Playtime is learning too;After School

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Six-year-old Misha was well behind in her sums when she arrived at her new school in London. But it has not taken her long to catch up, mainly thanks to the half an hour a week she spends at the mathematics club.

When lessons have finished on Mondays at Winton Primary School, near King's Cross station, she is one of a dozen children who head for the music room to work on arithmetic.

The atmosphere is hushed as the youngsters, ranging from Misha's age through to 10-year-olds, concentrate on specially prepared worksheets, supervised by a teacher and two volunteers from the local community. Every child who comes to the club is assessed and started off at the level that suits them. The point is to give them confidence, explains teacher Martin Bradshaw. "I start them off with the things they can do easily and then move on to the next level. The aim is to make sure they are not afraid of numbers."

The maths club is one of a range of activities at the school. In the lunchtimes, there are clubs for gardening and French. There is also drama, art, football and music. After school on Wednesdays there is a thriving country dancing club. Twice a week a family literacy group is held where parents and their children can learn more about reading and writing together. More than 50 volunteers, including parents, local business people and students, help pupils with their learning.

"We provide as much as we can outside the normal curriculum for the children to get involved in," says the headteacher, Jane Fulford. "We're developing a learning community. We're trying to get across the idea that learning isn't something that just takes place in the classroom. It goes on all the time."

Winton is one of the schools highlighted in the Government's study Extending Opportunity: A National Framework for Study Support, which sets out its aim of encouraging out-of-school activities. In a poor area - the borough of Islington is the fourth most deprived district in England and Wales and has the second highest level of unemployment in London at 12 per cent - trying to make sure children gain the best education is crucial.

The roots of Winton's wide range of activities go back to 1991 when Community Service Volunteers Education became involved in a community project to make better use of the school's resources. Now there are plans to renovate a derelict building behind the school into a centre for parents with a kitchen and computers.

Wendy Chaffe, Winton's science and technology co-ordinator, who runs the country dancing club, says children of all abilities benefit from the activities. "They learn a lot about getting on to-gether and working as a team, as well as improving their school work."

Misha's mother, Pamela, who returned to college to do a degree after several years of working in an office, is passionate about the clubs' importance. "Without education you've got no opportunities," she says. "Any form of activity stimulates their brain and promotes their learning. There's less chance of them becoming delinquent. If they've got something positive going on, they will have a better outlook on life."

But for all its activities and plans, Winton does not see itself as special. "We're just doing what schools are supposed to do," says Jane Fulford. "We're trying to mix a little fun with all the serious learning. Children need to have fun."


* Homework clubs

One of the most popular forms of study support, they can be an enormous help, providing a quiet area to do homework. The greatest benefit is for children who have nowhere at home suitable for study, especially as homework is becoming compulsory.

* Key skills teaching

Mastering basic literacy and numeracy is vital if children are to benefit from the curriculum as a whole. Last year saw the launch of several literacy summer schools for children. This summer more than 500 are planned.

* Study clubs

These clubs aim to help pupils progress in specific areas of the curriculum, such as mathematics or languages, giving children who are weak in particular subjects the chance to catch up. Often they are targeted at improving examination results. They need to vary from class lessons to attract pupils who need them most.

* Sports and outdoor activities

Sports and games are traditional after-school activities at many schools and have long been seen as part of an all-round education. Children's interest in sport can be harnessed to help with schoolwork. The Playing to Win initiative in Sheffield Leeds is an example.

* The arts

The school play or concert will be an important part of the new study support framework, no longer seen as an optional add-on. Drama and music are likely to be specially useful for engaging less academic children in creative work, either performing or working backstage or onpublicity and admin.

* Residential events

Residential schools give children a chance to take stock of their progress and catch up if necessary in enjoyable surroundings away from pressures of home life. The University of the First Age in Birmingham runs an acclaimed summer school as part of its strategy to link home, school and the community.

* Voluntary activities

Many teenagers are concerned about such issues as the environment and poverty, and this energy can be put to good use in running an environmental club or a social club for the elderly.

* Specialist interests

Enthusiasts in topics ranging from lace-making to radio construction can be found in most local communities. These interests can be used to give children skills and insights not covered in the curriculum.

* Mentoring

Adults and older pupils can provide support and encouragement for children in such subjects as reading, mathematics or information technology. They can benefit from the less formal relationship that mentoring offers.

* Learning skills

Helping pupils develop their ability to learn effectively can pay huge dividends. Skills such as essay planning, effective revision and approaches to exams help pupils to become independent, well-organised learners.

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