Education Quandary: Local authorities now have to offer out-of-school activities by law, but children in many deprived areas still aren't getting any. What can be done?

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Out-of-school activities are good for motivating young people and building their confidence – and it gives them something to put on their CV. According to the public services team at the law firm Cobbetts, local authorities have an obligation to provide such activities for all school-aged children – within the limits of what is affordable and practical – and they are charged by equality legislation with making sure that what is available is offered in a way that adheres to issues of fairness and equality.

Most out-of-school activities are organised by individual schools, however, so local authorities should be surveying what is available to school-aged children in their area and making sure there is no bias against any one group. If your authority is not doing this, "pressure can be put on LEAs as democratic and responsible public bodies in a number of ways to find out their information and, if necessary, make sure, with the benefit of that information, that policies are being pursued to ensure compliance, particularly for the sake of economically disadvantaged children," Cobbetts advises.

Cobbetts also says that local authorities will become more accountable if the Equality Bill becomes law as this will require them to consider how they could make decisions that might help to reduce the inequalities associated with socio-economic disadvantage.

So don't stand by and see a bad situation continue. Put pressure on your LEA to fulfil its obligation to all the children for which it is responsible.

Readers' advice

Most of my pupils prefer to go straight home after school and play with their friends. The cul-de-sacs and side streets of their estate seem to me to be a safe enough environment for their bike-riding and soccer games, and I rather admire their independence and refusal to be organised.

Caro Stedman, Manchester

I believe that children in deprived areas need creative activities. They are often the least receptive so it is hard work and calls on the ingenuity of community artists, but I've seen it work. Teachers have had enough by the end of the day and want to get out of school. Artists come unfettered by educational targets and are prepared to listen to what kids say. They don't come cheap but they use a philosophy that one hopes might be maintained in the daily curriculum of every school.

Joyce Morris, Lancashire

What this reader ignores is that it is not just providing out-of-school activities that makes the difference, but making sure children can use them. This ranges from looking into transport arrangements and whether they have responsibilities such as taking younger brothers and sisters home after school, to helping them develop the personal confidence to make the most of what is available. This takes skilled leadership and good family liaison. Activities on their own are not enough.

Stewart Jamieson, Buckinghamshire

Next Week's Quandary

My 11-year-old boy longs to be in teams like his sporty friends but is never chosen. These constant setbacks are helping to build his resilience, but doesn't every child matter when it comes to selecting teams? Or is such an inclusive goal impossible to achieve within sports education?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet. com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are at www.hilarywilce.com where they can be searched by topic.

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