Childcare is at the heart of the extended schools programme. From breakfast clubs to after-school activities, about half of primaries and a third of secondaries now provide care before and after school. And many primaries also act as children's centres offering creche and daycare facilities all the year round.
It's the job of the childcare co-ordinator to set up these programmes and ensure they run smoothly. Some co-ordinators are attached to individual schools, and work hands-on, looking after children themselves. Others operate purely at a strategic level within local authorities. Either way, it's a varied and demanding role.
"It's my job to decide what kind of care we're going to provide," says Laura Bagley, co-ordinator across three schools in Derby - Peartree Infants, Peartree Junior and Harrington Nursery School.
"That means talking to the community to find out what people want, setting up the provision, managing the staff who deliver it, and then monitoring and evaluating what we do, to ensure it's meeting families' needs."
For Ms Bagley, a typical day starts with breakfast club. Later on, she'll drop in on the creche, which the school runs so that parents can attend its adult education classes. Although she doesn't lead sessions herself, it's her job to observe and to ensure children are being challenged.
After that, there's admin to catch up on, meetings to attend and emails to answer. "Every day is varied, every day brings new challenges," she says. "It's very much a community role and I try to meet families whenever possible. An important part of my job is to ensure they are aware of any benefits they may be entitled to, such as working tax credits."
If you like the job description, then the good news is that opportunities are growing as the extended schools programme expands. The qualifications needed will depend on the exact nature of the job. For a co-ordinator working in an individual school a level 3 NVQ in childcare may suffice - but for jobs overseeing a cluster of schools or a whole authority, you'll probably need a degree, not to mention previous experience of managing staff and bidding for funding. While the first kind of post might pay Pounds 18,000-Pounds 25,000, the second will pay nearer to Pounds 40,000.
Childcare co-ordinators come from all kinds of backgrounds. Having teaching experience can be an advantage, but you also have to recognise that the job has a strong community element.
"You have to be passionate about changing lives," says Marlene Owens, childcare co-ordinator at Wychall Primary School in Birmingham. "I work in a deprived area and the care we provide for children and families is crucial."
Ms Owens studied to be a teacher, but when she applied for a job at Wychall, the interview panel looked at her people skills and the voluntary mentoring work she'd done with disadvantaged children and decided she'd be perfect for her current job overseeing the breakfast club, extracurricular activities and holiday schemes.
"And they were absolutely right," she says. "Compared with being a classroom teacher, I find this far more exciting. You're working with children in a relaxed setting, before and after school. And you get the chance to engage with whole families, and make a real difference to their lives."
WHERE YOU STAND
- Key qualities Ability to work with a wide range of people including parents, children, teachers and child carers. Flexibility is important too - the nature of extended schools means hours can be long, and often irregular.
- Experience You'll need a teaching, early years, or childcare qualification as well as experience of caring for children in a professional setting. It's also useful to have a track record of working with families in the community.
- Next steps If you already have teaching experience, try to get some community work under your belt, perhaps by volunteering with a charity. If you're starting out, and thinking of a career in childcare, check out the website of Cache, which has details of courses, qualifications and career paths. www.cache.org.uk
- Salary Typically pound;20,000-pound;30,000. Varies according to responsibility.