Let's set up a home from home after class

7th January 2005 at 00:00
At this time of the year it feels wonderful to arrive home from work, change into relaxing clothes and do your own thing for a little while until the next bit of work for the day kicks in.

I couldn't help thinking of this when I heard Tony Blair's recent announcement that childcare opportunities should be extended for families who want to make use of them.

I would argue for a fully resourced and high quality provision or no provision at all. We were one of the first primaries to set up an after school club and now offer this provision for three schools in our area.

This arose because there was spare accommodation in our buildings.

The after school club uses rooms from 2.30pm to 5.45pm and the same rooms are used by other community education groups in the evenings. Sensible, you might think. However, I remember the battle that the after-school staff had to secure the use of a cupboard to store a few items.

A couple of days ago I arrived at work at 8am to be met by eight little faces asking to be let in. We open our doors to the children at 8.30am when support staff come on duty. My excuse for welcoming in these children at that early hour was a quickly dreamt up audit of after school club needs as they were the very children who also stay late.

Their first choice would be to go straight home from school and not attend after school club at all. No real surprises there. That would be so that they can go out to play with their friends at home or play computer games.

(Not one offered "or read a book". What are we doing wrong?) So, how could after school clubs be improved? The staff work really hard to make our club fun for the children but I bet that they would approve of all the following suggestions.

First, there must be dedicated spaces, and enough of them, which can be set up for this purpose. With falling school roles this might be possible if there is the will to provide it.

I would like to see a home from home arrangement, with a big kitchen table for homework as a priority. Good links with schools could help with advice about homework too. It can't be easy for the children to get home late and then start on school work again.

I imagine some really comfortable sofas and a television set for those who want to watch children's programmes.

Trips to the swimming pool or time spent outdoors, if that is what the children would choose to do at this point of the day, would be good too.

But what do the children think?

They would like the big comfy lounge I imagine but with a home cinema system so everyone could see it. (At this point I did not know what a home cinema system was, so I was learning. It hadn't dawned on me that 30 or so children would be trying to crowd around a small TV set.) Naturally it would have to have a DVD and Sky access.

No old computers but a few new fast computers, linked to the internet so that they could do their homework, and computer games are the orders of the day.

Unlimited quantities of food seems to be important too.

The boys like playing in the park opposite but want decent footballs and the girls want more skipping ropes. They used to go swimming but there is no lifeguard at the moment, so that's off.

Some of these ideas will be easy to accommodate but, as usual, it will be down to how much money is set aside for the purpose. Let's start with quality buildings and representation from the users.

At the end of the day I happened to be in the annex building where the after school club meets. I was greeted by a puzzled staff who wanted to know when the home cinema system was arriving. Who knows? It might be just around the corner. Mr Blair?

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in Edinburghwww.queensferry-pri.edin.sch.ukIf you have any comments, email scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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