INNER-CITY Liverpool is, by any definition, a challenging area. There are some fantastic primary schools there defying all the odds to achieve high standards. When I visited two schools in the summer, St Malachy's and Millwood Community primary schools, I found teachers and heads of extraordinary skill and commitment and children who, given the right environment and high-quality teaching, are enthusiastic and capable of high achievement.
Now these teachers and children are being magnificently supported in their efforts by the city's greatest and most successful institution, Liverpool FC. Like 40 other Premier League and First Division clubs, Liverpool has set up a study support centre as part of the Government's "Playing for Success" initiative. Aptly, given the team's colours, they've called it Reducate. It is right in the heart of the historic Anfield Road Stadium, next to the museum of Liverpool's 20th century exploits. It is open to pupils in key stages 2 and 3. Its curriculum is designed to support the agenda of the schools in the area: literacy, numeracy, ICT, independent learning skills and improving self esteem.
The pupils are selected by the local schools and picked up each afternoon by the Reducate bus. The enthusiasm of the pupils - girls and boys - to learn at the home of their heroes is overwhelming. The centre is full every night and they could fill it several times over.
I defy any youngster to attend Reducate and not become motivated to learn. In charge is a talented young teacher, Keith White. Supporting him each evening are half a dozen students from the three local universities. This excellent pupil-adult ratio allows a good mix of large group, small group and individual work. The technology is state of the art, and includes the latest computers, video and interactive whiteboards. All rund the walls are autographed pictures of Liverpool's heroes, including Tommy Smith, scorer of the crucial goal in the 1977 European Cup Final and inevitably Michael Owen.
Each of the pupils has targets to achieve,and must follow a code of conduct which demands that they "work to the best of their ability". The impact of attending on pupils' literacy is already evident. .
I was inspired, but then as a member of that neurotic group of people who spend every weekend through the winter worrying about the football scores, that's hardly surprising. Indeed as a lifelong Liverpool fan, opening Reducate was for me the ultimate honour.
For years teachers have pointed to the culture around us and its deleterious effects on attitudes to learning. Surely they have a point. In the past, as a society, we've simply shrugged our shoulders and decided that this negative "culture" is so broad and so deep that it can't be changed. We simply have to live with it.
Not any more. Many of the institutions which have most influence on our culture - theatres, museums, major employers, newspapers, television and now football clubs - are beginning to recognise the part they can play in changing attitudes.
There are many countervailing forces. The most powerful is the mistaken view, deep in the British psyche, that IQ alone decides how well someone will do in education and that, therefore, if more pupils pass an exam it must by definition have got easier. If this and other destructive attitudes can be shifted, teachers, schools and crucially children and young people will reap the benefits. The message to teachers from Anfield (and many other places) is the one they sing every week on the Kop. "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Michael Barber is head of the Department for Education's Standards and Effectiveness Unit