'Practical' approach needed for after school care: Teachers Association

Fairfield Teachers Association president Mandy Wells has welcomed the state government's implementation of a key election commitment to expand and invest in before and after school care - as long as it comes with the "appropriate safeguards and standards" that will ensure its success.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell announced this week consultation on a $120 million investment for before and after school care for all children at public primary schools by 2021 would begin in Term 2.

Parents will be able to register their interest in out-of-school-hours care service where they might not have one or theirs is full via Service NSW from July 1.

"We are getting on with the job of delivering this important initiative to ensure working families have greater access to more affordable, convenient and flexible child care services," Ms Berejiklian said. "No matter where you live or what your circumstances are, parents should have access to quality and affordable out of school hours care for their children"

Ms Wells said families that require access to these services must have the assurance that costs will be affordable and that qualified, accredited staff will be running the facilities.

A new specialist team in the Department of Education is being created to coordinate services and manage leases to relieve this burden from principals. The government will also reduce the cost of before and after school care by up to $225 per child per year, through a capped rental subsidy of up to $15,000 for providers who run services on NSW Government school grounds.

"Providers would need to be monitored to ensure they meet safety standards, pass on any government subsidies under this scheme via the lowering of their fees and that they follow the best practice guidelines for the welfare and health of all children in their care," she said.

"They must adhere to standards and follow all regulations - with appropriate accountability mechanisms in place before they open for business."

The feasibility of teachers having to share their classrooms and conduct all of their planning, preparation, meetings, resourcing, marking and set up /pack up time somewhere else is just not workable, nor best practice.

MANDY WELLS

Ms Wells said her biggest concern is that schools in metropolitan and major regional centres will be required to open their playgrounds, halls or classrooms for before and after school care and school holiday care from 7am to 6pm.

She also had reservations about the "practicalities" of the government's $120 million strategy over four years which includes $50 million to help schools buy new equipment and expand their facilities.

Potential duty of care clashes when both teachers and care providers share a space, the possible loss of income if the community use of halls are handed over, playground space priorities and issues with storage/use of equipment were some of the issues she raised.

"What happens if a school has no spare rooms for extra care facilities? My school [Fairfield Public School] currently has one room used for a before and after school care. If we needed to provide more places for working parents, we do not have any other spare rooms. Is it viable to hand over classroom spaces that have school resources and personal property in them?," she said.

"Primary Schools are educational facilities, their core business is the education of students K-6. This requires learning spaces to be set up to match student need and school equipment to be in classrooms ready for teaching and learning activities.

"If facilities like classrooms are indeed to be handed to providers of before and after school, how do teachers prepare their classrooms, equipment, resources and lessons before school, or mark, assess, evaluate, pack up and set up for the next day if their rooms are being used?

"The feasibility of teachers having to share their classrooms and conduct all of their planning, preparation, meetings, resourcing, marking and set up /pack up time somewhere else is just not workable, nor best practice."

Ms Mitchell said they need to use "wonderful school resources better."

"It is not acceptable that there are waiting lists for before and after school care, while our school grounds are underutilised," she said.

"We will work closely with our schools, P&Cs, principals and parents - as well as the before and after school care sector - to develop flexible and creative solutions that offer parents support and choice, as well as ensuring schools have the equipment and resourcing they need to deliver these wonderful services."

Said Ms Wells: "Principals and teachers must be a part of the strategic planning and the core business of schools, that being teaching and learning, must be protected and held as the top priority when considering what facilities to use and how an expanded before and after school facility can be set up."