Janet Street-Porter: Our disaffected children need fun

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The Independent Online

It might be a gloomy, wet July, but up to a million teenagers have nothing to look forward to this August - even if the sun finally makes a prolonged appearance. It's ironic that as the new children's Secretary, Ed Balls, announces a 10-year youth strategy, including raising the school-leaving age to 18, with better teaching to raise levels of numeracy and literacy, no mention is made about what happens to the kids once schools have broken up for the summer.

Mr Balls promises subsidies so that children from poorer households can spend at least two hours a week after school doing group activities during term time - but what happens the rest of the year?

During the coming summer break, more than half of all parents will struggle to find the money to pay for adequate supervision of their younger children - and that's if they can even find somewhere for them to spend their time. The number of full-time places offering holiday child-care has fallen by 30 per cent, and the average cost is a hefty £83 a week, a considerable sum for a working mum to find. The Make Space Youth Review, launched by Lily Allen yesterday, talked to 16,000 teenagers for the charity 4Children, and found that when they were not at school over half were likely to be victims of crime, especially if they lived in deprived areas. Four out of 10 young people said they were bored and hung around on street corners because there was nothing to do where they lived.

Unless teenagers have places they can make noise, listen to music, learn practical skills like how to repair cars and bikes and use computers creatively, they will commit crimes and be lured into gangs. It's not exactly rocket science, is it? The 4Children Review calls for youth centres to be set up in every community, and "young mayors" to be elected, giving teenagers a chance to participate in local issues which will affect them.

While the government has prioritised nursery places and pre-school care, it has not bothered to provide anything much for those of secondary school age when they are not being taught - the same age-group we are busy demonising with Asbos. The obvious solution is to use school buildings during the holidays, when they lie empty. Even when more schools switch to a shorter summer break, buildings should be utilised far more. In the 21st century, we have to make schools the focal point in the community for all children up to 18. At the moment, Britain spends a pitiful 17 pence per young person per day on youth services - and we wonder why we have disaffected kids roaming the streets.

Care of the young needs to happen every single week of the year. How ridiculous is it to teach French in one period a fortnight in many secondary schools when during holidays groups could easily and cheaply be taken to France on mini-breaks? They'd all be speaking French within a month. The same with history. Kids need to be taken to castles, museums and archaeological sites to make the past come alive. We should try and use every break from term as a way of giving something special to our kids.

Citizenship classes, table manners and social skills are all well and good, but evenings and holidays are a chance to get another kind of input, by having fun. We need to stop blaming parents and start finding ways to engage with the young every single day - paying teachers, youth workers and classroom assistants properly to extend their hours and their input.

The countryside is not a museum, Bill

He might be top of the bestsellers, but the appointment of the American travel writer Bill Bryson as President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England is a bit nauseating. His inaugural speech announced big campaigns against litter, fly-tipping and pylons, and he wants to increase the amount of woodland. Mr Bryson must remember that the countryside is not set in aspic. There is a tendency to forget that much of what we see as arable land now used to be a Lowryesque industrial landscape with mills, mines and rubbish tips. I love the countryside, but it must be relevant to the present, not a theme park celebrating the past. We have to be able to demolish redundant buildings and build new housing if the countryside is to house vibrant communities.

* Annie Lennox had a rant about media reaction to the Live Earth concert, claiming that lots of negative reporting obscured the real need to get an important message across. We all know the dangers facing the planet, but maybe we don't want to be reminded of it by people who live in several homes and whose central heating needs would probably run a small African township.

Now, global warming claims another casualty as arable farmers switch to crops used for bio fuels. Italian farmers are cashing in on the soaring demand and abandoning growing Durum wheat, traditionally used to make pasta, after a poor harvest brought on by wet weather across Europe. Italian pasta makers are trying to source wheat from elsewhere, but a shortage of the grain (which now costs 50 per cent more than it did in January) has meant that prices for pasta at your local grocers are set to rise by 20 per cent in the coming months. A big bowl of pasta used to be a way of filling up cheaply. Not any more.

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