Unfinished business: where next for extended schools?

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It’s a public policy reform that has the potential to help the Government to solve two major policy headaches – improving access to affordable childcare for working parents and helping schools cut the attainment gap between richer and poorer children – but the number of extended schools remains inadequate. 

To the uninitiated, schools which deliver a range of services beyond their core function of classroom education are known as ‘extended schools’, and offer anything from childcare outside basic school hours, to sports and arts activities and adult learning sessions. 

Evidence shows that wraparound childcare can help parents stay in work, while sports and arts activities can improve children’s ‘soft’ skills and motivation to learn, leading to better educational and employment outcomes.

Last week, CPAG and Family and Childcare Trust published a new report: Unfinished Business: Where Next for Extended Schools?, which takes stock of the extent and success of extended schools by mapping the current provision in England and comparing it with parental demand for services. 

Drawing on surveys of more than 1,000 head teachers and 1,200 children, the report finds that extended schools are failing to match parents’ needs for afterschool and holiday childcare. 

Almost two fifths (39 per cent) of schools surveyed for the report said parents wanted holiday provision but only 29 per cent of schools offered it. For afterschool childcare, the shortfall was 11 percentage points, with only just over half of schools providing this. The mismatch was biggest in primary schools. 

Encouragingly, extended schools are popular with children and schools. Only 7 per cent of the children surveyed for the report were not interested in them and head teachers felt that they provided a valuable service, particularly for disadvantaged children.

However, the report also finds that a lack of resources is preventing schools from expanding. Around three quarters of schools would like to expand the number of children using services and the range of services offered and one third wanted to expand their opening hours. 

Schools described a range of barriers to expansion, including a lack of funding (two thirds), of space (47 per cent) and of staffing (54 per cent). Only 6 per cent of schools said lack of need was a barrier. With adequate resources, there is clearly an appetite to expand these valuable services. 

The report also considers the role that extended services have in tackling disadvantage and poverty. Worryingly, it finds that children from disadvantaged families are not using extended services before and after school as often as their better off peers, even though the services are usually part-funded by the pupil premium. 

Although in the vast majority of schools, kids from deprived families use the out-of- school services as much as their better off peers, in a small but significant minority, hard-up families use them less – possibly because they can’t afford the parental contributions that most schools ask for, the report finds. 

According to the report, three quarters of schools offering extended services use pupil premium money to fund them; 71 per cent use parental contributions and half use core funding. However, what isn’t clear is whether schools are using pupil premium money to support the target group of pupils, or whether it’s spent in a less targeted way to fund services which are available for all pupils. 

The research also found kids with a retired or unemployed parent were less interested in extended school activities compared to kids with a parent working full or part time. Children whose parents were not looking for work out of choice had comparatively higher interest than kids of unemployed or retired parents – which implies that income, rather than the fact of being economically inactive per se, influenced families attitudes to and interest in the services. 

Where kids from disadvantaged families are less interested in extended school activities it may be because they haven’t previously been able to do the kinds of things the services offer – and so are less inclined to pursue activities that are unfamiliar. 

So what can we do with the report’s findings? We are using the evidence to ask Government to clearly articulate a vision for extended schools in providing childcare and positive activities for children and young people. 

We’re also asking for schools to be encouraged to monitor the use of their extended services by disadvantaged children and to work with all families, including disadvantaged families, to understand the barriers to participation and then take action to overcome these.

Read the report