Ministers promise lottery cash for after-school clubs

4th July 1997 at 01:00
After-school clubs and a national child-care strategy were given top priority - and promises of National Lottery cash - by the Government this week.

In his Budget on Wednesday Chancellor Gordon Brown promised more affordable child care for lone parents and said that 50,000 under-25s would be trained as child-care assistants during the next five years.

The future looks rosy for the long-suffering Kids' Club Network which has campaigned tirelessly for schools to stay open after 3.30pm so parents can work.

Kids' Club officials have met junior education and employment minister Alan Howarth three times in the past three weeks.

On Budget Day Cherie Blair, the prime minister's wife and vice-president of the network, invited a real kids' club into her garden at Downing Street.

The positive child-care message was given an early boost last month when Prime Minister Tony Blair used his first post-election speech to stress that his Government wanted to help parents to work and children to learn.

Last Tuesday Mr Howarth, who was equally committed to a national child-care strategy during his time as a Tory minister, spelled out proposals for a "seamless continuum" of child care and education at a Kids' Club Network conference in London.

He said: "We plan to make lottery funds available to support out-of-school activities which help to raise children's achievements. By the year 2001, we hope to see high quality programmes of regular activities established in half of all secondary schools and a quarter of all primary schools.

"Support will be available for pre- and after-school activities as well as weekend and holiday schemes. The scope for out-of-hours activities to support and complement parents' child-care arrangments will be an important aspect of the proposals. We want these activities to support the objective of integrating education and childcare and to meet the needs of the local community."

The Government is working closely with Education Extra, the organisation which encourages a wide range of clubs outside school hours.

The Kids' Club Network policy has been to make its clubs more like homes than schools, but it is happy to increase its facilities for doing homework if required.

Earlier Social Security Secretary Harriet Harman, who described herself as a "vigorous" supporter of the Kids' Club Network, said: "This Government believes that child care is vital; that it is as much a part of our economic infrastructure as the roads which carry women to work."

Ms Harman described a club in her south London constituency as a haven surrounded by a busy road, a disused industrial area and a Rottweiler-ridden council estate.

The network has met with some animosity from schools which are sometimes loath to hire out their premises, but at least one teacher union is on its side. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, recently met the network's director, Anne Longfield, and spoke in support of Kids' Clubs at the conference.

But money, of course, is the key issue, though Polly Toynbee, the Independent columnist, told the conference the sums needed for a comprehensive network of clubs were "paltry" - Pounds 50 million compared to the Pounds 850m spent on the Millennium Dome and Pounds 15 billion on Britain's defence budget.

Anne Longfield hopes lottery money will supply each club with Pounds 5, 000 a year over three years to bridge the gap between what clubs need and what they get.

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