CARE clubs can improve attitudes to school, cut disruptive behaviour and improve social and educational skills, according to international research, David Henderson writes.
These same benefits are now showing in Scotland as a network of clubs develops under the Scottish childcare strategy, it was said last week at the launch of School's Out, the revised guidance on setting up more and better breakfast, after-school and holiday clubs.
The framework underlines that out-of-school care (OSC) and study support have positive effects, particularly for disadvantaged children, and release parents to go out to work. They are no longer "babysitting services".
There are now places for one in nine primary children in some 1,140 clubs, half of which are based in primaries.
Cathy Jamieson, Education Minister, stressed the importance of out-of-school care to wider educational aims. "In our response to the national debate on education, I highlighted the need for the education system to focus on life skills and attitudes as well as knowledge, and to recognise the importance of pupils learning outside schools and classes," she said.
The Executive's document points to strong benefits for primaries in having children, parents and other members of the community involved in after-school activities - in line with the new community schools philosophy.
Some headteachers were reported to be initially reluctant to be involved but have been persuaded by the evidence.
School clubs avoid the risks in taking children to other premises, encourage a better link between care and education, and help persuade parents to make use of the school. They improve the school's image and place the primary at the heart of the community, the Executive argues.
A key element is said to be better citizenship as children learn to respect themselves and one another in a different environment. "This is especially important where older and younger children from different backgrounds meet together. It is also relevant where OSC is in school premises, and there needs to be a mutual respect and understanding between children enjoying themselves at the end of the school day, and teaching staff who may be in the building.
It comes down to the enthusiasm and skills of individual staff. "All activities need to be planned to protect leisure and relaxation time and to acknowledge that children want their own space," it adds.
The Executive admits there is much to do and that some clubs "are struggling with the risk of closure". There is also limited provision in early secondary and for children with additional needs. As children reach their teens and are able to look after themselves they leave the clubs.
Ministers want a nationwide expansion and an end to "fragile" provision.
Local authorities will be asked to review their policies by next year and set targets for growth.
"School's Out: Framework for the Development of Out-of-School Care", published by the Scottish Executive.