Out of school clubs provide care and play opportunities for children in full time education. Clubs can operate as breakfast clubs, after-school clubs or holiday clubs.
Unless you happen to live in a particularly well-served area, there is rarely a choice of out of school club: usually there is just the one associated with your child's school. However, even if there is no real choice of club you should still take time looking at the care on offer so that you can be sure that your child will be happy there. If you have any doubts or concerns about any aspect of the club, raise them with the manager of the club before committing your child to their care.
Some of the issues that you should consider when looking at an out of school club are outlined below.
The out of school club should normally be registered with Ofsted. In certain specific circumstances, for example if the club is open for less than 2 hours per day, or only caters for children over the age of 8, registration with Ofsted is voluntary. For all other clubs that provide wraparound care it is compulsory.
It is best to choose an out of school club that is Ofsted registered (whether on the compulsory or voluntary register) because:
- This gives you assurance that the club is meeting appropriate standards of care with suitably qualified staff.
- If you are eligible for Working Tax Credit (WTC) you can reclaim some of the childcare costs for an Ofsted registered club.
- If your employer provides childcare vouchers you can use these to pay for an Ofsted registered club.
Vist the club
The best way to get a feel for what the club is like is to arrange a visit. Any reputable out of school club should be more than happy for prospective parents to come and have a look around.
When you visit the club, pay particular attention to:
- How the staff greet and interact with the children (particularly how they deal with inappropriate behaviour)
- How the children talk to the staff (Are they wary or open? Polite or rude?)
- How the children interact with each other (Are they cooperative? Inclusive? Respectful of others' space/wishes?)
- The range of activities on offer (Are children free to choose their own activities? Is there a cosy, chill out area for children who just want to wind down? Do the activities seem well thought out and organised?)
- The indoor and outdoor space (Is there room for both boisterous play and quiet activities? Does it seem attractive, warm and safe?)
Whilst at the club make sure that you have a chat with the manager or supervisor to find out about the procedures for registration, payment of fees, settling in new children, etc. The manager should also be able to provide you with a handbook or brochure describing how the club works and its key policies.
We have produced a Parent Checklist which you may find helpful to take with you when you visit a club. It outlines the key questions that you should ask when deciding on whether to send your child to a particular club.
Download the Parent Checklist >
Get some feedback
If possible, talk to some parents who already use the club to get their feedback. Are their children happy there? Are their children busy and reluctant to come home when their parents come to collect them, or are they waiting desperately by the door?
Do the parents find the staff friendly and approachable? Is the club flexible with regards to the changing days that the children are booked in, or booking holidays?
Ofsted inspection reports
Although you probably wouldn't want to place your child in a club rated as 'unsatisfactory' by Ofsted, it would be unwise to make your decision about a club based solely on the rating from the Ofsted inspection report. This is because:
- The Ofsted inspection rating is based on criteria that are important to Ofsted (eg having the necessary paperwork in place and meeting educational objectives). These might not be the criteria that are most important to you (eg warm and friendly staff, happy atmosphere, engaged children etc).
- If the club caters for reception age children, the inspection will be based only on how well their needs are met, not on the experience of the majority of children in the club.
- The Ofsted inspection could be up to 3 years old: the club could have improved—or gone downhill—significantly since then.
- If the club has recently opened, it is unlikely to achieve a rating above 'satisfactory', no matter how good it is because it will not be able to demonstrate the necessary continuous development (eg planning, assessment and observations, risk assessments, fire drills, etc) over a period of time.
- If the club is run directly by a school, or at a day nursery, the Ofsted rating will reflect the standard of the setting as a whole, not the club specifically.
An Ofsted inspection report can provide useful background information about a club but should be considered as just part of your information gathering process, and should certainly not replace a personal visit to the club itself.
A local club or a centralised facility?
Whilst some schools have their own out of school club (whether run by the school itself or by a third party), others make use of a club situated off-site which is shared with other nearby schools. If you are fortunate enough to have a choice between a local out of school club and an off-site shared club, you might want to consider some of the advantages and disadvantages as discussed below.
Local club - pros:
- Your child is more likely to have friends attending the club.
- The club will have exactly the same opening days and times as the school.
- Minimal time spent transferring the children from the school to the club.
- Your child is more likely to be already familiar with some of the staff (if other parents, teaching assistants, etc, help out at the club).
- Easier liaison between the school and the club.
Local club - cons:
- If the club is held on the school premises, it can feel to the child that the club is just an extension of school time rather than a separate activity.
- If your child has personality clashes with a child at school it could be hard on them if they also have to interact with that child for a further couple of hours at the out of school club.
Off-site shared club - pros:
- Provides an opportunity for your child to mix with a wider group of children.
- Being larger, can often offer a wider range of activities and better facilities than a local club.
- Definitely won't feel like a continuation of the school day to the child.
Off-site shared club - cons:
- Depending on how far away the club is located, it might not be so convenient for you to collect your child at the end of the day.
- It might be harder for your child to settle in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar staff and children.
- Some of the childcare time that you are paying for will inevitably be spent in transporting your child from their school to the club. If children have to be collected from other schools en route, the journey time could end up accounting for a significant proportion of your child's time at the club.
To summarise, when choosing an out of school club:
- Check whether it is Ofsted registered
- Visit the club to have a look around
- Get feedback from other parents
- Ask yourself: "Will my child be happy here?"