Use empty school buildings for childcare, says de Souza

Children's commissioner also calls for an extended school day to address gaps in provision for older children

Children's commissioner also calls for an extended school day to address gaps in provision for older children

“Underused space” in primary schools with falling rolls should be used for early years childcare, the children’s commissioner for England has said.

Dame Rachel de Souza also said bringing early education into schools would offer an opportunity to align the training, development and support of staff across the two sectors.

The latest government projections predict the primary school population will fall by 16.6 per cent over the next five years.

A Schools Week investigation earlier this year found councils are already reducing school capacity and repurposing empty classrooms, with the number of surplus places set to soar by up to 140 per cent in some parts of England.

The Department for Education has also tasked its property company LocatEd with reviewing hundreds of school sites for potential housing developments, after one of its bosses said the estate had surplus land equivalent in size to central London.

But de Souza wants to see underused space to address problems with capacity in the childcare sector.

Her Vision for Childcare report highlighted challenges including complexity of funding, affordability and availability of placements, flexibility and availability of information about
local childcare.

Schools should therefore be “utilised to help address the early education challenge”, the report said.

Using schools could make childcare more ‘sustainable’

The report pointed out that rent or mortgage payments currently account for 12 per cent of childcare providers’ costs, while other costs including utilities account for 11 per cent.

These costs are “only likely to increase in the short term, and may make many childcare settings unsustainable”.

Opening up schools to provide more early years education “would address both these issues”, with take-up of free childcare currently “hugely variable”.

Drawing on school resources to increase provision for two, three and four-year-olds in school “would be a way to meet this challenge and provide greater consistency across the country”.

Bringing early education into the wider school sector would also “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.”

Extended day would address ‘gaps’ for older children

de Souza’s report also called for an extended school day to address gaps in provision for older children.

Schools “sit at the heart of their communities, visible to and trusted by families in the area”, the report said.

When it comes to school age children the “most straightforward approach to making childcare manageable and affordable is by providing an extended school day, so 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 to 14”.

“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 government examined the possibility of an extended school day last year, but concluded implementing it would involve “significant delivery considerations” including teaching capacity, new legislation and accountability measures to ensure quality.

Instead, ministers have told schools they will be expected to offer a 32.5-hour week from 2023, with Ofsted due to check on implementation. However, most schools already do this, and the majority of those that don’t are within 15 minutes of meeting the requirement.

Liz Truss has reportedly considered extending the school day to 4pm to help parents with childcare, but no announcement has been made. Any move to extend the school day further will undoubtedly raise questions about funding at a time when budgets are already stretched.

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  1. How about reducing the working day instead. Children are too young to be staying in school any longer 5 days a week. This is making school’s /education appear to be there for the working man’s childcare as a posed to what is best for the child. It is already proven that children can only hold their attention for 10-12 minutes at the age of 4 so of what benefit is it to the child to even be in school for 6 hours let alone any longer.