After-school warehousing vs quality childcare

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Government reforms to out-of-school clubs will be detrimental to the sector and children, warns director of the Out of School Alliance Catherine Wrench.

catherine-wrench

While the Out of School Alliance (OOSA) acknowledges that some of the planned changes outlined in the Government’s response to the public consultation on the regulation of childcare will benefit providers of out of school care, overall our members think that the proposal will have a detrimental effect on our sector and the experience of children in out-of-school care.

It is clear that the focus of the Government’s changes is on increasing the number of childcare places, not on the quality of care delivered.

The removal of the requirement for any out-of-school club staff to have any relevant qualifications or experience is a significant backwards step. In our contribution to the consultation process we had recommended that the qualification requirements were made more relevant to out-of-school settings and had strongly argued in favour of retaining the requirement for a Level 3 qualification for the setting manager. This would have helped promote playwork principles and maintain quality within the setting.

The changes currently proposed by the Government mean that potentially unqualified and inexperienced managers will be expected to make crucial decisions on staffing levels, staff deployment and safeguarding.

It may well be that it is left to the insurance industry rather than the Government to ensure safe staffing levels in the private, voluntary and independent sector, as most insurers currently insist on certain minimum staffing ratios.

The Government seems to be oblivious to the differences between education and play. It says that staff ratios should be broadly in line with those used in classrooms but this completely fails to take into account the differences between classroom-based activities and the free ranging and physical nature of play. It is much easier to ensure the safety of a classroom of similarly-aged children sitting at their desks and engaged on the same activity, than to supervise 30 children at an after-school club whose ages range from four to 11, and who are engaged in individual activities, moving from indoors to outdoors as they choose.

For many children, out-of-school clubs represent a relief from the pressures and expectations of school. The proposals are clearly aimed at encouraging school bodies to run clubs on school premises using school staff; as far as the children are concerned this will appear simply as an extension of the school day.

While there are a few proposals in the Government’s response document that we welcome, overall our view is that the planned changes will lead to a proliferation of cheap, low quality childcare which will devalue the play experience for children. Our particular fear is that the changes will drive existing high quality settings, those employing qualified staff and using safe staffing ratios, out of business.

Out-of-school childcare is an area where market forces rarely apply – parents don’t have the option of shopping around to choose which after-school club they like best, they have to use the one associated with their child’s school as there is rarely an alternative.

Our concern is that poor quality childcare will become the norm with little if any external quality control. From the recent proposals it is unclear how the Ofsted inspection process will work under the new system – will it follow the current Early Years inspection cycle (ie every 48 months) or will follow the current Childcare Register inspection scheme of every 10 years?

While we understand the Government’s motivation to make childcare more affordable they seem to have overlooked the needs of the child in this process. After-school warehousing of children is not the same as quality childcare.

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