School's out ? and keeping your children amused this summer could cost you £3,000

A new study confirms what many frustrated parents already know: that six weeks of organised activities are out of reach for many families. Robert Mendick reports
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The Independent Online

They have hung up their satchels, put away their books, and thrown away the school report. For children up and down the country, the next six weeks means unlimited enjoyment. For their parents it's an expensive and administrative nightmare.

They have hung up their satchels, put away their books, and thrown away the school report. For children up and down the country, the next six weeks means unlimited enjoyment. For their parents it's an expensive and administrative nightmare.

A new report reveals keeping children entertained through the six-week summer holiday will cost parents thousands of pounds – and sleepless nights trying to keep offspring entertained.

According to the study – the first into the cost of summer holiday childcare – the average family with three children will spend a minimum £1,150. In some areas, the average basic cost is closer to £3,000. And then there's all the extras of trips to theme parks, endless ice creams and burgers, holidays abroad and activity camps.

Parents, says the report, face a "gruelling" six weeks as they "struggle to juggle" demands of both children and work.

"Our survey highlights that summer holiday childcare is well beyond the reach of many families," said Stephen Burke, director of the Daycare Trust, the organisation which carried out the first study into holiday play schemes.

The new report, published tomorrow, will back growing calls for the six-week summer holiday to be replaced with a six-term school year that would shorten the summer break. The survey reveals basic holiday play schemes cost up to £900 per child during the six-week summer holiday – the average cost is £350. With day trips thrown in, costs quickly spiral out of control. Alton Towers, for example, Britain's premier theme park, costs £74 for a family ticket; a six-day riding course in Wales is £400 while activity camps, according to The Independent on Sunday's own inquiries, typically cost £400. Then there's football camps – about £10 a day – and art workshops at £25. Don't forget the endless forays to fast-food restaurants and weekly trips to the cinema.

"A family with three children could easily face a bill of more than £1,000 for care over the six-week summer holiday," said Mr Burke.

The report also highlighted a huge shortage of play schemes in rural areas and a lack of care for pre-school three- and four-year-olds and children aged 10 to 14.

"Finding and paying for summer holiday childcare is one of the biggest challenges facing parents this summer," concludes the report. "The high cost of childcare ... means many parents will face a gruelling six weeks as they struggle to juggle the demands of work and family life. Despite an increase in provision, there remains only enough out-of-school care for 6 per cent of school-aged children."

The survey looked at the cost of basic 10am-to-4pm childcare. Working parents would have to pay extra for nannies or childminders to take children to play schemes and pick them up afterwards.

Blanca Duindam, a single mother, is tearing her hair out worrying about how to keep her daughter Amanda occupied over the next six weeks. "It's such a struggle to find someone to look after an 11-and-a-half-year old," said Ms Duindam, a receptionist who lives in north London. "I still don't really know what I'm going to do. The whole nightmare starts in the summer. I could send her to a summer scheme but it costs £80 a week and I can't really afford that. I have sent her to the after-school club before but I wasn't impressed with the facilities. Child safety isn't a priority and there's a lot of bullying."

The Local Government Association published plans last December to introduce six terms a year in schools with the academic year beginning in August. Local education authorities are being encouraged to adopt the proposals, which could kick in as early as next year in some areas. Teachers are reluctant to accept the change.

But for parents who are not teachers, the six-week gap is a financial and planning disaster. Caroline Flint, a Labour MP and chair of the Commons All-Party Childcare Group, supports a change to the system. "It's a problem for parents juggling work and school holidays," said Ms Flint. "The six-term year would help parents in planning their own annual leave. At least families would not all have to take their annual holidays at the same time – driving up the cost of holidays when people can ill afford it."

Ms Flint believes that children's sophisticated tastes and parents' safety fears have also driven up costs. "When I was a child you were given a bottle of pop and a ham sandwich and parents didn't worry where you were for the whole day," she said. "Today parents are worried about their children's safety while children expect entertainments that cost a lot more than a sandwich and a bottle of pop."

A mother's story: Spending £361 on two youngsters in one week is child's play

By Victoria Summerley

Any school holiday is a nightmare for working mothers. There is no way – unless you're very rich – that you are going to get the whole six weeks off. So how do you make sure they are looked after and suitably entertained?

For me the summer holidays are made relatively simple because I'm divorced and the children – Rory, 12, and Nevada, eight – go to their father for half the time. I also have a nanny, Elaine, who works part-time as part of a nanny share. The rest of the time, my partner, who works at home, can be relied upon to help.

But in the end, it comes down to the same old equation: pay out for quality childcare and/or activities, or be made to feel guilty by bored children. Here are the sums.

Sunday: We go to Tulleys pick-your-own farm near Turner's Hill in Sussex. We pick far more than we need, and then there are ice creams and sandwiches to buy.

Total cost (including petrol and fruit): around £50

Monday: Rory and Nevada demand the £10 each I have promised them as a reward for good school reports. Children at home for lunch.

Total cost: £20

Tuesday: Rory and friend at home with the PlayStation and toasted sandwiches. Nevada is at an art workshop. All go to tea at nanny-share house.

Total cost: £25 for art workshop

Wednesday: Nevada to art workshop with packed lunch. Rory goes round to see his friend Michael, whose grandfather generously treats them to lunch at Pizza Express.

Total cost: £25 for art workshop

Thursday: Both Rory and Nevada to art workshop, with packed lunches. Michael is also going and he comes to ours for tea and sleepover. Bought Braveheart video (£4.99 in sale) for boys to watch.

Total cost: £54.99

Friday: Art workshop for Rory and friend, Nevada swimming with Elaine. I give Elaine £10 to cover admission, food and drink and new goggles for Nevada. Elaine's pay for the week is £160 but ex pays half, so cost to me is £80.

Total cost: £115

Saturday: New trainers for Rory, who of course is now into adult-sized – and priced – shoes. Buy children two bottles of mineral water costing an astonishing 60p each. All meals at home: we're still eating the pick-your-own fruit.

Total cost: £71.19

Total cost for the week: £361.18

Arty Party (020-7223 5917) runs art workshops in south-west London, during the summer holidays