Educare for breakfast

8th October 2004 at 01:00
Of all the phrases to emerge from governmental blue-sky education wonks, the 2004 prize for sheer unsettling weirdness must go to Charles Clarke's "wrap-around educare".

I sat and stared at it for a while, asking all the obvious questions that everybody asks.

Who's paying for this 8-to-6 day? What proportion of kids are expected to take up the full day and holiday option, and what proportion will just use up a bit of it? How do you predict and provide on crowded sites? Do you have to put your child down at birth for, to take an example, breakfast?

Where do you put the hordes when just one school in a neighbourhood is nominated the extended school? Will the regular inhabitants resent the 4pm influx of strange faces? Who'll be minding them?

When you say "educare", do you mean that everything they do all day has to be Good For Them, or will there be a mindless TV hour and a space set aside for bouncing balls off a wall, wrestling aimlessly with your mates, swopping eyeshadows and doing handstands? How will you keep the bullies and the nutters under control for an extra three-plus hours a day?

How will the poor weary infants and juniors survive, when they're already so tired by 3.30pm that they can hardly remember their names? Will there be special rooms for taking naps? Where, exactly? And who'll supervise the naps to make sure there is no snogging? And hell, since they're always so hungry, will there have to be packed teas as well as packed lunches, or will dinner-ladies' hours be extended to teatime?

And suppose your school has not much outdoor space and no grass - won't it be a bit horrible in summer? And won't there be a hideous extension to rush hour as the school buses at 6pm join the office commuters?

Oh, and will they have to wear school uniform all day, or can they get into jeans at 4pm? Can they bring books and toys and skateboards for the hours after school, and if so, what on earth happens about lockers? Yes, but suppose there's no room on the school site for lockers? Or space to create a sanatorium for the knackered? And is the head responsible for the out-of-hours bits, and the holiday time? If so, will there be six spare deputy heads to cover ... ?

All this springs to mind, even before I dare contemplate the psychological and social effects of encouraging parents to see even less of their children than usual, and encouraging the state to hang on to them for longer.

But I am sure Mr Clarke has got answers. He surely wouldn't knock out a revolutionary policy like universal wrap-around educare without mentally dotting every i and crossing every t, would he? It always seems a pity, though, when policies get "flagged up" without the detail. The imagination runs wild. Before long I was having nightmare visions of a whole new profession of "educaretionists" (sic) drawing up a national curriculum for off-school on-site activities and awarding Sat grades in yawning, staring and mooching around skills. Then my reflections were tempered a little when someone scornfully said this was a manifesto for "boarding schools without beds". You see, I quite like boarding schools - after 13 years old, anyway, or 11 for the super-confident. I have had good experiences of them. They can be happy, busy places. Perhaps my wariness of educare is unnecessary?

But then I thought of the reality of boarding schools. They, you see, do have beds. And houses. You don't just hang around classrooms, even if there's going to be prep later. When school is over, you go to your boarding-house and chill out and perhaps change your clothes, or read a book off your own private shelf and eat a restorative Mars bar from your own private locker. If you want a parallel, Mr Clarke, it is the difference between staying in a conference hotel and just hanging on an extra two hours in the office.

Oh, and another thing. Boarding school terms are really, really short. They certainly don't fit in with a long-hours culture, and parents who think that they will are in for a nasty shock when the little dears turn up on July 1 or December 10, not to mention the half-term in October.

Mr Clarke's educare, on the other hand, is supposed to run on through the holidays, spanning the working year and not the school one. On fewer resources, and without those blessed beds.

What was that? No, I didn't say a word. I only asked some questions, that's all.

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