After hours childcare solves missing link

Seven early-year centres around the country yesterday became the first to join a flagship Government scheme to end the divide between nursery schooling and childcare. Lucy Ward, Education Correspondent, visited one of the pioneering "one-stop shops."

For some of the three- and four-year-olds at Pembury House Centre for Childhood, in Haringey, north London, 3.15pm means home time. For others, the end of the school day signals a switch to play time, with songs, reading and rhymes and a snack in the hall until mum or dad arrives at 5.45pm to collect them.

The mix of care and education, launched at the start of this term, has already been seized on by parents in the deprived borough. The arrangement offers parents affordable and reliable childcare for an hour before school and two-and-a-half hours afterwards, allowing them time to work, study or search for a job.

Pembury House's efforts to bridge the gap between the needs of parents and children have impressed the Government. Jointly with a neighbouring centre, also run by Haringey and offering babycare, nursery and adult education, Pembury is one of seven centres named yesterday as "beacons of excellence" to spread primary ideas across early-years services.

The common factor linking each pilot scheme is an emphasis on integrating early education, childcare and family services to meet the needs of both children and parents, including those who work or bring up a family single- handed.

Pembury House, which also runs training for adults in childcare and playwork on site, has a history of adapting to parents' requirements.

The original building, thrown up in the Second World War, with an air raid shelter in the garden, provided nursery care for children whose mothers were busy with war work.

The present centre, housed in a bright, purpose-designed building, opened last year, will offer a holiday club for children, together with a parent and toddler club and talks for parents on child health and education.

So far, eight families use the before-and-after-school care, priced at pounds 2.20 an hour, with concessions for those on benefits. Others say the option has freed them to look for work.