Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Tuesday, 30 March 2010 15:27 UK

Saturday school for 'poor' pupils

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter, Manchester

Michael Gove
Michael Gove wants more children to benefit from lessons outside school

England's disadvantaged children should be able to attend school on Saturday to give them better access to sport, music and extra tuition, the Tories say.

Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove says middle class parents took their children to extra activities at the weekend, while poor children lost out.

Extra lessons could help close the gap between rich and poor, he said at the ATL teaching union conference.

It came as the union said more needed to be done to help poor white boys.

Attending school on a Saturday morning has traditionally been the preserve of the independent school sector, although the concept has spilled into the state sector, with some schools offering extra tuition at weekends.

Teachers unsure

Now, the Tories say, they want to see this practice extended.

Mr Gove told the Assoication of Teachers and Lecturers' conference in Manchester: "Children who come from homes where parents don't have the resources to provide additional stretch and cultural experiences could benefit from being in school for longer."

Mr Gove said he had been influenced by Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers.

This suggests the attainment gap between wealthier and poorer children grows over the summer holidays, because wealthier parents provide a range of cultural experiences for their children.

"I believe that having children in school for longer - particularly if they come from disadvantaged backgrounds - can be a real help in closing that attainment gap."

But teachers themselves may need some convincing.

I am not sure whether taking a child away at the weekends is going to make them cleverer in the week
Margaret Morrisey

Parents Outloud

Delegates at the conference laughed when he said Saturday schools needed to have the "enthusiastic support of teachers" if they were to be successful.

General secretary of the ATL, Dr Mary Bousted, said more teachers would be needed to resource extra schooling.

"If Saturday schools result in teachers being exhausted from overworking and means that they underperform for the rest of the week, then it's not a good idea."

Teachers already worked the most unpaid overtime in the public sector, she added.

Margaret Morrissey, from the Parents Outloud campaign group, said individual support would be more successful than Saturday schools in raising aspirations.

"I think the suggestion made by the government about one to one support would be a more preferable way to improve these children," she said.

Role models

"I am not sure whether taking a child away at the weekends is going to make them cleverer in the week - what we should be doing is supporting these pupils within the school week."

The measure would also have huge practical implications for schools, she added.

Just before Mr Gove addressed the conference, ATL delegates passed a motion to do more to promote suitable role models for white-working class boys.

Ian Bonner, a supply teacher from Cheshire, said nothing had been done for these children, who had been under-performing for years.

Mr Bonner said the benefits culture, dissatisfaction, bad behaviour, the curriculum and a sense of pointlessness could all be to blame.

"I think they are not motivated to learn because they see the education provided for them as irrelevant and pointless," he told the conference.

"They do not see it as relevant because they do not see people in society who came from their background making the news in a positive manner."

Stephen Waldron, from Sir Thomas Boteler Church of England School in Warrington, said: "If we don't intervene, where are the role models going to be for the generation growing up?"

The ATL agreed to put pressure on other bodies, such as the TUC, to address the problem, but stopped short of agreeing to support positive discrimination for this social group.

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