bradey. "We wanted to narrow the gap - achievement from those on free school meals is below that of the rest of the cohort," he said.

"It's very important this project continues to tackle underachievement. We've seen good results. The problem is that this issue is like the elephant in the room - nobody wants to talk about it.

"We worked very hard to involve parents, and every child had a laptop, and they appreciate very much the investment in them. The pupils really value this too.

"I just hope, with all the budget cuts we all expect, that projects like this keep running. It's morally imperative that they continue."

GOING THE DISTANCE

The Extra Mile project was set up in September 2008 with a group of 23 secondaries that were looking to "go the extra mile" for disadvantaged pupils.

The aim was to raise the aspirations of disadvantaged pupils and narrow the attainment gap between those pupils and their more advantaged peers. It draws on the experiences of 45 primaries and 50 secondaries in some of the most deprived wards in England.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families is now offering the same opportunity to up to 60 secondaries and 40 primaries across 40 authorities. Final numbers will be confirmed by the end of this month.

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