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Out-of-hours fun 'postcode lottery'

Children missing out on extra activities, conference told.

Nicola Porter reports

Many children in Wales are missing out on out-of-hours learning opportunities in Wales because of a postcode lottery, a major supporter of such initiatives claimed this week.

Pam Boyd, executive director of charity ContinYou Cymru, called for more local authorities to extend structured learning beyond normal school hours.

Speaking at the first national conference of the Children's University in Wales, she said out-of-hours learning was nothing new - but that a much more planned approach which involves the community, and not just teachers, is reaping rewards. But she said provision still depends on where you live, with some local authorities reluctant to sign up.

The Children's University encourages young people to take part in extra-curricular activities and accredits their involvement with gold, silver and bronze awards.

Six local authorities are now offering the programme which was given its Welsh launch in Wrexham two years ago. But other councils are looking into whether the scheme is sustainable before making a commitment.

Figures released at the conference reveal more girls than boys take part, and arts and sport are the favourite activities. The conference, in Cardiff's City Hall, was also used as a platform to officially launch the Children's University in Torfaen, the latest recruit to the scheme.

And delegates were given tips on cutting bureaucracy and paperwork to make the most of the scheme without adding to teacher workload.

Professor Mike Scott, principal at North East Wales institute of higher education, which partners Wrexham, said the Children's University was widening participation in education and getting cjildren used to the idea of university early.

He said: "Every one has the right to higher education. It amazes me that there are people, even some Labour politicians, who say we need more plumbers. Well why can't plumbers have a higher education?"

The Assembly government is promoting the idea of community and extended schools, both to widen participation and also to make better use of school facilities, especially where pupil numbers are falling. It is providing Pounds 3 million a year for new start-ups and "model" schemes.

Merfyn Lloyd-Jones, chief education officer for Wrexham county borough council, told how a steering group of LEAs, higher education institutions, and headteachers had helped pull together the Children's University in Wales and develop an easy-to-use model for those taking part.

He said: "Heads were initially sceptical it would increase their workload, but it has worked well for the whole community."

Ms Boyd said the new programme was not just about teachers, and children's achievements out of hours would not be judged through exams alone.

The scheme is also up and running in Carmarthen, Cardiff, Ceridigion, Pembrokeshire and Torfaen.

Jane Davidson, education and lifelong learning minister, said: "This is about catalysts for community-focused schools, using a holistic agenda to encourage the development of the whole child through a joined-up approach."

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