WHEN the bell goes at the end of the day at Joseph Hood first school 30 excited pupils cannot wait to get out of the classroom. They race to the after-school club.
"It's much more fun than going straight home. I get to be with my friends and we play games you wouldn't do at home," said six-year-old club regular Kelly Gardener, waiting for her father to pick her up at 5.30pm. Her best friend Tara preferred playing spelling games on the computer. "It's a bit like schoolwork but it's really fun."
All the three to eight-year-olds at the session, in Raynes Park, south London, insisted they would much rather play with their friends at the club than watch television at home.
The club was set up in 1996 because working parents were having problems covering the gap of 700 hours a year between school and office timetables. School administrator Ann Dent said: "It's important to make a distinction between what happens at school and at the club. It may be run by the school but the children are here in their own free time. No activity is enforced - it's supposed to be fun."
The fun starts at 3.05pm when the children tuck into drinks and biscuits while the register is taken. They play team games outside until 4pm. Club leader Helen Guy said: "Splitting the session helps to keep the children's interest. Once we're back inside I like to offer at least one creative activity. We have computer club two evenings a week and do music and movement and art and crafts. At 4.45pm it's tidy-up time and we quieten them down with story reading or a video."
Costing pound;1.50 an hour and pound;1 for breakfast, the club is within many family budgets. Children as young as three join the breakfast club at 8am and have to be coaxed away at 5.30pm. "It is a long day," said club worker Diane Craneburgh. "But they're still as bright as buttons at 5.30pm on Fridays."
Wendy Buddin, a support teacher, depends on the club to look after six-year-old Joe while she is at work. "I know that he will receive the same level of care at the club as he gets in school," she said.
"It's good for Joe to mix with other children. He has made a lot of new friends here."