Out-of-hours attack on deprivation
A mile away in Cranhill, one of Glasgow's most disadvantaged communities, Anne Morrison, head of Lamlash primary, agreed. "I could not have put it better, " she said.
Thirty of her most talented pupils are staying behind after school for extra lessons in a pilot scheme that mirrors the ambitions of the Government's Pounds 23 million out-of-school learning programme. It will be funded through the New Opportunities Fund,the latest good cause to emerge from the national lottery.
Mr Dewar pledged to establish clubs in half of Scottish secondaries and 25 per cent of primaries within four years to boost educational opportunities and break the cycle of disadvantage. "If children feel that school is leaving them behind, or that they are not part of what is happening, it is a recipe for long-term isolation from the mainstream," he said.
The depth of poverty in Easterhouse was underlined by the figures on free school meals. Just under 70 per cent of primary children were entitled to free dinners, against the Scottish average of 23 per cent, he said.
But Lamlash is proving that pupils can be recruited to the educational agenda, even in the most difficult circumstances and on the shoestring budget of the current pilot.
Six weeks into the project, 30 eight to eleven year olds are still returning after hours, once or twice a week, for tuition in science, French, art, country dancing and athletics. Six teachers have volunteered to work the extra hour, while a city sports coach helps with athletics in the gym. Parents must collect their children at the end of session at 4pm.
Ms Morrison said the idea came from the teachers following an HMI report which was critical of the lack of challenge for the more able pupils. "Children were identified by the teachers for their interests or potential skills and their enthusiasm is enormous. It's a fun time and one of the main issues was that it should be fun for the children and teachers," she said.
"The atmosphere is completely different and children are actively involved in very challenging learning, set at their own level. The children have chosen to go and the teachers have chosen to do this."
Staff were concerned other pupils and parents may complain about being left out, but anxieties have, so far, proved unfounded.
The scheme could be expanded if money was available, Ms Morrison said. "There are a lot of talented children in this school. Unfortunately, voluntary efforts are stretched to the full. The art club is no more than a drawing club since teachers are reluctant to touch the school's supply of paints. New pencils were bought through the school fund.
"If money was on offer, we could build up a bank of resources for science, art materials or athletic equipment."
She believes that there is a strong demand for out-of-hours provision in Cranhill and would welcome any chance of tapping into new money.
Madge O'Neill, vice-convener of Glasgow education committee, is backing the initiative. She said: "Twenty years ago, my husband died leaving me with five children. I was a nursery nurse and did not want to give up my job. I didn't finish until 5.15 and Compass Care picked up my kids from school and looked after them until I got there at 6pm. It was marvellous.
"If I did not have after-school care and nursery provision, I would have had to give up my job. But this is also about provision for two parents on low income. Contrary to popular opinion, most people want to work" Glasgow is now combining its out-of-school care and network of homework clubs or supported study initiatives, in an attempt to target the new money. Mrs O'Neill said the city needed a large slice of the cash.
* A Scottish Office consultation paper on out-of-school hours learning will be published within the next few weeks, followed by a summit in the spring.
Projects will have to contain an educational element to attract funding from lottery distributors and will form part of the wider attack on social exclusion, headed in Scotland by Lord Sewel, the environment minister.
He is to be the "Ministerial Champion" and will co-ordinate action across Scottish Office departments. The minister will also liaise with the Prime Minister's social exclusion unit.