Study all morning, play all afternoon

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
8am start to school day means longer hours for staff but both they and the pupils love it

WHILE MOST of the nation's pupils are tucking in to their lunch boxes, children at Westborough primary in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, are still in class.

"It's worth it," said 10-year-old George Baines. "Because we have clubs in the afternoon instead of lessons like other schools."

Westborough's unconventional timetable starts at 8am and finishes at 1pm, leaving the afternoon free for a host of extra-curricular activities. More than 40 clubs, including sewing, sports, dance, Urdu, disco, massage, boys'

cooking and Classic TV, are run by teachers and support staff.

"If we didn't provide these opportunities as a school, the children would not get them," said Jenny Davies, the headteacher.

"We thought if we got going earlier in the school day with the official curriculum and finished sooner, we could offer more clubs in a more organised way, embracing things such as crafts and cooking."

Kay Hammond, a Year 5 teacher who runs a karaoke club on Tuesdays, said: "I have always been in favour for the simple reason it is not easy to teach children after an hour's lunch break, especially in the summer. Children work better in the morning."

Westborough is no stranger to unusual methods. In 2003 more than 70 staff went to Ladies' Day at Ascot as a team-building exercise. Some newspapers described the outing as a scandal, although Ms Davies pointed out then that her staff worked extra hours to provide clubs. The new timetable was regarded as so unorthodox when it was introduced three years ago that two children were removed from the school.

With short breaks at 9.15am and 11.30am and an hour for lunch at 1pm, then clubs from 2.15pm to 3.15pm, it is a long day for teachers. But staff are allowed to leave early two days out of five, and say they enjoy the free afternoons.

When Ms Davies arrived at the school in 1989, the building was in poor condition. She still keeps a lump of plaster that fell from the ceiling in 1994, causing nine classrooms to be closed.

The school has now been renovated and remodelled. It has new buildings, including a cardboard classroom which has won two architectural awards.

There is a huge adventure frame in the playground, made with re-used wood.

Alongside is an area with picnic tables, sheltered from the sun by a trellis along which grow passion flowers, hops and vines.

The school was yesterday named sustainable school of the year for the east of England in this year's Teaching Awards.

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