Young Arsenal fans find it pays to mind their Ps and Qs

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There is a classroom that meets young Arsenal fans' every fantasy. The walls are festooned with Gunners posters and the literacy and numeracy questions have a football theme.

It is a place of study for members of the "double club", but they know that for every minute spent learning, they will earn the same in football coaching. There are prizes, too, for the pupils who do best: free tickets to an Arsenal home game.

The experiment is being tried out in four secondary schools near to the north London football club, with pupils aged 10 and 11. The youngsters are those teachers believe need to improve their performance before entering secondary school so that they can then keep up in class.

While the football coaching after class is done at the schools, there is a chance to play in school competitions at the club's Highbury headquarters. Winning teams have also met star players.

It is proving such an incentive to learning that this educational unique link up with Arsenal Football Club has just been extended.

At Islington Green - the comprehensive famous for providing the "we don't need no education" chorus for Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" and for being snubbed by Tony Blair when he was choosing a school for his children - where almost every pupil is an Arsenal fan, the programme has had a marked impact on pupils' motivation. Sanchez Atkinson, 12, explained: "You learn a lot more. It's a lot better than other lessons - and we get to play football."

The project, which is financed by the Department for Education and Skills, was set up as a five-month experiment at the beginning of the year. The other schools involved were St Aloysius' College in Islington, and Bow and Bishop Challoner schools in Tower Hamlets.

However, monitoring of the pupils' performance at the end of the summer term has led to it being extended for a further year. Almost all of the pupils on the project improved their reading at a faster rate than average, with one school reporting that its pupils had improved their reading age by twice as much as expected. The scheme is also being extended to a further four schools.

It could also be used as a model for clubs from other sports to follow - one idea already being floated is that Bath, one of the strongest rugby union clubs in the country, could mount a similar venture with its local schools.

Each of the four participating schools has its own "Arsenal" teacher, based at the club but spending most of their working week assigned to a particular school. They get together at Highbury every Monday morning to read through the Sunday papers to see what coverage there has been of football - and design lesson plans for the week based on the weekend games.

Islington Green's "Arsenal" teacher is Tom Palmer, a trained physical education teacher and qualified football coach. "We take a group of children for 12 weeks three times a week up until Christmas on to the programme," he said. "They have to have some interest in football."

That is not hard at Islington Green. The school's head, Trevor Averre-Beeson, says he is almost the only person in the school not obsessed with the Premier League club.

The school has had a spin-off in that the pupils who take part are more motivated for other lessons throughout the school. Attendance of participants has improved.

"It's engaged fathers in their youngsters' education as well," Mr Averre-Beeson said. "They attend the presentations at Highbury and meet the odd footballer. It may seem a shame that it's down to football to spark more of an interest in education, but if they end up taking more of an interest that's all to the good."

The scheme has proved just as motivational for girls as boys and has led to the establishment of two girls' football teams at Islington Green, both of which have played at Highbury. These have proved that not only does the "double club" improve academic performance but it also enhances the pupils' footballing skills.

"When I first took them to the competitions, they came last and last but one," said Mr Palmer. "Three months later they came first and second. That can't be a fluke."

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