Wrap around care – don’t bank on it
It’s 4am on a dark, freezing cold February morning last year. Already there’s 15 people in the queue in front of you, firmly grasping their flasks of coffee. Believe it or not, this is not the queue for the much anticipated Next sale, no, this is a line of parents desperate to secure a coveted place for their kids in an after school club at a local primary school. And they had to do it all again the following month.
We all know that Elmbridge is a growing borough, we have more children than there are school places. Over the last few years nearly every school in Hersham and Walton has had to take on ‘bulge’ classes to accommodate the ever increasing population.
Whilst local schools are just about managing, year on year, to find capacity for these extra children; wrap around care for working parents is being put under increasing amounts of pressure. Schools simply don’t always have capacity to provide this valuable facility.
Last year the Government pledged to ‘cut red tape and enable schools to offer affordable after-school care, working alone or with external providers’. David Cameron said: “The full potential of school sites is not being realised. Schools are well-placed to expand affordable provision. Making school sites available to other providers could generate savings, which could be passed on to parents through lower fees.”
But does this happen in practice? According to Surrey County Council, schools are expected to provide high quality childcare from 8am to 6pm, either onsite or through other local providers. Some local schools seem to manage this more effectively than others. And once they offer some places, they have met that obligation but left many people without. Many still have lengthy waiting lists for far too few places.
So what can you do?
Firstly when choosing your child’s next school, pay particular attention to their before/after school offering – ask if they have a waiting list, do they give sibling preference and what the likelihood is of you getting a place. Generally speaking schools that use an external provider tend to have more places available than those who don’t.
Wherever you can, plan ahead. If you know your chosen school has limited wrap around care available, start looking at other options such as a childminder. Speak to other parents who are in the same situation as you – you may be able to share childcare arrangements.
Utilise what’s already there. For example most schools offer a range of after school clubs such as football and tennis. OK so they won’t run until 6pm but they may buy you a few valuable extra hours at a reasonable cost.
Look online for relevant information. All the local schools have their own websites which detail the wrap around care that they offer. www.Childcare.co.uk allows you to search for suitable childcare as well as enabling you to post your requirements. Surrey County Council has a wealth of useful information on its website to help you source childcare which you can access here as well as advice on choosing and arranging the right childcare.
Do ensure any option you choose is Ofsted registered. Not only does this mean they are properly regulated, but you will also be able to use your childcare vouchers in full/part payment of your childcare costs.
And finally use your network – ask friends, other parents from school and pop a message on your Facebook page. There are many options out there and we hope you find the right choice for you.
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