After-school clubs need care and attention

A switch of approach, from one of childcare to instead providing extracurricular activities, could transform lives

After-school clubs need care

At this time of year, children come home with an array of leaflets offering exciting opportunities, from karate and football to dance and drama. The result for some kids is a weekly schedule that would make a workaholic feel overwhelmed. Then there is the group of children whose parents can’t afford to fork out for activities or transport.

The Scottish government is set on closing the attainment gap, but it won’t do that without narrowing the gulf between children’s experiences outside of school. Learning is, of course, about teachers and classrooms, but it is also about the skills children learn, the places they see, and the array of people they get to mix with.

Going on outdoor adventures with the Beavers or competing as part of a team will keep those children who have the access ahead of their less-fortunate peers. So how do we redress the balance? By getting better at exploiting the opportunities presented by after-school clubs. Too often these are viewed simply as childcare. Instead, they should be seen as a chance to give all children access to the kind of broader experiences schools wish they could offer as part of the curriculum.

According to the Care Inspectorate, 981 registered out-of-school care services are operating in Scotland – up from 686 in 2012. Most of these (642) are private, voluntary, third-sector or charitable organisations. A minority (96) are delivered directly by the local authority.

I’m not suggesting that teachers should take on a role in these clubs. But what they offer could be planned in conjunction with schools, and they should be encouraged and supported to exploit the resources that exist in many areas – from swimming pools and tennis courts to play parks, libraries and community woodland. Currently, many after-school clubs lurk in a borrowed corner of the school building, and attendees can be explicitly banned from touching the school’s equipment and resources.

There are horror stories about poor-quality provision, such as the after-school club in Renfrewshire that allowed children to run up credit in the tuck shop buying sweets and fizzy drinks they should never have been offered, which they had to pay back by doing chores such as vacuuming.

However, for the most part, these services provide a safe environment where children can pass the time until their parents finish work. A recent survey of more than 650 children found 76 per cent agreed that they were “quite happy” at their after-school club. Still, “quite happy” is hardly a ringing endorsement and one can’t help but wonder: what did the other quarter have to say? Parents were more enthusiastic. A survey of almost 300 parents who were using after-school care found 91 per cent agreed that they were “happy with the quality of the service”.

It feels, though, like we are continuing to miss a trick and it would seem that the Scottish government knows it. It has opened a consultation that it hopes will reveal more about how it could support families to access high-quality, flexible and affordable services.

In rural areas, after-school provision is often sparse – 76 per cent of Scotland’s after-school clubs are based in urban areas. Outside of these areas, the provision that does exist is fragile and can be tough to sustain, as demand fluctuates. My own local after-school club closed days before the start of the new term.

But if these resources weren’t largely about childcare, then perhaps they could draw in a larger crowd and become affordable for all by tapping into some of the huge investment being made to close the attainment gap. In short, after-school clubs should be less about marking time until Mum and Dad arrive, and more about making the extracurricular experiences promoted on leaflets in school bags a possibility for all.

@Emma_Seith

This article originally appeared in the 6 SEPTEMBER 2019 issue under the headline “Let’s breathe some life into the dead time of after-school clubs”