HOMEWORK will become a more rewarding experience for pupils in Islington, it emerged this week. The borough, which is near the bottom of exam league tables, intends to pay some children pound;3.50 an hour to attend extra weekend lessons.
The controversial initiative will be piloted at two of the borough's secondary schools and will be targeted at those who are expected to be borderline between C and D grades at GCSE.
In the first year, 30 pupils will be expected to sign a four-year contract committing them to the scheme. If successful it will be extended to the borough's other secondaries.
Critics argued that low-achieving pupils were equally in need of help and questioned the wisdom of paying children to learn. "If every teacher who worked after school or at weekends got extra payments they would all be rich," said Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT union.
Unpaid homework remains popular with parents who support the Government's guidelines, a poll commissioned by the Department for Education and Employment shows. But one-third worry that they may be "doing it wrong" when they help children with their work. The Government has responded by launching a new website designed to give parents more information on their child's education and a magazine explaining how to support school work available in post offices and supermarkets.
Parents of four-year-olds will be studying the latest primary school league tables, released this week. The number of 11-year-olds achieving level 4 rose to 70 per cent in English and 69 per cent in maths. David Blunkett has staked his job on hitting targets of 80 per cent and 75 per cent respectively by 2002. The tables will be made available on the website to help parents in their choice of school.
Cherie Blair, Britain's most influential parent-to-be, is also promoting parent power. She will head a national campaign for better childcare services and an improved deal for parents at work. The spring campaign is being organised by the Kids Club Network.
Mrs Blair's husband set out his vision for education in the 21st century. The Prime Minister called for longer school-days - giving more pupils the chance to do music, sport and languages after the final bell. He said education would continue to have first claim on the public purse in return for "a step change in standards". Diversity would be the key to improvement, not the 11-plus or a return to standardised comprehensives, he argued.
By contrast, Tories' minds were concentrated firmly on the present. Shaun Woodward, their London spokesman, was sacked after refusing to vote with his party to keep the infamous Section 28 ban on promoting homosexuality in schools. The law, which is being abolished by the Government, has led to complaints from teachers that it prevents them dealing with homophobic bullying.
The difficulties teachers face with law in the classroom were highlighted by the case of Devon teacher Michael
Turnbull. He was finally cleared of assaulting a 13-year-old girl after a 10-month wait to clear his name. Mr Turnbull had been accused of hitting the girl on the back of her head with a book.
Bruce Morgan, the magistrates described the case as a "scandalous waste of public funds", and criticised the delays before it was brought to court.
* Jon Slater