Extended talk just drags on and on...

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Plans to open schools from 8am to 6pm and all year round have been trailed for years. So when will something actually happen? Michael Shaw reports

Cynical teachers could be forgiven for feeling a sense of dej... vu about extended schools.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, announced this week to great publicity that the Government would be spending pound;680 million to make schools stay open from 8am to 6pm all year round.

No longer would "latchkey kids" trudge back to empty homes. Instead they would be kept busy with sports, drama and chess clubs.

It sounds like exciting stuff - except that Ms Kelly announced the same plan two months ago.

Indeed, speeches promising after-school activities for all children have been made regularly by Labour ministers since the party gained power, including the Prime Minister and all three of Ms Kelly's predecessors as Education Secretary.

Extended schools appeal to the Government because they cover a lot of bases: they provide childcare that allows parents to stay in work; keep young people healthy with sport and nutritious breakfasts; let pupils pick up languages and arts skills they might not get from the crowded curriculum; and aid crime prevention by stopping pupils roaming the streets.

It is unclear, however, whether schools will be able to meet parents'

expectations for out-of-hours activities.

One of the few new revelations this week was the publication of a breakdown of how the pound;680m will be spent.

Teachers' unions and local authorities said that, although the money sounds generous, it will be spread very thin.

The funding, which runs until 2008, will simply be start-up money, as ministers hope that many activities will become self-financing through fees.

The extra cash equates to around pound;90 per pupil in England over the next three years. Schools will receive about pound;34 of this directly, while local authorities will distribute the rest.

And the amount that different authorities will get varies considerably.

While authorities such as Leeds, Essex and Surrey will get less than pound;54 per pupil, others - including Herefordshire and Richmond-upon-Thames - will get more than pound;94 and Kensington and Chelsea will receive pound;112.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "There is already a big question about whether the money will do the trick, and our guess is it won't. Parents will not be happy if they find they are being made to pay more for after-school clubs in their authority than those in the one next door."

Another concern is whether teachers and heads will be forced to work longer hours.

The NAHT and the Secondary Heads Association are demanding that school leaders receive extra pay for their increased responsibilities.

Heads already get special allowances at community schools which open all year round.

However, other unions said they felt reassured by a prospectus from the Department for Education and Skills which states six times that teachers will not be forced to get involved.

This is certainly the case at Edmund Waller primary in Lewisham, south London. It is one of three schools to use powers to set up its own non-profit company which runs a breakfast club and an after-school club until 6pm.

The primary also employs teachers and coaches, who do not usually work at the school, to take activities after lessons end at 3.30pm, offering basketball, football and other sports for free and charging pound;2 a session for French and for dance.

An alternative approach for schools is to contract out childcare to local childminders and nurseries. The National Day Nurseries Association had initially criticised plans for schools to take on childcare in 2001 but is now supportive of the scheme because a quarter of its members run after-school clubs.

The DfES prospectus states that primary schools will not necessarily have to offer childminding on their sites providing pupils can be looked after at another school or centre nearby.

At Woodthorpe primary, York, parents can leave pupils with one of 14 childminders who give them breakfast, take them to school, and care for them in their own homes afterwards.

Schools which have had their buildings constructed under the Private Finance Initiative could have an easier ride than others because their facilities are normally under the control of the private contractor outside school hours.

However, Russell Hobby, an education consultant with the Hay Group, said some PFI schools would find themselves unable to run the activities of their choice if the private company did not agree with them.

Other potential pitfalls for extended schools include ensuring that their insurance covers the activities and that adults who are in charge of children have had Criminal Record Bureau checks.

Teachers on the TES online staffroom had mixed views about increasing after-school sessions, - and ridiculed the DfES's suggestion they should be known as "Kelly hours".

Some also feared classrooms would be damaged by visitors. "Is my stuff that is in my classroom going to be safe?" one asked.

Leader 22 Leadership 27 See www.teachernet.gov.uk wholeschoolextendedschools and www.continyou.org.uk

What happens next?

What schools have to do to become extended and by when

Primary schools: All parents of primary-age children must be able to get affordable childcare through their school from 8am to 6pm, all year round, by 2010. This should be available to at least half of primary pupils by 2008.

Secondary schools: All secondary schools will be open from 8am to 6pm all year round by 2010, providing access to a range of activities for young people such as music, sport and holiday clubs. At least one in three secondary schools should offer this by 2008.

All schools: Should provide a "core offer" of extended activities by 2010.

As well as sessions for young people in areas such as music, chess and first aid, they should also offer activities for the wider community, including adult classes and parenting skills.

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