Dalton's Diary

4th November 1994 at 00:00
One of the reasons for having non-professionals on the governing bodies of schools is to reflect the wider interests of the community. I am not a teacher, but the whole of my adult life has been spent caring for children, my own and other peoples.

As a registered childminder, I know what difficulties working parents encounter when their children start school. Nurseries and childminders provide full-time, year-round childcare; schools with their short hours and long holidays leave awkward gaps to be filled.

"Someone should start an after-school club," I heard myself saying to a frantic friend. Of course someone should; and where better than in our school? A safe, child-friendly, well-equipped environment, woefully under-used - I was sure that parents would be enthusiastic about the idea; but what about the staff?

Their attitude was much as I expected. "Fine as long as I don't have to be involved," closely followed by "What about my equipment, displays, the children's' work - I don't want to come in to a mess every morning."

This problem, and many others, will have to be solved before we go ahead, but fortunately there are established guidelines to follow. An organisation called Kids' Clubs, with our local TEC, can provide expertise and advice, as well as some initial funding. The next step will be a questionnaire to parents to gauge demand.

Staffing seems to present the biggest problem. Understandably, teachers do not relish the idea of a couple of hours overtime and, as I know only too well, the amount parents expect to pay for childcare wouldn't cover teacher time. We would hope that parents would staff the club, much as they run our local playgroups, but how would they cope with challenging behaviour?

Like most schools, we have encountered this problem at lunchtimes too, and perhaps our experience in tackling it can help us in setting up the Kids' Club. The difficulty arises from putting untrained staff in charge of children at a time when they feel they should be free to enjoy themselves.

We have tried to remedy this by in-service training for the supervisors, and a clear code of behaviour for the children which is seen to be enforced by the teachers. Parents have been told of the sanctions to be applied in case of bad behaviour, culminating in exclusion at lunchtimes. We could apply the same system to our after-school provision.

And our hard-working headteacher, although not expecting to be involved in running the club, is usually on school premises and could be on call.

This seems to me to be an area where governors can usefully take the initiative and involve themselves in improving the service their school offers to the local community, without increasing the responsibilities of the teachers or trampling on their professional sensibilities.

Our headteacher, by inclination and necessity, sees the school as having to respond more and more to what the parents want, and part of our role as governors is to have a sense of what that might be.

"Whenever I hear Joan's voice on the telephone, I know it means more work, " I heard her tell a colleague. I think she meant it kindly.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands.

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