Harman's after school care dream holed by lack of staff

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Training for the new after-school clubs will have to begin "immediately" if the scheme is to succeed, the Kids' Club Network warned yesterday. As the Government outlined details of how a million children can be cared for, Glenda Cooper, Social Affairs Correspondent, looks at how the clubs will work.

Accessibility, affordability and quality were the three key words for after-school clubs, the Secretary of State for Social Security, Harriet Harman, told lone parents yesterday. Revealing that three quarters of the money for the clubs would come from the National Lottery, she reiterated the Chancellor's pledge that there would be a club in each community.

But the Kids' Club Network (KCN), which oversees the present 3,000 clubs, said that training would have to begin "this Monday" if enough staff were to be trained in time.The pressure group Gingerbread also called for lone parents to also be allowed to access the wage and training subsidy for childcare trainees at present open only to 18-24-year-olds.

Around pounds 100m from the welfare-to-work programme will be used to train 50,000 young people as nursery and play staff, leading to qualifications, Ms Harman told the National Council for One Parent Families annual conference.

Assistants at an after-school club should have an NVQ level 2 in playwork and co-ordinators a level 3, said Anne Longfield, director of the KCN. But at present less than 50 colleges are offering the qualification which takes between six months and a year to complete. The KCN are also worried that the price of the course (between pounds 600 and pounds 800) may put people off. "We would want the Government to give some help with the cost," said Ms Longfield. "And there must be a push to get more colleges on board to offer this qualification. Training will have to begin next Monday if there is to be enough staff available around the country."

Liz Sewell, of the lone parent group Gingerbread, called for lone parents on the new deal to get the same wage and training subsidy as young people if they became childcare trainees. "Many lone parents would welcome the opportunity to train if they were able to receive a benefit/wage subsidy and a budget towards training and kids' clubs would benefit from their existing child rearing experience," she said.

Ms Harman said that there would be no "national blueprint" for the clubs but that they would build on the existing models.

There is no one absolute for how an after-school club works. Rather they adapt to the community they exist in - whether a factory area in Manchester which copes with mothers working shift patterns, a deprived area of south London where parents are only charged pounds 1 a session, or an affluent middle class area where more is charged.

After-school clubs are generally based in schools, community centres, youth clubs and church halls. They generally open between 3.30 and 6.30pm although it varies from community to community. They are often set up by parents with input from the local school and sometimes with help from business as well.

Most are charities, although some are run as small businesses. For funding they rely on parental fees (typically around pounds 15 per week), fundraising activities and grants from the local authority. Many clubs offer a holiday scheme as well (when fees are around pounds 40 a week) and some offer breakfast time, recognising that many people need to be in the office before school starts.

Children have supervised activities which can range from games such as football to creative arts and crafts.The aim is to allow children to play in safety.

Such clubs are governed by the 1989 Children's Act, which states that when children under eight are being looked after for more than two hours a day the staff must be registered with local social services and subject to police checks. For every eight children there must be one member of staff.

It was also revealed yesterday the money for the clubs will come primarily from the lottery - pounds 220m out of pounds 300m. The rest has come from the Department for Education and Employment (pounds 50m) and pounds 30m from the windfall tax.