Wednesday, June 15, 2005

On Mother Kelly's Doorstep: Catholic Herald 16 June 2005

About half of working mums with young children would rather be at home caring for their own children. About a quarter of the younger teenage boys who come back to an empty home after school every day say they would really prefer a parent to be there to give them a hug and a biscuit, and to nag them to get down to their homework. Both these figures were revealed in recent surveys.
The Government’s response? To make it easier for parents to look after their own children at home, by, for example, allowing them to transfer their personal tax allowance to their working partner?
Nope. Instead, Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, announces the 10 hour a day, year round school - the “wraparound” school, providing affordable (cheap) child care for children up to 14 from 8 am to 6pm.
With all its good intentions, the wraparound school looks like a final judgement on the parents of Britain: you’ve failed. Your children are feral, fat, and don’t know what a leek is. Hand them over to the Government: leave them, as the old song says, on Mother Kelly’s doorstep.
On paper it looks exciting: children will be given a wholesome breakfast in the morning and later on kept happy and active with “painting, DVDs, board games, snooker, table tennis”. After a snack, the homework club gets going, with “football, basketball, computing, art, drama, chess, cookery” laid on until 6pm.
If you believe this will be the programme in all schools, think again. Who exactly will be staffing these after school clubs? Will a crowded inner city primary school be able to offer the same pleasant facilities as a country comprehensive? Will there be any help for larger families?
In schools where the average parent cannot afford £5 an hour for the top quality trained play leader, you can forget about the board games, the basketball and the chess, for a start. Many carers, I confidently predict, will do exactly what tired, uninspired parents do - plonk the kids in front of the TV.
How will it feel for the bullied, teased or just mildly unpopular child, after being tormented by Gavin in Year 5 all day, to have to endure his taunts right through until 6pm? For the young girl with period pains who needs to be curled up with a hot water bottle at home? How will larky lads in the summer react to being stuck in a hot city playground when they could be at the local pool or in the park, cooling off?
Enough moaning. Wraparound schooling is not ideal. But as a church, we can make it work for the good of our children by grasping the opportunities it represents.
Ms Kelly has indicated that schools should consult parents. Catholic schools in particular have a duty to involve not just parents, but also local parishes in deciding how to set up after school care. I hope Catholic parents won’t wait to be asked, but will step right up and make their wishes known.
As long as parents and parishes are allowed to influence individual school programmes, after school clubs could become a new location for catechism and faith building, for bringing generations closer together, for encouraging skills and invention.
Why not request that the after school session includes ten minutes of quiet prayer time, perhaps with some peaceful, devotional music playing? Why not offer to come in once a week to say the Rosary? Why not offer first communion and confirmation classes as part of the programme?
Will older, retired members of the local congregation be encouraged to offer themselves as after school carers? Many schools already use retired people as classroom helpers, doing useful and kind things such as listening to younger children reading. An after school club would be an ideal place for a retired person to offer their services passing onto children the skills that they have. Come and teach the kids to scramble an egg, to knit, to sew on a button. And while you do so, tell them about your own childhood, help them to see that you were once like them…and reminisce about the days when children were allowed to go home and watch whatever TV channel they wanted.

No comments: