New before- and after-school childcare plans expected

Ministers are expected shortly to set out plans to tackle the shortage and affordability of before and after-school care for children in England.

The government’s Commission on Childcare took evidence last summer on how to overcome the barriers to parents accessing such care.

It is expected to change the rules covering unregistered carers looking after children and the premises used.

Schools are also likely to be urged to work more closely with private firms.

It comes after a report this week from the Family and Childcare Trust warned that more children could be left home alone this summer because of rises in fees and a shortage of places.

But the issue of a lack of holiday and after-school care is a long-standing one that has troubled many parents.

In the early 1990s, there was an unprecedented expansion in out-of-school care, with the number of settings increasing from several hundred to an estimated 5,000 in England by 2002.

But a lack of support and sustainability has led to many closures of breakfast clubs and holiday play schemes. And this means that in some parts of the country there is a severe lack of access to after-school care.

The Pre-School Learning Alliance, which represents 14,000 day nurseries, pre-schools, and parent and toddler groups warned in their response to the consultation: “The current economic climate is seeing many parents working longer hours, which often mean early starts, late finishes and/or changing shift patterns.

“Wraparound and holiday provision is not always flexible enough to encompass these changing work patterns, or if the childcare is there it is expensive for those early or late hours.”

It added: “Several of our members have commented on the diminution of support over recent years from their traditional representative organisation. The re-establishment of a provision champion seems to be needed.”

One of the problems is that different families have different routines and so have different needs from the same provider, said the alliance.

“Some working parents with school-age children need a weekday breakfast club before school and an after-school club to look after their children from 15:30 until early evening, as well as a holiday club during the school holidays for approximately 14 weeks per year.”

I haven’t seen much about holiday work, but recently I’ve been working on a voluntary basis in a school in Torquay, where I had previously taught on a teaching placement before Christmas. I helped with the after school club there which started from 15:25 and finished at around 18:00, and saw a wide variety of children, most from disadvantaged families, but some due to parents working. The children can be signed out of the club earlier than 18:00 and most of them are so there is that flexibility there, but it is not easy as the members of staff who run it aren’t necessarily given a decent budget to provide a dinner for the children, often resorting to sandwiches or packets of crisps as cheaper alternatives. This is the only school that I have seen this service provided for though, and I really think more schools should be buying into this approach. I hope to see schools and other institutions getting involved, even if it means that the government or local firms need to put their hands into their pockets a bit.

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