Headteachers hit out at new 'babysitting' role

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The Independent Online

Schools will become "a national babysitting service" as a result of government plans to force them to open from 8am to 6pm, the leader of Britain's biggest headteachers' organisation said yesterday.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it meant a 50-hour school week for some children - with headteachers seeing more of them than their parents. Mr Brookes told his union's annual conference in Harrogate that the "open all hours" policy also had "very worrying" implications for the workload of headteachers and he accused some parents of "washing their hands of parental responsibility".

Tony Blair set a deadline of 2010 for schools to come up with extended hours plans. But Mr Brookes urged heads to refuse to implement the policy. He said: "We must have the courage to put progress on hold if it threatens to further erode the work-life balance of school leaders and therefore damage the capacity of the school to fulfil its core purpose."

Mr Brookes said very few heads were aware, when the Government announced its plans, that "what we were being inveigled into was the administration of the national babysitting service".

He praised heads who had successfully carried out the Government's plans but warned of the financial perils of the extended hours scheme - with schools being allowed to charge for some out-of-hours activities but not others. Guidance from the Department for Education and Skills suggests schools could charge for sports clubs and child care but not for academic activities. Mr Brookes said this threatened "the loss of goodwill that may well see the end of the traditional after-school club".

Mr Brookes went on to warn that the past two terms had been "the worst in living memory partly as a result of having to deal with reforms introduced without sufficient thought or resource". And he added: "Why should you do something for free when your colleague is being paid for the same commitment of time?"

Delegates warned that the Government's initiative would exacerbate the headteacher recruitment crisis - half a million pupils in 1,200 schools are without a permanent headteacher.