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Test shadow over sunny Easter class

25,000 children have been called in for holiday tuition, reports Cherry Canovan.

JAMES Watson is having a great time at school, despite the fact that it is a gloriously sunny day in the middle of half term.

"We don't have to wear school uniform, and they're making it fun as well as important," he said.

James, in Year 6 at Mayfield primary in Lytham St Annes, is at one of more than a thousand "Easter schools" taking place around the country this spring.

For a day this half-term and three days in the Easter break, 23 of the school's pupils will tackle such diverse subjects as the food chain hierarchy, alliteration, and the interpretation of graphs.

Head Moira Bentley got a pound;2,000 grant to run the classes, aimed at boosting the performance of children just below the expected standard for key stage 2 national tests.

The scheme is part of a government drive to raise the number of pupils attaining level 4 in national tests.

This year at least 25,000 children will attend Easter schools. However, the scheme has been criticised for having the political aim of making the Government's overall figures look better.

Easter schools have also become controversial since last years report by the Office for Standards in Education, which said that similar programmes during the summer had failed to boost standards.

But Ms Bentley sees the scheme as a chance to get more resources to help pupils and to boost their confidence, even if some children who attend have little chance of reaching level 4. The opportunity to work in small classes of eight is also an advantage.

She said a similar programme last year, together with booster classes, raised performance in maths and science, although English was not greatly affected.

Deputy head Kathryn Pym said the scheme helps transition to secondary school and improves attitudes to learning. Graham Clements, a Year 6 teacher, said: "It is more important to build confidence. It is not just about national tests, although it is important to give them that extra preparation."

But tests are clearly at the front of some pupils' minds. Abigail Robertson, Gemma King and Sarah Ball are all nervous and say they attended the holiday sessions to try to boost their results.

But others would probably have skipped classes without a bit of parental persuasion. Pupil Matthew Cooker said: "My parents made me come." He appreciated the extra help - besides which his dad has promised him a tenner if he reaches level 5.

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