Summer schools with treats will put slow readers on fast track

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The Independent Online
Government-funded summer schools will next month try to entice slow readers on to a programme which combines literacy teaching with treats.

Ministers are spending pounds 300,000 on programmes in 29 schools to help 870 pupils who are due to transfer to secondary school next term. Teachers, whose involvement will be voluntary, will be paid to give up about two weeks of their summer holidays to ensure that each child receives 50 hours of instruction in reading and writing. They will offer literacy activities which are demanding and fun alongside trips, perhaps to the zoo or a theme park, and drama.

Pupils will be chosen in consultation with parents and primary schools. All will have reached the reading standard expected of a nine-year-old. The aim will be to bring them up to the expected standard for an 11-year- old.

Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, announced the projects at Charles Brooke Girls' School in Lambeth, south London, one of the pilot schools. He said: "The first day at secondary school is a daunting experience for all pupils. No children should have the extra worry of being left behind in reading skills. By supporting our children and helping them improve their basic skills they can face the demands of secondary education with confidence."

Summer schools have been tried in some American cities, such as Chicago, with limited success. When the scheme is voluntary, take-up is limited. When it is compulsory, it is little better. However, such schemes have usually concentrated on children with the lowest literacy levels rather than those who are a couple of years behind the expected standard.

In Britain, Birmingham ran a week-long reading and writing programme last summer for 25 pupils in the first year of secondary school. The children, who were picked by their schools, were taught reading through music, movement and games. About 200 ten and 11-year-olds will take part in a similar programme this year as part of the city's University of the First Age, which offers pupils the chance to pursue a subject in more depth.

Michael Barber, government adviser on standards, predicted that there would be a strong demand for places at the new summer schools. "I would expect that many of them will be turning children away. But it depends on the programmes which are developed which will be a mix of structured teaching which is demanding and fun with a range of other activities."

Mary Mensa Bonsi, aged 14, a pupil at Charles Brooke, said she would have had mixed feelings about joining a summer school. "I would have been a bit upset about giving up my summer holiday, but I think it would be worth it. If they are going to do activities then that would have made it better."

Linda Mann, the school's head of English, who will help to plan the programme, thought the scheme would give pupils more confidence, but she added: "I don't want to see any erosion of teachers' holidays. Teachers work very hard in term-time."

Money for the scheme will be diverted from the Grant Maintained Schools Foundation which was set up by the last government to promote opted out schools.