Clubs get pupils to the top of the class

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The Independent Online
After-school activities, such as sport and drama, are just as closely linked to high standards as homework, says government-commissioned research which was published yesterday.

Far from disappearing from schools as teachers struggle with new government initiatives, extra-curricular clubs are booming, according to the study by Professor Michael Barber.

His study, which compared seven schools rated excellent by inspectors with seven others, found that high academic standards and a wide range of such clubs went hand in hand. More pupils were involved in out-of-school activities in the excellent schools.

"This contradicts the view that by encouraging a focus on academic performance, wider goals are being neglected. The two go together," Professor Barber said.

The report by researchers at Keele and London universities says pupils feel they benefit by learning more, making friends and gaining confidence.

Professor Barber, of London University's Institute of Education, challenges the view that lunchtime and after-school clubs, usually run by teachers without extra payment, were never reinstated after the teachers' strike in the mid-Eighties when such clubs were withdrawn as part of the industrial action.

After-school activities and homework clubs have "much to contribute both to pupils' interest and enjoyment of school and to their ability to succeed academically," the report says.

It acknowledges the study is too small to establish cause and effect but suggests both are linked to schools' high overall performance in "a virtuous circle". On homework, the report found about 70 per cent of pupils in the excellent schools did six or more hours per night. Only 35 per cent of pupils worked these hours in other schools.

The Government announced that it would provide guidelines on homework and case studies of good practice to be circulated to schools later this year.

Robin Squire, the schools minister, said: "It is very clear that setting more and better- targeted homework helps to raise standards." But he attacked Labour's decision to specify how much homework pupils should do each night.

"It is not the role of government to prescribe how much homework should be set ... This would be totally impractical and ... an insult to the professionalism of teachers," he said.

Labour has said primary children ought to spend 30 minutes a night on homework and secondary children 90 minutes.

"A few months ago Jack Straw [the shadow Home Secretary] suggested that children should be in bed by a particular hour. Presumably they would also go round checking up that they had done their homework first," Mr Squire said.

He announced pounds 60,000 to promote homework in 12 schools. The projects include homework clubs, homework advice for parents and evening classes to teach parents how to help their children with maths.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, said a recent opinion poll (Sunday People/Audience Selection) had shown that 77 per cent of parents backed Labour's policy: "It is odd ministers persist in denying parents information about what they should expect."

Peter Smith, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the Government was "correct to rule out new regulations. To impose them would be to ignore the lessons of the national curriculum and the danger of excessive intervention".