EXTENDED SCHOOLS were designed to be a cheap babysitting service, says Sue Palmer, an educational consultant, in her new book, Detoxing Childhood.
Ms Palmer fears that small children are spending an increasing amount of time in nurseries and schools. From 2010, all schools will be expected to open from 8am to 6pm all year round to provide childcare for school-aged children.
Extended schools, Ms Palmer says, should offer family-type meal times, loosely supervised play indoors and out and opportunities to talk with adults and learn skills.
In her latest book, a follow-up to the controversial Toxic Childhood, she writes: "The Government didn't design school-based childcare in the best interests of children, but as a way of keeping working parents out feeding the economy. It's basically a very cheap babysitting service; and babysitting isn't the same thing as good childcare."
Research shows that 91 per cent of primaries now offer some after-school activities and 16 per cent open all year round from 8am to 6pm. But the report from BMRB Social Research also found 8 per cent of headteachers thought it made the school day too long, especially for younger children.
Ms Palmer says: "Schools can provide team sports, quiet spaces and activities children enjoy but we also need playworkers, people who know how to encourage play activities which are unstructured, that will develop children rather than keeping them cooped up."
She is also concerned at increasing numbers starting formal schooling at a young age, which she argues is driven by a political obsession with targets. Most authorities now admit reception pupils at the start of the year, rather than the term, in which they turn 5 years old. "It's important to resist this; they are too young mentally," she says.
"Research is clear that for long-term success at school, 3- to 6-year-olds need to be actively engaged, thinking and talking about their first-hand experiences." But in the present system, she says, children learn early in life whether they are winners or losers. Losers then often stop trying and behave badly, while winners feel the stress of success.
* 'Detoxing Childhood' by Sue Palmer, pound;9.99, Orion Books