In a speech at the Resolution Foundation last month, Elizabeth
Truss MP set out a compelling vision for wraparound childcare in
schools. If her party wins the next election, all schools will offer
nine or ten-hour days, allowing parents to drop their kids off before 8am
and collect them at 6pm.
Help for working parents will, according to the vision, also benefit child development as children can use the extra hours in the school day for homework support and other activities.
Offering parents a more reliable guarantee of childcare around the school day would go a long way to closing the gap in female employment between the UK and the best performers in the world. Unlike in other countries, full-time employment does not pick up in the UK once children reach school age. Many mothers continue to work part time or not at all, and while choice comes into play, there are still practical difficulties with a school day that fits poorly with the work day.
The concern with the minister's vision, however, is the fact that there appears to be neither stick nor carrot to get schools to deliver and we know from the extended schools' experience that one or the other is essential.
Under the extended schools programme, funding was available to local authorities to work with schools to provide wraparound care and after-school activities. Nevertheless, many parents reported that their local school was not offering an extended day, despite the fact that most schools claimed to be extended. This time around, there appears to be no new money available to butter up schools to get on board.
If not carrots, then what about sticks? Here too, there appears to be nothing in place to ensure that schools behave differently. If providing wraparound childcare on school sites was central to the inspection framework, schools would be quick to develop this new offer. But Ofsted is going in the opposite direction, sharpening its focus on teaching and learning rather than on the broader role of the school.