Support centres offer chance of quiet study for busy pupils: Scheme to tackle homework problems. Fran Abrams reports

A NETWORK of study centres is to be launched to help children who have to do their homework in noisy or cramped conditions at home, the Prince of Wales will disclose today.

Research commissioned by the Prince's Trust has shown pilot centres in eight schools have helped improve exam results as well as giving pupils a new belief that school is worthwhile.

In one school, the number of 16-year-olds passing exams soared in the two years after a centre was opened, from 36 per cent to 76 per cent in science and from 39 per cent to 62 per cent in maths.

The scheme is already operating successfully in Belfast, London, Ayrshire, Liverpool and Bradford. Today the Prince will announce during a visit to Sarah Bonnell School in Newham, east London, that it is to go nation-wide.

A two-year evaluation by Professor John MacBeath of the University of Strathclyde has found that nine out of ten pupils thought the scheme had increased their chances of passing exams as well as making school work easier and more enjoyable.

Seven out of ten pupils told researchers they had to carry out domestic duties at home such as looking after younger children, helping with housework or cooking.

Although many children said their parents gave them help or encouragement with their homework, more than nine out of ten said they needed somewhere to go to work.

After using the centres, pupils were more likely to enjoy school, to get on with their teachers and to find their work interesting. One Muslim girl who attended the Bradford study support centre said: 'Before study support it was just a dream that I could pass my GCSEs. Study support has made that dream come true and now I plan to go on to university and study medicine.'

A 16-year-old boy from the Tom Hood School in Leytonstone, east London, said he had noticed that the one-to- one attention offered in the sessions led to pupils getting on better with their teachers.

Professor MacBeath said the centres were possibly the most significant recent development in tackling low achievement.

'Parents, pupils, teachers all agree on one thing - study support is the best thing that has happened in their school. It has opened doors to pupils that were previously closed, raising achievement, self-confidence and a new belief that school is actually worthwhile after all. Many of these young people have been given a new lease of life,' he said.

Teachers are unable to teach properly because they are spending too much time on assessment, according to a report from school inspectors. The Office for Standards in Education says tests are important for raising standards but the present arrangements are too complicated.

The report shows that fewer than 5 per cent of secondary schools took last summer's national curriculum tests for 14-year-olds which were boycotted by three teachers' unions.

(Photograph omitted)

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