Education: Football clubs kick off bid to help pupils with homework

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Young people will be able to do their homework at football grounds after three top clubs agreed to join a government scheme. Judith Judd, Education Editor, looks at a novel way for pupils to achieve their goals.

Newcastle United, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday are the first to sign up for the pounds 6m scheme which aims to motivate pupils through sport.

Pupils aged nine to 14 who need extra help with the 3Rs will be invited to the clubs which will offer literacy, numeracy and IT in purpose-built classrooms. Girls as well as boys will be lured by their enthusiasm for football, ministers hope.

Brian Philpot, Newcastle United's representative in the scheme, said: "The power of football clubs in the local community should never be underestimated. Girls at this age are probably more interested in football than boys."

The scheme will be funded by the Government, which is offering pounds 2m, and by local authorities, business and the clubs. Next year, the Government hopes that the vast majority of Premier League and First Division clubs will join in.

All three clubs in the scheme, which starts next term, will select children with the help of local teachers. In Newcastle, regular attendance at five of the city's existing homework clubs and the achievement of attendance and punctuality targets set by schools will be among the criteria.

At least 500 pupils a year are expected to visit each centre after school and on Saturday mornings. In Sheffield, pupils will attend for eight weeks, three times a week.

The centres will be staffed by qualified teachers and university and college students.

Phil McBride, a former deputy head, who will run the Newcastle centre and Sue Beeley, a modern languages teacher, who will head the Sheffield one, were given certificates by David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education. Mr Blunkett, a lifelong Wednesday fan, said: "Study centres in Premier League clubs ... will attract young people who could otherwise remain disaffected with education.

"Although more and more girls are interested in football nowadays, these centres will act as a magnet for boys who tend to under-achieve in the three Rs."

Mr Blunkett visited Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium to explain the scheme to Pele, the Brazilian football star, now Brazil's sports minister.

Asked whether hard-working children who were not under-achievers might feel they were being left out of the new venture, Mr Blunkett said: "In the past egalitarians have said if you can't provide it for everybody, don't provide it for anybody. We don't hold with that."

He acknowledged that not all young people are excited by football. Eventually, he hoped, homework clubs would be provided at non-sporting venues.

Paul Forbes, of Leeds City Council, suggested children might meet players as a reward for doing well on the scheme. The club hoped to ensure that players "popped in" when their commitments allowed.

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