As many parents of the children starting school for the first time this week will testify, arranging childcare for children when they are very young is not always the hardest part. It can be more difficult to arrange childcare during the school term as many of the families of more than 600,000 children beginning reception year have discovered.
How can this possibly be so? It's simple really - office hours and school hours just don't fit and even for parents who are working part time or shifts it is unlikely that the shift is going to finish neatly around the school day. Faced with this logistical challenge - often worse if you are a single parent or a parent with less help to fall back on - it is unsurprising that some parents question whether work really is worth it. New research from 4Children shows that a huge 47% of parents of primary school children who are struggling to find childcare are considering giving up their job or intend to do so, accounting for around 19% of all parents of primary school-aged children. Despite major advances in some areas of childcare, there is still too little out of school care at an affordable price to keep up with demand. And parents are clear that more is needed.
So what is the solution? This has to begin in the place where children are for the rest of the day - in schools. Now those that have been following this particular story line for some time may remember announcements in the past from the then Prime Minister Tony Blair back in 2007 promising a revolution in the school day to operate from dawn to dusk. Many schools did in fact begin to open up their buildings for childcare to help parents work and 64% of primary schools now provide breakfast clubs and 70% after school clubs. That is a rise in breakfast clubs but sadly a fall in after school clubs. In fact government data shows one in five primary schools do not provide any before or after school childcare or activities, compared with 3% in 2005. But we know that parents want this. Our research shows that nine in ten parents of children attending primary schools which do not have after school clubs would like one in their school and four in five parents would like a breakfast club.
This is not about children spending more time in the classroom doing formal lessons or about teachers working longer hours. It is about opening up our best buildings which are filled with resources (and let's not forget are designed for children) for longer hours. This means children learn and play safely with friends at times that also help families work and remain financially independent. Local community groups already providing childcare are often pleased to work with the school to make it happen. Parents are delighted that children can remain in the safe environment they dropped them off in and children have chance to relax, have fun and make the most of the computers, sports and arts facilities that are at their disposal.
With all the main political parties keen to extend the school day, things look set to change in the future. But thousands of children and parents will continue to struggle in the meantime. With such clear demand, the question has to be: Why wait? Let's reclaim this important community asset and respond to the needs of children and families everywhere.