Children attending booster classes in Premiership football clubs made great strides in literacy and numeracy. David Budge reports.
Some of the magic of Premier League football appears to have rubbed off on the children attending booster classes in the country's top soccer grounds.
A Government-funded research study to be released later this autumn will reveal that the reading scores of primary children jumped by six months after attending the football club study centres. The increase in secondary pupils' reading scores - eight months - was even bigger. And mental arithmetic scores also improved.
The evaluation was carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research, which tested children in six of the 23 after-school centres set up in Premier League and First Division grounds under the Government's pound;6 million Playing for Success scheme.
News of the scheme's contribution to children's learning follows on from last week's TES revelation that the Premier clubs are to invest pound;50 million in "grassroots football", with schools seen as a priority.
Keith Mason, one of the NFER's senior research officers, said that it was not only academic performance and information technology skills that had improved - but attitudes to reading and mathematics. "Teachers and parents noted particular improvements in pupils' study skills as well as self-esteem. They clearly enjoyed taking part, and attendance levels were high."
The Playing for Success initiative focuses on underachieving youngsters aged 10 to 14 and has funding for three years. Many of the centres at the clubs offer weekly two-hour classes for between six and 10 weeks. But the length and content of courses vary widely.
Most activities involve computers and they invariably have a football theme. Pupils have designed a football shirt or club logo with the aid of pictures from the Web. They have also interviewed players or worked on maths exercises that used crowd and match statistics.
When the scheme was launched, critics said that it would only benefit boys, but Louise Evans, manager of the Wolverhampton Wanderers centre, rejected the claim: "We have almost as many girls as boys. The girls are as motivated by being at a football club - in fact they are thrilled to bits."
The NFER reached the same conclusion: "Contrary to expectations, as many girls as boys have taken part in Playing for Success, and both sexes benefited equally."
However, it remains to be seen whether all the centres will record such impressive learning gains.
One independent researcher measured the literacy development of 180 children at Leicester City's Filbert Street ground and discovered that they had progressed at the same rate as pupils who were not involved in the scheme.