Out of school: Dispute over out-of-school funding

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Out-of-school care provider Schoolfriend etc failed to apply for funding from three county councils, despite its claim that the closure of 150 clubs in November was due to a lack of local authority funding.

Chief financial officer Stephen Argent said that clubs in rural and deprived areas were refused funding by local authorities because they were unsustainable (News, 22 November).

Essex, Hertfordshire and West Sussex County Councils experienced out-of-school club closures in the autumn term. Hertfordshire also confirmed another closure at a Cheshunt school on 4 January.

Sarah Kiln, an independent out-of-school consultant working for Hertfordshire council, said, 'I contacted Schoolfriend etc on 7 February 2007. They said they didn't need funding because they had received £15m from two private investors when they set up. They also sent us a list of 30 schools they were talking with. We were very happy with that, because they were charging £6.50 per child per session when our county average is £8.50 and they said they could meet that because of the private finances.

'With any other club in Hertfordshire we would say that fee is not sustainable. And I don't think it would be sustainable in many other counties either.'

All six of the Schoolfriend clubs in West Sussex closed last term. A spokesman said, 'West Sussex has met with representatives of Schoolfriend to discuss funding. They had the option to apply for sustainability funding but chose not to. We are disappointed that the clubs do not appear to have been sustainable.'

An out-of-school services worker at Essex council has also confirmed that Schoolfriend etc failed to apply for sustainability funding. 'Schoolfriend etc met with us last summer. They listened to everything we said, sent us a list of about 15 to 20 schools and asked about getting a grant to start them all up. So we sent them all the information about obtaining funding. It explained that we do not do blanket funding and instead help people through the funding process with their individual clubs.'

Mr Argent told Nursery World, 'We are working with and receiving funds from many local authorities. We were in discussions with West Sussex and the amounts that we were being offered were not sufficient to save the clubs from closure. With the clubs in Essex we applied for sustainability funding and were told there was none available. Hertfordshire refused our original funding requests two years ago.'

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