Coronavirus: After-school clubs on the brink of collapse

Out-of-school clubs are facing closure and may never reopen, following new rules, confusing guidance and lack of support from Government.

The Club at Akiva in north-west London is unable to reopen at its primary school site
The Club at Akiva in north-west London is unable to reopen at its primary school site

A survey by the the Out of School Alliance that provides help and support for out-of-school clubs, undertaken in mid-May, which looked at how coronavirus had impacted on their businesses, found that 83 percent of wraparound settings are currently closed, and 44 percent of respondents are unsure if they will be able to reopen in September.

Co-director, Clare Freedman, told Nursery World that the sector has been ‘
continually ignored’ by the Department for Education in terms of guidance on what it is expected or permitted during this time and unlike other forms of childcare it has received ‘no targeted support’ from the Government.

She said, ‘Further uncertainty now exists after the DfE’s updated guidance on 2 June states that only registered providers which operate on school premises are permitted to provide wrap-around care.

‘Up until this point, some out-of-school clubs have remained open to provide essential wraparound care for key workers, collecting their children from school and taking them to their after-school clubs, some of which were based in community sites or even on hospital sites. What should happen now? Do they stop providing the service?’

The guidance clearly states that all other out of school settings are not able to reopen. However, in another updated clause on June 3 it states that community centres or places of worship will be allowed to open for providers on the early years register which usually use these premises.

Ms Freedman argued, ‘Many out-of-school providers operate from these spaces – and they are also on the early years register so why are wrap-around settings the only providers to be left out of the equation, especially when they provide such a vital service in enabling parents to return to work?’

The Out of School Alliance said that the unclear guidance is causing ‘much concern’ among its members, many of them also worried about whether or not their insurance will provide cover for this ‘grey area’.

Private nurseries that provide wraparound care for children off-site are also facing the same concerns.

Tricia Wellings, chief executive of Bright Kids nursery group in the Midlands, which provides extensive wraparound care to local schools, made the decision to suspend the service due to the ‘obscure, initial’ Government guidance.

The holiday club run by Bright Kids last summer

‘While it didn’t say we could not open wraparound, the idea of doing that alongside schools creating bubbles all day, seemed counter-intuitive,' Ms Wellings said. 'We do, however, have four children of critical key workers who have been wrapping around with a local school over the last 10 weeks. And with the latest guidance, which clearly states that we cannot open if we are not on a school site, does that mean we should now stop the children who have been using us for 10 weeks from coming? How fair is that to the family itself?’

Case study: The Club at Akiva, London

Many out-of-school providers face restrictions from the school and governing bodies, due to the safety aspects of mixing school 'bubbles', or because it is simply not financially viable for them to operate with the small numbers of children that are attending each day.

Hannah Mindel, co-owner of The Club at Akiva (pictured right with co-owner Odette Paterson), a private out-of-school club offering on-site wraparound care for primary children at Akiva School in north-west London, said, ‘The headteacher and the governing body were unable to give us permission to reopen. As the school is currently open for each child in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 for two days a week - and has remained open to keyworkers during the past 10 weeks – we have been told that it is unsafe to mix up the school bubbles on the school site itself.

‘We realise how it might look and we understand it.

'If we had permission, we would be open and try our best to incorporate the school bubbles and ensure that siblings were together. Having said that, because of the limited children on-site at the moment, we would be likely to operate at a loss. To have five children over two days a week doesn’t make commercial sense. If settings have to unfurlough staff and pay them, it has to be financially viable.’

The Department for Education said that its guidance confirmed that wraparound provision can operate if it is on a school site and it is only open to  children attending that school.

A DfE spokesperson said, 'We have been working very closely with the schools and early years sector on our cautious, phased approach for allowing a limited number of children back into educational settings.

'The welfare of children, staff and parents are at the heart of decisions on opening education settings more widely That’s why we are asking schools and early years providers to ensure children are kept in small consistent groups throughout the school day, and as far as possible in the same consistent groups in any wraparound provision they attend.'

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