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Places for 100,000 after school

The Scottish Out of School Care Network says it has won two key assurances from the Scottish Office on the implementation of the new Pounds 28 million package for childcare and education announced last week.

The initiative was part of a Pounds 300 million expansion of out-of-school learning and childcare in the UK over five years announced by the Chancellor. This is expected to create 3,000 new clubs in Scotland with places for 100,000 pupils, giving priority to the children of lone parents. But the proposal that the schemes would be partly staffed by 50,000 unemployed young people (5, 000 in Scotland) during their six months' welfare to work training worried childcare experts.

Moira Oliphant, a senior Scottish Office official with responsibility for the welfare to work programme, told a conference held by the Network last week that criminal record checks would be carried out on prospective trainees during their "gateway" induction period.

She also gave an undertaking that childcare groups would not be forced to take on trainees who were deemed unsuitable. Participants in what the Government calls its "new deal" programme are officially compelled to take up job or training places under one of four options, or face the loss of benefit.

Irene Audain, national development officer for the Scottish Out of School Care Network, welcomed the assurances. But she and the STUC both insisted that a minimum of 12 months, rather than the funded six months of the new deal, was needed to train a childcare assistant to a qualified standard.

The Government's plans, which will be largely funded by the midweek National Lottery, will see money channelled into at least half of secondary schools and a quarter of primaries. A start will be made next year backed by Pounds 3 million from the Government's windfall tax, with the remaining Pounds 25 million in lottery cash ploughed in over the following five years.

It is still not clear, however, how the existing out-of-school clubs will fit into these plans. There are currently 500 such clubs in Scotland providing 10,000 mainly childcare places, funded by a Pounds 1.5 million three-year programme. This is Government money paid out through the local enterprise companies, but it has run into criticism that it is not earmarked support.

In his announcement last week Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, said he would be holding talks with the chairmen of the two national enterprise agencies to see whether further cash should be committed to the existing clubs.

Ms Audain said the expansion was "a wonderful opportunity to make something work, so I hope the Government will talk to us because we certainly have the experience of knowing whether something will work or not."

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