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Parents need better childcare to work

FIFTEEN per cent of Midlothian parents say they would return to part or full-time education if they had affordable, accessible childcare. Just under one in five say they would return to work under similar circumstances.

A survey of 3,500 parents - 35 per cent of households with children - found the cost of childcare is the main barrier to further opportunities, a point Government ministers have emphasised in launching their working families tax credits scheme due to begin later this year. It will help lower income families fund childcare of their choice.

The council's survey revealed a high proportion of parents depend on informal, often family, sources of care. Several parents in focus groups said they could not take up college places because the creche was full.

Gaps in childcare at the start and end of the working day, particularly for shift workers and commuters, present particular difficulties. Nearly a third of the parents identified lack of after-school care and 25 per cent lack of holiday care schemes as the most important issues.

School holidays, in-service training and early closing days add to their concerns, as does a lack of facilities for 13 and 14-year-olds.

Parents also question the quality of some provision and found information about services poor. Midlothian says parents will need advice on benefits and the childcare tax credit scheme.

The authority notes that 35 per cent of full-time workers are classed as low paid, while 77 per cent of part-timers earn less than the Scottish Low Pay Unit's minimum wage of pound;4.42.

In some communities, almost one in four families are headed by lone parents.

* Over 25 per cent of Midlothian pupils arrive at school before 8.30 each morning and almost half of all pupils aged between 10 and 13 would like some form of breakfast club.

A sample survey of upper primary and early secondary pupils also found four out of five stay at school at lunchtime, although only a small number of schools offer midday activities.

Almost 90 per cent say they go straight home after school but 12 per cent went to a relative's home on all or some of the days and 8.5 per cent went to a childminder or after-school club.

Over half the children surveyed took part in some form of extra-curricular activity and 70 per cent were members of a youth group or club.

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