is study day
Saturday school: a classroom
revolution is helping children fulfil their potential.
Walking into the ground-floor classroom at Southfields Community
College is rather like stepping inside a church. Outside, it's all
echoing corridors and noisy voices but, in here, a dozen children
are sitting in silence, hunched quietly and thoughtfully over their
And it's not even a normal school day. It's a Saturday. So, while
their friends are all lolling around at home watching television,
or out in the sunshine playing sport, these young students, aged
between six and 16, are grappling with the complexities of English
grammar and algebraic equations.
They are not the only ones in the country who are doing so, either.
According to a survey conducted by the Specialist Schools and Academies
Trust (SSAT), 24 per cent of schools now run Saturday classes.
"There is a quiet revolution going on in our schools,"
declares the SSAT's chief executive Elizabeth Reid. "It is
being led by dynamic head teachers and school leaders, and their
work is going a long way to help many more young people fulfil their
Speaking of dynamic, advocates of Saturday school don't come more
unstoppable than Mo Laycock, head teacher of Firth Park Community
Arts College, in Sheffield. "With us, Saturday school is non-negotiable,"
she says. "If students are told they need to come in to Saturday
classes, they accept that if they don't, then Mrs Laycock will come
around to their house and pull them out of their smelly pits.
"We want our children to be as successful as they can be and
if that means them putting in extra study time, then so be it."
At Firth, as elsewhere in the country, the prospect of having to
go into school on a Saturday isn't always 100 per cent popular,
either among the children or their parents. But Mrs Laycock is unrepentant.
"It's fair to say that not all parents are as supportive of
their children's education as they might be," she says. "We
take account of that but, at the same time, our job is to teach
to the best of our ability and we are committed to ensuring that
our students leave this college holding a ticket to success."
What's more, there are plenty of parents prepared to pay for that
ticket. Most of the pupils at the Southfields Saturday school are
in the state sector during the week, but their parents are prepared
to pay £15 an hour at weekends for their children to have
extra English and maths lessons.
"The fact is that in a normal, everyday class of 30, a child
can get lost and fall behind," says geography teacher Esther
de Groot, who is one of the Saturday Tuition School's principals
(it runs independently of the Community College, merely hiring its
rooms). "By contrast, our ratio here is one teacher to every
five children. We can take the time to explain things on a one-to-one
This is precisely what co-principal Edison Yarde is doing with
his pupils, gently steering them through the mists of GCSE maths.
"You can do this, you know you can," he urges one struggling
young teenager. "It's just the fractions that are throwing
Do the classes do any good? Definitely, says 16-year-old Tara Adesakin,
who is studying English in the next-door classroom. "I've improved
a lot since I've been here," she says. "I've got all the
GCSE revision notes I need, and I'm a lot more confident now in
The same goes for 13-year-old Joseph Banson, who is just putting
the finishing touches to his essay-cum-adventure-story, Trapped.
"I wasn't that good at English before I came here," he
says. "Now I enjoy writing and making up characters on paper.
And it's only two hours in the morning, so it doesn't mess up my
Saturday too much."
It's undoubtedly a big plus for all concerned that, for the most
part, pupils coming to these classes actually want to be there.
Mind you, if they do start messing around, there's always a ready
"You simply mention it to their parents when they come to
collect their children," says de Groot. "Because they're
paying for these classes, mums and dads want to know if their children
aren't applying themselves properly."
But there is one difficulty facing Saturday students. When they
go back to their weekday school, they can find themselves being
mocked by their friends for taking work seriously.
"It is a problem," admits Burgette Stewart, who, 10 years
ago, founded the Summit Saturday School in Battersea, mainly for
children from ethnic minority backgrounds.
"All I can say, though, is that coming here on a Saturday
makes our pupils stronger, somehow charges their batteries. As a
result, the teasing doesn't register quite so much."
By James Vaughan
Published: 21 Apr 2009 (Daily Telegraph)