Wrap-around provision as part of Covid recovery

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
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Before and after-school clubs have been hit hard – first to be cut, the last to be reinstated. But they could be exactly what disadvantaged pupils and your Covid recovery plan need, says Suzanne O’Connell

During Covid schools became accustomed to limiting their services. Many of the additional extras which they might have offered previously were closed down. Anything seen as an optional extra that perhaps brought with it unknown risks was, at the very least, postponed.

We have seen the pattern with residential trips, school events, visits and more. For some schools, closing down the extras also meant the suspension of wrap-around care and after-school activities. They would have brought together children and adults from outside the school bubble and with many parents working from home the facilities were no longer needed to the same degree. In fact, school itself became an extended care facility for key worker and vulnerable families at the height of the pandemic.

Now, with the worst (hopefully) behind us, the argument for restarting and even increasing the use of facilities and clubs before and after school is stronger than ever.

We all understand the concerns about the impact of Covid on disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils, both academically and pastorally, and are working hard to help them recover. The reactivating of additional clubs and the provision of support for working parents or those seeking work could be crucial to helping these pupils and their families to move on from the hardships of Covid.

The impact of Covid on after-school clubs

The national lockdown in March 2020 meant the closure of schools and their after-school facilities. Although some hubs were made available for key worker children, most other families did not have access to the same facilities.

According to an Out of School Alliance survey in May 2020, of 359 after-school clubs, 82% of them were temporarily closed and only 13% remained open to support key worker children (OSA, 2020).

For those clubs re-opening following the lockdown there were some noticeable changes in practice. Clubs were operating greater levels of hygiene and organising children in bubbles. Choice of activities was reduced and some activities were stopped or were only allocated to specific bubbles.

A research report entitled How have after-school clubs adapted in the United Kingdom post-March lockdown? King (2021) said the lockdown and Covid-19 had enforced changes in four areas: maintenance of the service, the use of bubbles, the available play space, and play behaviour of the children. The report reveals: “An increase hygiene measures, staffing and amount of space for individual children, however there is a decrease in the number of children attending, the resources and activities on offer, and movement within the space.”

Perhaps what was most noticeably lost was the opportunity to mix age groups. The report adds: “Although after-school childcare is still being offered, there is financial concern on their viability and sustainability as parental demand may drop which has implications in providing a unique environment where children of different ages and abilities mix.”

This is a key feature of after-school provision and it does have some distinct advantages that pupils may not be in a position to experience in school. Older pupils who lack confidence can find themselves given more responsibility and an opportunity to shine in a mixed-age group. Equally, younger pupils who find relationships with their peer group difficult can experience more success with older pupils.

The lockdown, concerns about children mixing, and the reduction in parental need for provision have had a financial impact on clubs too. So have additional requirements that led to more staff being needed for fewer children. This affected many clubs which were already feeling the pinch as a result of closure. Although some short-term financial help was available, it is the longer term implications for these clubs that need to be considered and addressed.

The case for supporting them

After-school clubs established as part of a wrap-around childcare provision are not directly responsible for educating children.

However, they provide very important opportunities for play and socialising that many pupils will benefit from, particularly now. They contribute to their informal learning and provide an important space for them to play.

As many schools have reduced the amount of playtime for their pupils, this has become an even more important feature of after-school clubs.

There has been plenty of evidence that the pandemic has affected children’s social skills. Schools are reporting that there are noticeable shifts in pupils’ behaviour, particularly for younger pupils who have missed out on important socialising opportunities for a significant proportion of their lives.

Of particular significance is the benefit for pupils that comes with wrap-around care of being able to mix in different age groups (Barker et al, 2003) – a benefit that was withdrawn from playgrounds on the return to school with adherence to bubbles and is only just now being reinstated.

Another key feature of the after-school club is the amount of free play there is. Staff generally support rather than control patterns of play. These opportunities have been severely restricted over the past two years and their reinstatement is vital.

Recent guidance

Updated government guidance for out-of-school settings, including holiday clubs, breakfast clubs and after-school clubs, clearly indicates that practice should be as close to normal now as possible.

“Given the detrimental impact that restrictions on education and childcare can have on children and young people, any measures in out-of-school settings should only ever be considered as a last resort, kept to the minimum number of settings or groups possible, and for the shortest amount of time possible.” (DfE, 2022)

In the associated contingency guidance, the DfE says that settings should consider extra action when there is:

  • A higher than previously experienced and/or rapidly increasing number of staff or student absences due to Covid-19 infection.
  • Evidence of severe disease due to Covid-19, for example if a pupil or staff member is admitted to hospital due to Covid-19.
  • A cluster of cases where there are concerns about the health needs of vulnerable staff or students within the affected group.

Overall, wrap-around care should be able to operate more or less as always and should aim to allow pupils to mix and develop the friendships across age-groups that we have seen in the past.

Outsourced or in-house

Unfortunately, a number of before and after-school club providers folded during and after lockdown. If this affected your school then you may now take the “opportunity” to consider what model is best for you. The first decision is whether you take on the facility as a school or outsource it to another provider.

There are benefits and disadvantages to both approaches and much will depend on your current capacity internally and the availability of a provider locally. If you have a member of staff who is keen to be involved and is prepared to take on the management of a facility themselves then you may want to give them the opportunity to do this.

Organising it internally means that you have more control and can match more closely the needs of your catchment. It can also be a good experience for a member of staff who has a passion for the particular type of provision and is keen to have responsibility for developing it.

If no such person exists, then you are probably best to outsource. Doing this means you can benefit from guaranteed (we would hope) experience and skills, and you do not have the worry of day-to-day management. And if the organisation has other clubs locally this can help with issues such as staff absence and the provision of a varied menu of activities with appropriate resources.

Keeping parents informed

Whichever you decide, it is beneficial to begin by checking out what your parents currently need. A survey sent to parents across the school might ask for their interest and what type of provision they might use. This gives you an indication of whether the project is feasible financially.

Be warned though. There will be a number of parents who will indicate their interest but who may never take up the provision. It is very easy for them to say yes to an idea in principle. As such, initial indications of interest are likely to be an overestimate although this will change over time as parents can see your commitment to maintaining the club.

It is important to keep parents informed, letting them know what is being offered, how much it will cost and the start date. If you are running the club yourselves, you will have much information about your pupils available already. However, this will still need filtering for the details that the club managers need to have to hand. Remember, your school office will be closed for much of the time that the club is open.

If outsourcing then you will need to act as a go-between, at least in the early stages. The need to do this should reduce as parents become more familiar with those in charge. Make sure you establish regular communication, however.

This is particularly important when it comes to safeguarding. Before and after-school provision can provide a different perspective on pupils who you have concerns about, can be places where disclosures occur, and can also bring to your attention safeguarding concerns of which you were not aware.

A worthwhile investment

Whichever route you take to wrap-around provision, the case for it is strong. Not only in respect of the benefits for pupils, but also to families as we recover from the pandemic. A facility with a good reputation locally not only brings families to your door, it demonstrates a school’s commitment to its community. 

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

Further information & resources

  • Barker et al: The impact of out of school care: A qualitative study examining the views of children, families and playworkers, Department for Education and Skills, 2003.
  • DfE: Covid-19: Actions for out-of-school settings, February 2022: https://bit.ly/3k4pCve
  • Headteacher Update: Covid recovery: Promoting playground play and social skills, March 2022: https://bit.ly/3Oxw4sm
  • King: How have after-school clubs adapted in the United Kingdom post-March lockdown? Journal of Childhood, Education & Society (2,2), 2021: https://bit.ly/3xMGY7F
  • Out of School Alliance: Impact of coronavirus on OSCs, May 2020: https://bit.ly/3Oynz0c

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