'Extended schools' plan to boost childcare

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The Independent Online

The Education Secretary Charles Clarke today laid out plans which will see primary pupils in England staying at school up to 10 hours a day - even during the holidays.

The Education Secretary Charles Clarke today laid out plans which will see primary pupils in England staying at school up to 10 hours a day - even during the holidays.

Mr Clarke wants schools to set up breakfast clubs, after-school activities and holiday play schemes to help hard-pressed working parents with childcare.

Some 1,000 primaries will be "extended schools" by 2008, offering places for up to 50,000 children. In time, the scheme will be rolled out to all 20,000 English primaries and eventually secondary schools too.

A recent report by the influential Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee identified the network of school buildings, which often lie empty outside lesson time, as "an under-used resource".

Mr Clarke said he wanted schools to become "community hubs", offering nurseries, early-years centres and health facilities for parents. He pledged a "childcare guarantee" of additional support for parents during their children's first years.

"Wrap-around" facilities at primary schools are designed to ease headaches for parents who currently have to arrange for childminders to drop off or pick up their children, as well as finding extra childcare places during holidays.

With increasing numbers of single parents and working mothers, the tradition of mums waiting at the school gates for the school bell to send their children running out has become an impossibility for many families.

"Parents and children too often have to move between nursery, school, childminder and childcare club to obtain the childcare they need," Mr Clarke told delegates at the Every Childhood Matters conference in London.

"We need to create a universal one-stop service for parents and we expect to make significant progress over the next five years. Schools will be at the heart of this."

The scheme - first announced in Mr Clarke's five-year education plan in July - will not mean teachers working longer hours or children spending more time in lessons.

Private childcare providers, parents' groups and voluntary organisations are expected to provide staff for additional facilities, which are hoped to include sports, art and music clubs.

Primaries which do not have enough space to offer out-of-hours care will link up with other nearby schools to ensure their pupils have somewhere safe to go when lessons end.

"It will take time for all schools to make an 'extended schools' offer to their parents - either on their own or in partnership with other schools close by," said Mr Clarke.

"But we want it to happen and we will be providing practical help, training, capital funding, as well as some revenue support to help roll out the strategy across the country and to make a reality of a childcare guarantee for parents."

Parents will pay for childcare provided on school premises, often by using the tax credits to which 90% of families with young children are entitled.

A survey by the charity 4Children, organiser of today's conference, indicated that many schools were well-prepared to extend their opening hours.

All of the 1,100 schools responding to the survey had some form of out-of-hours learning or study support and around two-thirds said they wanted to become extended schools.

Some 47% already had a breakfast club, 34% after-school activities and 39% holiday play schemes.

Other childcare commitments under the five-year plan include:



  • Sure Start Children's Centres offering childcare, education, health and employment advice and parenting support under one roof for all children under five in the 20% most disadvantaged areas of England by 2008.



  • Twelve and a half hours of free pre-school "educare" - integrated education and childcare - a week for three and four-year-olds.

Mr Clarke said: "Children are our most precious asset. How we nurture, care and support them in their early years is a fundamental test of whether a society values individuals and believes in opportunity for all."

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