Schools to provide 52-week childcare

Glasgow's new childcare strategy aims to offer places for all children up to the age of 14. Henry Hepburn reports

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A hugely ambitious new approach to childcare in Glasgow will create new jobs for teachers - but also mean schools will have to stay open longer.

The city council has given itself five years to provide childcare for all parents within "buggy-walking distance" of their homes from 8am-6pm, 52 weeks a year.

The city is hoping that its "radical" new childhood services strategy for all children up to 14 (or 16, if they have special needs) will get the go- ahead today. But in an interview with The TESS, the city council's executive member for education and social renewal, Gordon Matheson, stressed that extra childcare would not require teachers to work longer hours.

A pound;3.25 million pilot scheme will result in 60 new jobs to deal with 270 new childcare places, he explained. While most will not be in teaching, they will include depute heads specialising in childcare and a headteacher's post in one new establishment.

The council wants school buildings to be in use throughout the working day so that parents can choose from a "menu of childcare to suit them", a council briefing paper explains.

Mr Matheson said the council aimed to provide "high-quality education" as well as cultural and sporting opportunities through its revamped childcare: "This is not a babysitting service."

Parents who want to work will be rewarded under the new system.

The council's nursery admissions and charging system will be reformed in the eight establishments involved in the pilot, including priority for parents trying get into education, training or employment.

Charges, Mr Matheson explained, would "remain progressive, but will be more realistic for those who can pay" than at present. "We've got a ridiculous situation where some of our parents are paying less than a pound a week," he said.

The council will instead charge a standard rate of pound;2 per hour, with reductions for those who cannot afford it, are training to return to work, or have more than one child.

The new policy aims to help parents claim more tax credits; millions of pounds lie unclaimed in the Treasury, of which Glasgow parents are missing out on around pound;2 million. Information about jobs, meanwhile, will be provided to parents wherever they drop off their children each day.

Staff will be trained to ask parents questions about their work situation and barriers to getting into work, and referrals will be made to other services. Mr Matheson stressed that there would be no obligation for parents to seek such advice in the first place.

The council has identified milestones to be reached over the next five years, including:

- By 2009, half of all eligible parents should have access to school and community-based childcare for youngsters aged 5-14.

- By 2010, some schools should be open from 8am to 6pm, 52 weeks a year, offering sports, music, play and other activities.

- By 2011, there should be 15 hours of free education for all three and four-year-olds for 38 weeks a year. (The current national entitlement is 12.5 hours, which Glasgow is already exceeding).

Steven Purcell, council leader, said: "As the service expands, more and more families will be able to take advantage of what is already a very high standard of childcare in the city."

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