FOR most adults, memories of childhood are synonymous with long summer holidays and seemingly endless play. But are we in danger of robbing our children of the pleasures we so cherished?
The burgeoning of after-school clubs and summer schools since Labour took office is, on one level, impressive. In three short years, 1,800 summer literacy and numeracy schools have been established, offering much-needed remedial teaching for children struggling with the 3Rs. Thousands more are being offered the chance to develop talents over the summer in sports, music and the arts.
There has been similar growth in after-school activities with all but a tiny minority of schools now offering something extra in the form of enrichment or learning support.
As we report this week (News, 4) these developments are proving popular with parents. And indeed, the revival of out-of-hours sport, music, dance and drama is long overdue, having suffered a near-terminal decline in many schools in recent times. But while the Government's willingness to invest in remedial classes and homework clubs is laudable, there are potential dangers in wholesale expansion of a poliy that remains relatively untried. Research into the effectiveness of the first 50 literacy and numeracy schools in 1997 showed mixed results.
In the United States, where the evidence is also mixed, there has been a similar rush to adopt summer schools in many states. And a growing number are following the lead of Chicago in making attendance compulsory for pupils who fail to reach required grades. While obliging laggardly pupils to give up two weeks' holiday to catch up may be a powerful incentive not to fall behind it also alters the nature of the extra classes. Such lessons should be attended with enthusiasm and should be fun.
In an age in which pupils, schools and teachers are measured on results the pressure to perform has never been greater. The worry is that this hothouse atmosphere will increasingly extend into evenings, weekends and holidays.
Out-of-hours learning is something everyone should welcome, provided it remains additional to the formal curriculum. But it should be something all children want to take part in. Otherwise we will deprive them of the freedom that most of us enjoyed when we ourselves were young.