Martyn Blythin stands back and surveys a scene he could scarcely have believ-ed would have been possible 12 months ago. In front of him, 10 excited children race around, torn between the computers, the board games or the inviting arts and crafts paraphernalia which decorate their new after-school home.
If Mr Blythin allows himself a quiet smile of satisfaction, it is understandable. For this is a moment which he and many others have laboured long and hard for. It is the opening of "Bod's", a small after-school club at Bodnant junior school in Prestatyn, north Wales, where Mr Blythin has been headteacher for the past 10 years. He says the club would still be on the drawing board if it had not been for the New Opport-unities Fund, a Government-sponsored scheme to distribute National Lottery money to education, health and environmental projects.
The fund has provided pound;7,500 to kick-start Bod's by financing a playworker and an assistant, plus equipment ranging from scissors and glue, to comfortable chairs, computer games and even a computer. It will offer places for up to 24 youngsters every day, from 3.20pm-5.30pm.
Prestatyn is a gently crumbling holiday town on the Irish Sea, where parents and teachers have been calling for a dedicated after-school club for the junior school ever since a similar facility was established at Bodnant infants in 1990.
After exploring many potential funding avenues without success, supporters had to face the possibility that the club would never happen. Then along came the NOF. As well as helping working parents, Mr Blythin says it will benefit the town's many unemployed mothers and fathers, or those wanting to go to college.
Bod's became a success story which stands to be repeated throughout the United Kingdom. It was one of 115 projects to be allocated funds from the New Opportunities Fund - the title given to the money from the National Lottery which is to be spent, by public demand, supporting health and education.
A total of pound;200 million has so far been earmarked for childcare services of the kind that Bod's is providing. This will pay for nearly a million new childcare places in after and before-school clubs, holiday clubs and childminder networks to the year 2003. A further pound;205 million is being set aside for extra-curricular school clubs with the emphasis on learning, to provide everything from supervised homework and study clubs to sports and Internet tuition for youngsters before and after school. At least pound;25 million will fund summer school learning projects.
Half of all UK secondary and special schools, and a quarter of all primaries, are expected to benefit from this learning fund by 2001.
So what does the NOF pay for, and how can schools access this potential windfall?
The scope of out-of-school-hours learning activities is wide, but it has two basic rules. The first is that projects should complement, rather than replace, activities which take place within the normal school day. Partnerships with the community are encouraged, so schools may work with parents, community groups, business, local authorities, and existing childcare or learning clubs.
Activities could, therefore, include a school arranging a visit to a museum once a week, or sports clubs running coaching sessions for youngsters. Local authorities can co-ordinate projects across several schools. Among the many other possibilities the NOF suggests are: voluntary work, mentoring projects, family learning and study weeks or weekends.
Under the childcare fund, applications could cover holiday playcare schemes, integrated childcare and learning activities, or childcare centred on a particular recreational activity. Bids do not have to come from schools, voluntary groups and existing clubs can also apply.
Both schemes aim to create new opportunities for children, rather than finance current provision. Existing projects which apply will only receive funding to expand the number of places or activities they offer.
The other major rule concerns social disadvantage. The out-of-school-hours learning fund, for example, is designed to help children from poorer backgrounds access the sort of educational support many middle class youngsters already enjoy at home, and the distribution of cash will reflect this.
Thus NOF expects to award half of the pound;205 million for learning projects in the primary sector to the most disadvantaged 15 per cent of primary schools, and half of its post-11 funding to the poorest quarter of all secondary schools. Schools in Education Action Zones in England, and those previously involved in the Raising School Standards Iniative in Northern Ireland, will be given priority, while free school meals statistics will also influence an application's chances. All applications must show how they will help disadvantaged children.
Schools in less deprived areas should not despair, however. The NOF organisers recognise that few state schools educate children from exclusively prosperous backgrounds. Any application which can show how out-of-school hours provision can meet a proven educational need - including, for example, offering support to gifted pupils - will have a chance of success.
So how much can schools expect to receive in grants, and what will it cover? If heads are thinking the cash will finance that new classroom block they have been waiting for, think again. With some 26,000 schools to reach in out-of-school-hours learning projects, and nearly one million children to support in childcare, generally schools should not expect payments much beyond the few thousand pounds enjoyed by Bod's.
And the cash will mainly fund the revenue costs of the project, rather than capital. This means, for example, that a school hoping to upgrade its sports facilities to offer after-school sport might be better advised to try for National Lottery cash through the Sports Council. However, the costs of teachers' time beyond normal school commitments can be included in bids.
Schools should be aware that while the support they receive from NOF will help establish projects, in the long-term schemes are expected to be self-financing, through partnership with public bodies such as local education authorities and the voluntary and private sectors. NOF funding will last for a maximum of one year in the case of the childcare schemes, and three in out-of-school hours learning projects.
Schools and their partners should expect to devote several months to preparing applications. Mr Blythin says that it took him six months to put the bid together, with help from the local Training and Enterprise Council, which included the "daunting" process of drawing up a business plan. It was another three months before the application was accepted.
But he is in no doubt about the worth of this effort. The bid's success has given Bodnant the confidence to expand still further its out-of-school-hours work. It hopes soon to include a breakfast club, and will submit another bid to the NOF childcare fund for a summer holiday club next year.
Mr Blythin says: "It's all been tremendously worthwhile. The prospect of a grant of pound;7,500 was a great incentive in overcoming our biggest hurdle with Bod's: getting it started. NOF was simply too good an opportunity to miss and I hope other schools will soon be taking advantage of it."
Out- of-school hours learningApplication forms, tel: 0845 0000 121 (England); 0845 0000 123 (Scotland); 0845 0000 122 (Wales); 0845 0000 124 (Northern Ireland).March 1, 2000: Deadline for schools to request an application formSeptember 1, 2000: Applications must be submittedSeptember 3, 2001: All projects must have startedOut-of-school hours childcare Application forms, tel: 0845 604 0555 (England); 0845 606 1199 (Scotland); 0845 606 4567 (Wales); 0845 6004848 (Northern Ireland).March 31, 2003: Deadline for applicants to request application formApril 15, 2003: Applications must be submittedby September 30, 2003: All projects must have startedThe New Opportunities Fund general inquiries line: 0845 0000 120website: www.nof.org.uk
* QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Where can we go for help in preparing an application for an out-of-school club?
You may wish to draw on the expertise of voluntary organisations with experience in the activity the proposed club covers (for example, the Youth Sport Trust may be able to help with bids for out-of-school-hours sport). A full list of useful contacts is published in the Out of School Hours Learning scheme brochure, available from the New Opportunities Fund.
Beware of using expensive external consultants - NOF funding does not cover expenses in preparing a bid.
Will we need partnership funding?
NOF will examine the level of partnership funding proposed as part of assessing whether proposals are likely to be sustainable. But it does not set a minimum threshold for partnership funding and will consider applications in the light of circumstances.
Can we pay teachers to take part?
Teachers will not run all projects, but they may be involved in a variety of ways. In some cases, some of the costs of staff time above normal commitments may be included.
Can we apply more than once?
A school can have only one application at any one time. But schools may apply more than once, at different times. A school can receive more than one grant - but schools should bear in mind that NOF has targets involving funding a large number of schools.