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Extending the school day would tackle childcare challenge, says children’s commissioner

Extending the school day would be a solution to childcare challenges facing parents, the children’s commissioner for England has proposed.

In Dame Rachel de Souza’s report on her vision for childcare, she says that making childcare manageable and affordable by providing an extended school day would ensure that children can be cared for on school premises.

“This would address the biggest existing gap in childcare provision, with the majority of areas saying there is a lack of provision for after school care for children aged 5-14,” said Ms de Souza. “An extended school day not only works best for parents but can also open up opportunities for additional extra-curricular activities and clubs, including breakfast clubs, in the place that children are already familiar with.”

The report argues that placing schools at the heart of delivery, driving up the number of childminders, and making sense of current funding streams would provide accountability and oversight of quality.

Furthermore, it highlights that the number of pupils in state funded primaries is set to fall by a fifth over the next decade which would result in significant underused space in schools. As rent or mortgage payments currently account for 12% of private providers’ costs, and other costs (including utilities) account for 11% - and these are likely to increase in the short term, making many childcare settings unsustainable.

“Opening up schools to provide more early years education would address both these issues,” says the report.

According to research carried out by the children’s commissioner, the take-up of free hours around the country is hugely variable, and that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be in private provision, and more likely to take up their place in a nursery class in school. Local authorities around the country report huge variation in their ability to secure sufficient childcare.

Drawing on school resources to increase provision for 2, 3 and 4-year-olds in school would be a way to meet this challenge and provide greater consistency across the country, the report adds.

“One of the most significant challenges facing the sector is recruitment and retention of staff, with low pay and poor progression opportunities often cited as the cause. Bringing early education into the wider school sector would present an opportunity to align workforce training, development, and support with that of wider school staff and teachers. For too long those educating the youngest children haven’t had the respect and opportunities they deserve, and this needs to change,” said Dame de Souza.

Attracting more childminders into the sector is essential to ensure the right balance is struck between easing administrative burdens and ensuring there is the right oversight and support in place to drive up quality.

Childminders should not be seen as an afterthought to the childcare puzzle and should be front and centre to an offer. Every local area should be required to have an agency for childminders – this could be run directly by a local authority, a multi-academy trust, a group of school or the local Family Hub.

These agencies should transform the way information is provided to parents, childminders are supported, and different parts of the system are joined up, says the report.

WillisPalmer’s Head of Practice Lucy Hopkins said: “Whilst extending the school day may assist working parents and the issues of childcare costs, some thought needs to be given on the impact it will have on children and whether it is in their best interests.”

“I have been working in schools as part of WillisPalmer’s School Social Work Service, and one of the things I have been hearing recently is that children, particularly, the younger primary age children, are exhausted by the end of the school day. In addition, so too are the teachers. We know that teachers utilise time after the school day for staff and departmental meetings, meetings with parents, marking, lesson preparation, so when would teachers find the time to do all of these things if the school day was extended and they were teaching for longer?”

“There has been mention of schools closing early during the winter in order to be able to manage the rise in heating and electricity costs, so the way the current climate is regarding the cost of living crisis suggests that there will be difficulties all round and there is certainly no easy fix or simple solution to a national problem that is only going to worsen in coming months," concluded Lucy.

Vision for Childcare Report

Working Together For Children

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