Extended schools come up short

15th August 2008 at 01:00
Some of the poorest areas are developing ways to offer full range of services

Only eight of the 150 local authorities are providing full extended school services, such as childcare and after-school clubs, according to official figures.

Ministers have pledged that all pupils should have access to the "core offer" of extended services by the end of 2010. But despite this deadline, statistics from the Department for Children, Schools and Families suggest there is still a long way to go in many areas.

For example, less than a quarter of secondary pupils in Islington, north London, have the full range of services available to them.

The core offer should comprise: l 8am-6pm year-round childcare for primary pupils;

- a varied range of activities for all pupils, including study support, sport and music clubs;

- family support services;

- swift and easy access to special-ised services such as speech therapy; mental health services; behaviour support and counselling; community access to facilities, including adult and family learning; ICT and sports grounds.

Less than half of all primary pupils have the chance to benefit from all these services in nearly a sixth of local authorities.

On average, more secondary pupils - 71.6 per cent - had access to the full offer than primary pupils - 64.4 per cent, but in many authorities the situation was reversed.

The TES revealed in November last year that extended school services in deprived areas were being closed due to a lack of funds and a dearth of middle-class parents prepared to subsidise them.

In January, Ofsted also warned that extended school clubs were failing to reach the most vulnerable.

But the latest figures muddy the waters. They show that Gateshead, Blackpool, Coventry, Portsmouth - all authorities that serve some of the country's most deprived areas - are among the eight where 100 per cent of primary and secondary pupils have access to the full offer.

Sandy Lee, Blackpool's senior extended services co-ordinator, said their schools had not been left to develop the services on their own, but had received the full support of the council, health trust, police and other local agencies.

"It's about us accepting a collective responsibility for looking after children and providing the best for them, and not just leaving it to schools which just haven't got the capacity," she said.

"This is about taking extended services as seriously as your core curriculum, and that is something that we have done and that our schools have really taken on board."

There are 16 authorities where less than half of pupils have access to the full range of services. The bottom five - Haringey, Islington, Westminster, Croydon and Lambeth - are all in London.

But Michael O'Connor, children's services director for Westminster, could not list any factors that made it particularly difficult to introduce the service in the capital.

"We were a little bit slow, but we will hit the 2010 target," he said.

Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Clearly, the backing schools are receiving for this varies around the country. Schools are primarily designed for teaching and learning and don't necessarily have the time and resources to be working on this sort of initiative alone."

Clubs' success depends on ability to pay

Breakspear Junior School's summer holiday club attracts more than 20 children every day for a packed timetable of art and crafts, sport and even cinema trips.

The west London school is one of the apparent success stories of the Government's extended schools plan, which aims to offer comprehensive care to all children by 2010.

During term, its breakfast club attracts 20 children daily, with around 40 attending its after-school activities until 6pm.

But Devala Singh-Franken, club manager, admits that its success is mostly down to those parents who can afford to pay.

"This is an area where a lot of parents work," she said. "They often go out early and come in late, so there's demand for extended schools.

"Childminders can be expensive and a lot of parents prefer sending their children to extended school clubs because they are more social and have a good range of activities."

The activities at Breakspear are run by Schoolfriend etc, the country's biggest charitable provider of extended school services.

To make the club sustainable it has to charge Pounds 7.50 a day for its after- school service, Pounds 3 for its breakfast club and a daily fee of Pounds 15 for its holiday clubs.

"This is a well-to-do area, so parents are willing and able to pay," said Mrs Singh-Franken. "But in less well-off areas, clubs are struggling.

"It's the same picture all over the country. Clubs are succeeding where parents have the money to pay for them. Children from poorer backgrounds, who would benefit most from the activities, are missing out."

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has committed Pounds 265 million over the next three years to helping children from poorer homes to gain access to extended services.

But Andrea Raymond, Schoolfriend etc's east London support officer, said it was an on-going battle to make extended school services available in poorer areas.

At Maryland Primary in east London, a free after-school session attracted more than 30 children. When charges were introduced, numbers tumbled to as low as seven.

"The high numbers when it was free show there is demand," said Ms Raymond.

"But until more money is made available to subsidise the costs, children from poorer homes will not be able to benefit."

David Marley.

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