The parents’ guide to after-school childcare: out-of-school clubs

After-school childcare: playing a game at a club
Convenient and cost-effective, out-of-school clubs can be a good solution to the before- and after-school childcare dilemma. So what do you need to know before you sign up?

What is an out-of-school club?

Out-of-school clubs are those that look after children before school (often called breakfast clubs), after school and during the school holidays – although not all clubs will provide all three options. They’re intended to help parents balance work and family life, as well as providing children with study support and extra-curricular experiences.

How do you find an after-school club?

The first step is to ask your school. ‘Since 2010, schools have been obliged to provide access to out-of-school childcare,’ says Catherine Wrench of the Out of School Alliance. ‘However, they don’t have to provide the care themselves. Some schools have out-of-school clubs on site, run either by the school or an external provider; others may share a club with another nearby school. Small schools may get away with simply providing a list of childminders who offer after-school care.’ You can also get information about out-of-school clubs from your local authority.

What should you look for in an after-school club?

Most parents go for the club that is the most convenient and cost-effective. But it’s still important to check out the quality of care. ‘Ideally, they should provide a good range of activities, where children are free to choose what to do,’ says Catherine. ‘It’s good practice to have one adult-led activity per day for children who need some direction, but otherwise children should have the same sort of flexibility as they would have at home.’

When you visit, look for the following:

  • How do staff interact with and discipline children?
  • How do children interact with each other, and with the staff?
  • Is there a range of activities on offer, including a comfortable area for children who just want to wind down?
  • Is there access to outdoor space, and are both indoor and outdoor areas safe, attractive and well-maintained?

Other things to ask include:

  • Are snacks, cold meals or cooked meals provided?
  • Do they open during the school holidays? If not, think about how you will cover these periods.
  • Can they collect children from after-school activities?
  • For off-site clubs, how are children collected from school? ‘It’s good practice to provide at least two CRB-checked helpers to collect children, and clubs must do a risk assessment of the journey from school to the club,’ says Catherine.
  • What are the staffing ratios? Clubs that cater for children under eight and are open for more than two hours a day must be Ofsted registered, and have a minimum of one adult per eight children; for over-eights, ratios are set by the insurance company and specify one adult per 10 children.

What about homework?

Out-of-school clubs are not homework clubs, so don’t expect your child to come home with his reading diary filled in and his numeracy finished. ‘If children particularly want to do their homework, staff should support that, but it’s not appropriate for parents to insist that their child does their homework and reading at after-school club,’ Catherine says.

Signing up for an out-of-school club

‘Out-of-school clubs can be very popular, so aim to book your place around half a term in advance,’ says Catherine. Bear in mind that priority is usually given to families whose children will attend Monday to Friday, and that you may not be able to get a space for every day that you need. ‘Some families split the childcare between an out-of-school club and a childminder or relative,’ Catherine suggests.

Out-of-school clubs: the costs

According to the Daycare Trust’s Childcare Costs survey 2013, the average cost of an after-school club is £49.67 per week (15 hours). Some offer sibling discounts, and many accept childcare vouchers – these are due to be phased out, but families who are already signed up to the scheme will continue to be able to use them.

What mums say about out-of-school clubs…

‘I started sending my son to after-school club but found it was just too full-on after a long day at school, so now he just goes twice a week and my mum has him on the other days.’
Sam, mum to Sebastian, six
‘How much my children enjoy their time at after-school club depends very much on which other children are there on that day.’
Georgina, mum to Conor, nine, and Ella, six
‘After-school club was great when both of my children were at the same school, but now my eldest has gone up to middle school, collecting them from two different sites at the end of the working day when both clubs close at the same time is a logistical nightmare.’
Ellie, mum to Charlie, nine, and George, seven