Regulation of child care must be reformed if Labour’s policy on extended schools is to succeed, writes Amanda Argent
Extended schools need not be an extension of school as such. Children should be given the chance to participate in activities as part of a quality service that places the school at the heart of every community.
However, if the government has any hope of meeting its 2010 target for all schools to open from 8am-6pm all year, regulation and inspection regimes for child care provision must be reformed.
Currently, a wealth of experience – but a lack of qualifications – rules out opportunities for skilled workers. When looking after under-eights for longer than two hours, after-school club leaders are required by Ofsted to hold the child care NVQ level 3 or equivalent, with half of the remaining staff holding level 2. Staff with many years’ child care experience, including those who work in a school, are not recognised by Ofsted because they are not formally qualified.
Moreover, regulatory requirements for providing care on school premises are more onerous than those applicable to the school. The Ofsted inspectors often refuse to allow clubs operating on school premises to make use of rooms and facilities that children have used during the day. Sometimes this has prevented clubs using their schools’ IT suites, for example, simply because they are on a different floor from the toilets.
With after-school provision running along the same lines as nurseries, wouldn’t it be fair if parents could receive nursery-type benefits, such as vouchers? Unfortunately they cannot.
The cost of after-school child care remains high. Working parents can claim back some of the cost through the working tax credit but those not in work must bear the full burden.
More than three-quarters of Schoolfriend Clubs are in deprived areas, reaching more than 120,000 children and funded through parents, councils, charitable trusts and other sources. But for this initiative to make a difference to children’s lives, more investment is needed from government directly to providers. This is investment in the future.
Amanda Argent is chief executive of Schoolfriend Etc