After-school clubs 'have worst standards of care'

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The Independent Online

The Government's much-vaunted after-school and out-of-hours clubs have the worst standards of any form of childcare provision in the country, according to a report by inspectors.

Audits of more than 25,000 childcare establishments in the past year showed one in nine of all out-of-hours schemes (11 per cent) to be inadequate, compared with just 4 per cent overall - either by failing to provide adequate safety standards or healthy food.

Ministers have told all schools that they must operate childcare provision from 8am until 6pm by the end of the decade. The report, Early Years: Safe and Sound, labelled as inadequate 250 of 2,400 out-of-school clubs visited.

Of the 2,400, 7 per cent had inadequate arrangements for child safety, while 4 per cent failed to provide healthy food. Overall, inspectors from the education watchdog Ofsted were encouraged by their findings - concluding that the vast majority of registered childcare providers ensured their charges were kept safe and were well cared for.

The best provision was among childminders - only 2 per cent of whom were labelled inadequate.

Dorian Bradley, Ofsted's director of early years, said: "I am not the first to say, 'the largest room in the world is the room for improvement'. All of us want to see more outstanding practice. There's a lot still to be done to achieve a first-class service for our children."

Examples of inadequate safety care included:

* Adult supervisors who had not been vetted for criminal records;

* Parental concerns not being passed to managers because staff were worried about what would happen;

* Lack of training to spot signs of child abuse;

* Unsupervised entrances risking unauthorised entry.

On health, inspectors uncovered cases where adults had been smoking and had not ventilated rooms before the children arrived.

Some establishments' menus failed to take into account child allergies, provide a balanced diet or encourage healthy eating.

Inspectors also received 1,500 complaints about provision during the year.

These included a child smacking, someone living in a childminder's house who was not suitable to have unsupervised access to children, a child left unattended in a car and poor supervision leading to bullying.

Ofsted said inadequate judgments had increased from 1 to 4 per cent of all settings in the past year because it had "raised the bar" on inspections.

The watchdog will no longer give a satisfactory rating to providers that fail regulations. In the past, providers who only fell foul of one regulation could escape an inadequate rating.

In extreme circumstances, Ofsted has the power to close a provider. In the first instance, though, it demands improvement.

Overall (including previous audits) 4 per cent of settings were rated as outstanding, 55 per cent good, 38 per cent satisfactory and 3 per cent inadequate.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "This report shows that the vast majority of parents can be very confident their children are kept safe and healthy. She said more investment was expected to improve quality. So far a total of £160m has been invested in out-of-hours provision, with a further £680m planned in the next two years.