After-School Programs Invade Britain

Article excerpt

It's getting dark and the bell for the final class of the day has long since rung, but the classrooms and corridors of Latchmere Junior school are still abuzz with activity.

In one room, a triangular table of 10-year-olds pour over French grammar lessons, muttering gallicisms in hushed tones; in another room, younger, apple-cheeked children spiritedly play team games. Outside, netball enthusiasts learn the basics of the game, as a clatter of little footballers trot past on the way to practice.

Welcome to Britain's fast-growing world of after-school school, a whole new syllabus of classes, activities, games, and holiday clubs that are keeping children on the premises long after the official day is done.

While after-school activities have been around for years in Britain, as in the United States, the government now wants to formalize the programs in what it calls "extended schooling" or "wraparound education." This would elongate every school day with a mix of clubs, courses, and childcare facilities. For some children, the traditional 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. day could stretch to 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The transformation would, the government argues, give children the chance to try their hand at a wider range of disciplines. The extended hours would also buy crucial time for busy parents, enabling them better to juggle the workday and the run to pick up kids at school. In addition, longer hours could turn schools into community hubs, offering adult courses, health advice centers, parenting workshops, and family learning programs.

But the idea has its detractors. Some teachers worry that additional demands will be placed on their busy weekly schedules. Others say children will be too tired to make the most of the late- afternoon activities. Indeed, some wonder if the policy is truly aimed at the well-being of the children or the needs of the growing number of families in which both parents work.

"It's definitely not meant to be used as childcare, but it certainly is used that way by some parents," says Marion Ayres, who coordinates the after-school program at Latchmere.

The school has run occasional clubs for some years, Ms. Ayres says, but "not on the scale we have now," with at least half a dozen different options every weekday. She says the aim is not to relieve parents of childcare duties but to give children the chance to do different things - from drama to dance, gymnastics to gardening, computer studies to Spanish. Of the 360 children at the school, more than three quarters do some form of after-school activity. "For some children, school is the only opportunity they will get," says Ayres.

For the British government, Latchmere sets a positive example for other schools to follow. …