The Government has pledged pound;200 million towards after-school activities. Reva Klein visits two schools that show how lunchtime and evening sessions can make a real difference to pupils' lives.
In Salford, looks can be deceiving. Passing through the litter-strewn streets of the Ordsall Estate, you'd be forgiven for thinking you had landed in the heartland of social exclusion. Teenage boys loiter in streets with few shops and fewer cars. Medieval-looking spikes grace the windows of newish houses. It bears all the hallmarks of chronic unemployment, where people long ago learned to do without, and where crime is a way of life.
And it is all those things. But look beyond the stereotypes of urban decay and you'll also find a community waking up. Ordsall Estate has been cited by the Government as a model of regeneration. It is coming to the end of a 10-year programme of government and private investment that has brought new housing, a park and money into schools.
Salford City Council's collaboration with the neighbourhood in developing the plans has earned it the status of Pathfinder, awarded by the Government for notable work with communities.
Of course, the poverty is still there, but the social regeneration that is starting to gain a foothold in this bit of Salford, flanked on one side by the Manchester Ship Canal, looks like it is here to stay.
The nucleus of this upswing is an unlovely 25-year-old school smack in the middle of the estate. St Clements C E primary is not only fighting for its children, but is also giving their parents and neighbours previously unimagined opportunities.
Under the spirited headship of Helen Buchanan, the school has redefined itself as a community resource determined to educate "the whole child". As Ms Buchanan says: "We go for the heart to reach the mind."One of the most crucial strategies has been the creation of an impressive array of lunchtime and after-school clubs and activities for children and adults.
When Ms Buchanan came to the school in 1991, only two such clubs were up and running so she immediately set up a jazz dance club. Why jazz dance of all things, when levels of literacy and numeracy at the school were so poor? She says: "Dance is one of my great loves, and I wanted these children to have every possible opportunity."
She admits that, at first, the clubs were a "damage-limitation exercise, designed to get the juniors off the streets". But, she says, "as we offered more clubs, more and more people approached us until we found ourselves at the heart of community life".
So great was the demand for children's and adult activities that in 1992, Ms Buchanan became the first headteacher in the United Kingdom to shorten the school day by 30 minutes to make room for after-school services. In their job descriptions, all staff members - including nursery staff - are obliged to run one club a week, as well as taking charge of the homework club twice a year. As well as its own staff, the school hires local authority sports coaches, and benefits from the help of parents with skills or interests in particular areas. Through Local Management of Schools, St Clements pays a community manager and support worker to co-ordinate the clubs.
In a school where 85 per cent receive free school meals, and fewer than one family in two has a telephone, a healthy mix of academic, sports and social skills sessions are on offer during lunchtimes and after school.
Alongside the 40 per cent of clubs that are academic, including science, French and homework, the school offers jazz dance, drama (both run by Ms Buchanan), infants' structured play, teatime club, bingo, various sports, needlework, music and a juniors-only youth club. An evangelical pastor runs JAM Club (Jesus and Me), calling it "Sunday school on a Tuesday, but more fun". All in all, 350 places are available, and demand still outstrips supply.
Adults come in for family reading hour, computer skills and bingo. A fair number come in to help out with the children's clubs, too. One parent who worked as a lollipop lady used to come in for the family reading session. She gained such confidence that she ran for parent governor. She was elected and has since come in four days a week as a volunteer to help out at the clubs.
One thing Ms Buchanan hadn't counted on was the effect on attainment. In 1996, the first year of key stage 2 assessment tests at the school, only 11 per cent of the children achieved level 4 - the national average - in English and maths. A year later, the figure had rocketed to 53 per cent.
But, she says, the clubs are only part of the reason. When an inspector asked how she explained the raised achievement, Ms Buchanan replied:
"That's simple - water pistols." As a reward for completed homework, she explained, she gave the children 99p toys from Poundstretcher. And the most prized of all was - yes - water pistols.
But even without the water pistols, the clubs motivate the children and give them a sense of security and confidence that comes from being part of a caring school community. "What I see here in Ordsall Estate is social inclusion, where there are no barriers between school and community, where parents are comfortable about coming into school because they know we put their children first."
While it's one thing to galvanise the energies and commitment of staff at a small primary school, and to shorten the school day to accommodate out-of-school enrichment, doing the same at a large secondary is quite another.
Sedgehill School, a 1,700-pupil comprehensive in the London borough of Lewisham, also serves an impoverished community. It has developed a programme of after-school activities that demonstrate the school's commitment to all-round education, balancing sports and citizenship activities with curricular work.
But according to senior teacher Pat Stack, in charge of enrichment and extension: "Promoting extra-curricular activities when you depend on staff volunteers is a real struggle." When he surveyed teaching staff about their attitudes towards out-of-school activities, 46 of the 120 responded. Of those, all agreed after-school activities were important for raising achievement, but only one in two admitted active involvement. "One of their main concerns," says Mr Stark, "is time - or the lack of it."
The school has tried to find a happy medium between teachers' voluntary involvement and paying staff to run sessions for certain activities. Outside funding from education charities has helped particular clubs. The Sir John Cass Foundation, for example, has funded after-school computer sessions for GCSE coursework. And government funding for study support programmes will bring in extra cash.
Sedgehill is committed to outdoor and environmental activities, and is strong on residential activities. It is also determined to raise achievement, running many study support sessions after school and during lunchtimes. In addition, special clubs targeting underachieving children have concentrated on study and social skills and on building self-esteem. A club for moderately disaffected students, the On Track Club, opened to Year 9s two years ago. It is a measure of its success that they all remained in school until Year 11.
Another indicator of the school's success comes from surveys over the past two years in which 80 per cent of students have claimed involvement in some out-of-school activity. The next frontier for Pat Stack is trying to measure the effects of these activities on attainment. There is little doubt that the highest achieving pupils in the school are the ones who attend study support sessions and activities such as music. The real challenge remains: how to encourage those who would most benefit to take part.
Education Extra, 17 Old Ford Road, London E2 9PL. Tel: 0181 983 1061. Fax: 0181 981 9698. e-mail: email@example.com. Web site: www.educationextra.org.uk
* WINNING IN EXTRA TIME
Sedgehill and St Clements are both members of Education Extra, a national charity established in 1992 by Lord Young of Dartington, which helps schools develop after-school and holiday activities that enrich pupils' experience and help raise achievement. Every year, it presents national awards for after-school activities. This year, it will give pound;100,000 to exemplary initiatives. It also runs a national network of more than 1,200 schools that exchange news and ideas about good practice and get advice and guidance on raising support from business. The charity offers training, research and consultation to schools, local authorities and training and enterprise Councils (TECs) if they are subscribing members.