Library louts upset the locals

3rd November 2006 at 00:00
EXTENDED SCHOOLS School gyms could be 'paedophile heaven' * Primary heads under pressure to open nurseries

The drive to open a range of school facilities such as gyms and libraries to the public was supposed to make schools more appreciated by their communities.

But the Government's extended schools programme has come under fire from some upset residents who do not want to share libraries with rowdy pupils and from children's charities who fear that young people may come into contact with paedophiles.

The policy of locating nurseries in primary schools has also been criticised by headteachers, who feel they are being blackmailed into running them, and by private nurseries which fear competition.

Although many schools have opened facilities to the public for years, pressure has grown since the Government announced that they should all offer extended services by 2010 (see box below). At least two campaigns have been started to stop public libraries being moved into schools.

James Dowsing, a writer, has led opposition to a plan by Westminster council to close Pimlico library and replace it with a facility at Pimlico secondary school, which will be redeveloped. Mr Dowsing, chairman of the Churton and Charlwood residents' association, said. "Public libraries should be separate from schools. There is no good reason to combine them apart from saving money. The books required are different. How much money will be devoted to school textbooks, and how much to other books?"

Mr Dowsing said he was also worried by the behaviour of the children. "They are particularly rowdy when they are coming out of school and heading for the Tube," he said. "We don't want a rowdy library."

The redevelopment of Pimlico secondary is due to cost at least pound;30million and will start in 2008. A spokesman for Westminster council said the aim was to create an excellent library for students and adults alike.

"It's about getting the best facilities for the money," he said.

Jaywick public library in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, closed last year to make way for a combined facility at the pound;16.5million Bishop's Park college. The school and its library were visited by Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, during last year's election campaign.

Kenneth Sargeant, a local councillor, has joined a residents' committee in its fight to keep the library open. "A lot of people here are retired and find it difficult to travel the extra distance to get to the school," he said.

Meanwhile child protection charity Kidscape has called for all paedophiles, whether on the sex offenders' register or not, to be banned from all public gyms and libraries at secondary schools.

"I don't think the Government has thought through the idea of combined facilities," a spokeswoman said. "As far as paedophiles are concerned, this is heaven." The call follows a media frenzy in the Forest of Dean where a convicted paedophile was found to be using a gym at Whitecross secondary in Lydney during school hours. A spokesman for Forest of Dean council said Andrew Baldwin had given a voluntary undertaking never to use a school gym again. Mr Baldwin is now understood to be in hiding.

The addition of childcare services to primary schools has also caused upset. A report published by the health and childcare research company Laing and Buisson earlier this year said that extended schools posed a "competitive threat" to private and voluntarily-run nurseries.

Les Turner, National Association of Headteachers representative for Lancashire, said: "Primaries are competing for a small number of pupils.

Parents send children to schools offering the best services. If the school down the road is open from 8am to 5pm, parents will send their children there instead. Competition is forcing heads to do more and more."

Leader, 20


All schools will be expected to provide a "core offer" of extended services by 2010. The services are:

* Affordable child care for all parents of primary school age children from 8am to 6pm all year round. This should be offered by half of primary schools by 2008. It needs to be accessed "through" schools, but does not have to be on the same site, so a group of schools could cut costs by transporting pupils to the same community centre.

* A range of activities at secondary schools, open all year round from 8am to 6pm, including homework and holiday clubs, music, drama and sport. One in three secondary schools should offer this by 2008.

* Community access to sports and arts facilities, ICT equipment and adult education courses.

* Support for parents, such as parenting skills programmes and behaviour management courses.

* "Swift and easy" referral to specialist services such as behaviour support.

Ruth Kelly, then education secretary, announced the formal plans for extended schools in June 2005, though much had already been said by her New Labour predecessors.

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