Schools should stay open at evenings, weekends and holidays to provide activities and support for pupils, the children’s commissioner for England has said.
Commissioner Anne Longfield said in Guess How Much We Love You: A Manifesto for Children – published ahead of a possible general election – that schools could offer activities such as arts, drama and digital citizenship and provide youth support.
This would mean "all schools should stay open in evenings and weekends and throughout school holidays", the manifesto says.
She added that having safe spaces available in schools out-of-hours could also counter vulnerable children being seen as "easy pickings" by gangs and troublemakers.
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Ms Longfield said in her manifesto that schools should stay open as children told her they no longer felt safe on the streets and there was “a generation of battery children, increasingly static and reliant on technology for amusement and social interaction”.
She said "safe spaces" such as schools were needed to combat obesity, increase children’s social and civic participation and offer “a meaningful alternative to an iPhone”.
Otherwise children could be prey to gangs, which “operate openly in streets and parks, and groom increasingly younger children”.
Disengaged and marginalised children were “easy pickings for gangs and other trouble makers”, but any child at a loose end after school might become involved as “the school day has not kept up with changes in family working patterns which see children returning home to empty houses”.
Benefits would include broader access to education, help for parents with childcare, tackling gangs and improved mental health and social skills for children.
She said the cost of these additional services “must not be borne by schools and teachers”.
Ms Longfield said she had issued the manifesto because: “Children do not have a vote. Unless political parties choose to listen to them, they do not have a voice. I am the eyes and ears of children in the Whitehall system and I see far, far too often the interests of children being subjugated to the interests of others – of business, or of bureaucracies, or of adults who do have votes and whose views are therefore counted.
“We should be ashamed that there are literally millions of kids in England not having the childhood we in a decent society would want them to have. Yet none of this is inevitable: we get the society we choose. The right help at the right time pays dividends – to the children, to society and the public purse, now and in the future.”
Her manifesto also calls for police officers, youth workers and mental health counsellors to be attached to all schools.
Youth workers would work with children at risk of exclusion, while counsellors would offer a more rapid and convenient mental health service than at present.
Ms Longfield said there must also be adequate funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities, including pre-statutory support.
She said the system was “patching up problems and failing kids rather than helping them”, by failing to provide early support such as speech and language therapy, and creating long waiting lists for assessments for suspected autism and what she called “soaring exclusions”.
The manifesto said the Troubled Families programme should be expanded to cover 500,000 households delivered through an extended network of family support centres in the most deprived areas, building on existing children’s centres and extended school opening hours.
It also urged the creation of a cross-departmental cabinet committee for children to give them “the priority they are screaming out for at the top of government”.