Research in London's East End has added to the growing enthusiasm for homework clubs and study support centres. A study conducted in the borough of Tower Hamlets reveals a 31 per cent improvement in the 1996 GCSE results of the schools involved - 10 times that of schools in similar circumstances without access to study support.
The report, Getting Results, involved 705 children who attended five of the 31 study centres across the borough. It developed from a pilot project started in 1995 to see whether study support was worth the money.
The methods used in the study are to form the basis for comprehensive nationwide research supported by the Prince's Trust, to be carried out over three years in Tower Hamlets, Merseyside, Sandwell, Southwark, Newcastle and Birmingham.
Teachers gave their predicted grades for their pupils without knowing which ones were attending the centres. Their predictions for the children not attending the groups were fairly accurate; 48 children out of 307 were predicted to gain an A-C grade and 51 children did so. But from the 398 who attended after-school study groups and revision groups, 169 gained an A-C grade rather than the 96 predicted.
Claudine Field, project co-ordinator, said: "Because the research was focused on the individual, the rate of improvement was very clear. We are, though, aware that it takes place in the context of other changes such as greater motivation on the part of the student."
Tower Hamlets took a decision that the support centres should be staffed by qualified teachers. Steven Yip, the researcher behind the project, said: "Often the teachers were subject specialists who used the sessions to enrich the curriculum with other activities. In addition some teachers at the support centres took on a counselling and target-setting role."
The classes offered by the study centres ranged from short-term Easter revision classes to ongoing homework support and supplementary school sessions. Students taking part in longer-running programmes found their results were improved by nearly a grade compared to half a grade for those who attended only revision classes.
The longer a study support centre has been established, the more marked the improvement. Yasmin Shaikh heads curriculum enrichment at Central Foundation Girls School, where GCSE results have improved by 65 per cent over three years of study schemes. She said: "The students decided how much they wanted to exploit the classes according to their needs, but over 70 per cent attended. The staff feel the classes help not only their work but also the students' understanding, and give them extra skills. The students' communication skills have improved as a result."
In 1995, borough statistics showed only 45 per cent of Bangladeshi and 35 per cent of white pupils in Tower Hamlets completed a piece of homework every day. Pupils complained the work was too hard and too boring. In the borough with the highest rate of overcrowding in London, few had a suitable place to work at home.