Disadvantaged pupils learn faster in weekend schools

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The Independent Online

Children from disadvantaged homes learn faster if they have attended supplementary Saturday or Sunday morning schools, according to a government study.

Attendance at the schools – which are largely set up by ethnic minority groups in cities – helps boost their performance in tests and exams. It also gives them more confidence in their ability and improves their behaviour, as they are taught to respect their teacher.

The study, carried out for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, covered more than 300 schools. It concluded: "Many parents reported an improvement in the skills, knowledge and exam results of their children since attending supplementary schools. Teachers, parents and pupils identified more concentrated teacher/pupil time due to smaller class sizes [as a key reason]."

The majority had been set up as a result of continuing under-performance in mainstream schools. A fortnight ago, the Conservative schools spokesman Michael Gove told teachers that his party would encourage schools to start Saturday morning classes for disadvantaged pupils.

However, the report counsels against such a "top-down" approach, pointing out that many believe the success of the supplementary schools is down to the fact that they are voluntary initiatives by the local community.

The pupils also responded to being taught by teachers of the same ethnic background as themselves. The effect, according to the report, was to raise their career expectations.

"We interviewed pupils who had ambitions to be a dentist, a heart surgeon, a specialist in women's health, teachers and doctors," said the researchers. "These pupils suggested that they were encouraged by supplementary school staff to believe that such careers were possible if they worked hard."