A Working Parent’s Utopia: School and Childcare combined – great in theory but whose paying?

SJEarlier this week, Elizabeth Truss MP, education minister, gave a speech acknowledging that parenting and trying to combine a working life with that of a family life was becoming increasingly difficult.

Working mothers on average spend 97 minutes with their children per day whilst fathers spend only 30 minutes. In addition trying to fund and find a balanced work/life balance with the right childcare is a financial and administrative nightmare. Whether a parent is a City worker or working shifts in a hospital, the cost of childcare and the difficulties in juggling school and childcare is a problem that for a long time might have been recognised but not addressed. Whilst school has essentially provided a place for children to go during the day for most of the year, finding childcare for after school, during the holidays and for children under the age of five has long been provided by a combination of sources; grandparents, nannies, childminders, nurseries, after school clubs, breakfast clubs etc. That schools typically end at 3pm is a nightmare for working parents whilst the cost of pre-school childcare is often so prohibitive that many working mums choose not to return to work as the financial equation does not add up.

There will always be the argument that children need time at home with their parents after school or that increasing the school day will increase the pressure on our children and unnecessarily tire them out but the reality is times are changing and increasingly both mothers and fathers are working and want to / need to work.

Elizabeth Truss’ comment that “We’re determined to make schools become institutions that work better with modern life – that prepare children for all the challenges of the modern world, and support and help family life – not necessarily for extra lessons – but for a safe, calm place to do homework, or to go over classes which you didn’t get the first time round” will give some hope that the Government is beginning to understand the nightmare that combining schools and childcare, as well as work and family life entails. The Conservative party is proposing to coordinate the school day with wrap around childcare provided on the school premises until early evening with childminders taking over from then on if necessary. Schools will be able to open for 9/10 hours per day offering breakfast clubs and after school care in the form of extra-curricular; sports, scouts, drama, homework sessions etc. In addition, schools will be encouraged to provide nursery care within the school environment for children from 2 years and up. Currently 30% of schools have nursery care but by allowing schools to extend the services that they can provide, the Conservative party hopes to reduce the cost for nursery care as a result of nurseries sharing existing buildings and administrative infrastructure.

It sounds like pure heaven for working parents; the utopia they have been longing for but as with all great scenarios, the finer details might just end up shattering the illusion.

There will always be the argument that children need time at home with their parents after school or that increasing the school day will increase the pressure on our children and unnecessarily tire them out but the reality is times are changing and increasingly both mothers and fathers are working and want to / need to work. In addition, our education standards are falling compared to other countries within the OECD. Figures show that just under a third (32%) of disadvantaged white British children got at least five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths last year, compared with 61.5% of poor children from an Indian background and 76.8% of poor children from a Chinese background.

The real debate however and one that is not answered by the Conservative’s proposals nor by Elizabeth Truss upon questioning earlier this week is how such care, as great as it might sound, will be funded. In addition, Elizabeth Truss, when questioned as to whether the provision of extended days by schools would be mandatory, stated that there would be no obligation on parents to take advantage of these longer hours. Query then whether the families that this initiative is targeted at and would most benefit would actually make use of it. Again when asked for information as to whether such extra-curricular activities would be free or what parents would be charged, the answer was evaded. Currently 64% of all English primary schools provide access to before school care, 70% provide access to after-school care and 19% provide access to holiday care. These currently charge parents for after school care whilst extra-curricular activities such as athletics are often free.

Providing universal free good quality childcare which would wrap around existing school could help resolve the school / childcare nightmare for all working parents, whether they work in the City or not and could help provide a universal, streamlined education and childcare system in the UK. It sounds like pure heaven for working parents; the utopia they have been longing for but as with all great scenarios, the finer details might just end up shattering the illusion.

Author:

Sarah-Jane Butler, Director, Parental Choice Limited, the one stop source for all your childcare needs.

www.parentalchoice.co.ukHelping you make the right choices for you and your family.

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