Minister has to deliver on childcare

17th September 2004 at 01:00
My initial reaction to Education Secretary Charles Clarke's announcement that he wants schools to operate a 10-hour day was that most teachers, and certainly heads and deputies would love a 10-hour day as it would be less than many of them are working now!

Leaving that rather facile view to one side we are, I suspect, heading for another good idea which I pray will be thought through this time. Many schools provide before andor after school care for children of school age.

Most of these schemes will have been pump-primed by grant money and then have to be self-financed. If this extended day is to be near universal, as seems the case, there will be considerable funding implications for schools and this financial dimension is a little opaque at the moment. I await the edict that finance needed will be "included in the schools' general funding" and we have been there before with performance management and other initiatives where some money goes in at the beginning and then dries up so that school budgets come under even more pressure.

In addition to the setting up and running costs, how will the building programme be financed, especially in areas where buildings are not suitable at present? So often the schools needing such development will be in less privileged areas whose children will most benefit from this extended day.

Finally there is the time element and anyone who has run before or after-school facilities will know what time and resources are needed: neither of which, to my knowledge, is addressed by the workload agreement.

I believe Charles Clarke's announcement is a genuine attempt to improve children's lives but if it goes off half-cock then schools will not forgive him and, more importantly for him, neither will voting parents whose hopes have been raised and then not realised.

Tony Roberts

144 Cop Lane

Penwortham, Preston

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