Rewards for readers who stick at it

6th June 1997 at 01:00
The Government's literacy summer school offers light relief at Alton Towers. Susan Young and Allen Edwards report

Nine hundred poor readers will be enticed to join the Government's pilot literacy summer school scheme with promises of rewards such as a day at the Alton Towers amusement park.

Organisers of the Pounds 300,000 scheme are keen to ensure good attendance among the children who will benefit most, and are willing to include treats for those who successfully stay the course.

Dr Kay Andrews of the charity Education Extra, which is organising the scheme in 29 schools, said: "We've got to remember that we are doing it in their holidays, when their friends may be doing other, interesting things. We've got to give them activities they will enjoy, and we've got to make it cool. "

This summer's literacy schools are being organised in a great hurry because the Government is keen to get the project running this year. The money has been found by axing the grant earmarked by the previous Conservative government for the Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation for the rest of the year, and Education Extra and its literacy advisers is putting together different programmes with each school.

The secondary schools taking part all have a record of innovative practice and many are in deprived areas. Each will choose 30 pupils intending to join them in September through discussions with their feeder primaries and parents. The 11-year-olds targeted for the first year of the project are reading at about two years below their chronological age, and each will get 50 hours of tuition.

Older pupils and parents will be involved, as well as teachers and classroom assistants. Education Extra, which is running the project, is providing literacy advisers to monitor each school and provide support and advice. The outcomes will then be studied and two or three models of best practice developed.

Stephen Byers, the schools minister, said: "The first day at secondary school is a daunting experience for all pupils. No child should have the extra worry of being left behind in reading skills when we can do something to help. By supporting our children and helping them improve their basic skills they can face the demands of secondary education with confidence."

He said the transfer of funding from the Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation was a clear example of how Labour wanted to give priority to school standards rather than "the sterile debate" over structures.

The announcement has clear links with Labour's plans for homework clubs and hopes of improving childcare provision for lone parents. Both are to be funded and organised on a voluntary basis, with lottery cash and exhortion, rather than compulsion. The underlying premise is that there will be significant benefits for children staying on at school, whether for activities or homework, quite apart from the advantages of having a working parent.

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