School holidays can mean that you may have to find an alternative to your usual childcare arrangement.
Finding a solution that satisfies both you and your child can be challenging.
Registration and Staffing Ratios
Out of school care such as holiday playschemes and summer camps must be regulated when provided for children under the age of eight (16 years in Scotland and 12 years in Northern Ireland) for more than 2 hours per day and for 6 days or more per year.
These childcare services will be inspected by Government regulatory bodies, which will have the discretion to apply the care standards in the way they consider to be the most appropriate. In effect, this may mean that staff ratios or space requirements, for example, could be varied according to individual premises and circumstances. If a playscheme is registered, at least half of the staff will have relevant qualification in childcare or playwork.
In England, holiday schemes that only cater for children aged eight and over are not required to be registered with Ofsted. They may choose to register on the voluntary part of the Ofsted Childcare Register, in which case they need to meet set Ofsted requirements.
The usual minimum staffing ratio for most out of school care settings in England and Wales is 1:8 for children aged 3 and over. Open access or drop in schemes normally operate a lower staffing ratio of 1:13 children aged 5 - 7.
In Scotland, where children attend for less than 4 hours per day the ratio is 1:10.
Types of holiday schemes
- Full-time care. These schemes are normally designed to cover the working day often offering extended hours. If your child usually attends an after school club, you may find that this also runs with extended hours in the school holidays.
- Part-time care. In addition to the local authority and independent providers, this type of care is often run by local community or voluntary groups during school holidays.
- Themed activity schemes. These are normally aimed at children over the age of 5 and will concentrate on one specific activity such as sport, drama or art. Operating times for these types of scheme can vary from a session for a couple of hours to a whole day/week.
- Residential Camps. These camps normally run for at least a week and are usually for children aged 8 years and over.
Providers of activity holidays that offer certain adventure activities such as climbing, caving, trekking or water sports need to be inspected and licensed by Adventure Activities Licensing Service (AALS). The AALS carries out an inspection to ensure that the provider has appropriate safety management systems in place.
The British Activity Holiday Association (BAHA) is the trade association for providers of activity holidays in the UK. It has a code of practice and safety standards that all member companies must adhere to.
Finding holiday activities
- Family Information Services (FIS) or Children's Information Services (CIS). Every local authority In England, Wales and Scotland has either a FIS or CIS which provides information and advice on a range of family related issues, including childcare.
- Local Authorities. Most local authorities will hold information about holiday activities available in their area. Booklets of the activities on offer are often distributed via schools and libraries.
- Libraries. In addition to providing details of local holiday schemes, some libraries also run holiday story times and/ or book reading schemes.
- Local newspapers. Papers will often run a separate supplement detailing holiday activities in the major school holidays.
Questions to ask when choosing a holiday scheme
- Is the scheme registered with the regulatory authority or a member of a quality assured scheme?
- What qualifications do the staff have?
- Are the staff trained in First Aid?
- Is the venue clean and safe with plenty of space?
- How many places are available and what is the adult to child ratio?
- What is the age range for the scheme and how many children of a similar age to your child will be attending?
- What is the procedure if my child is taken ill?
- How does the behavioural policy operate?
- What activities are planned and are they suitable for your child's age? Do the children have any input into planning the activities?
- If trips outside the venue have been arranged, what is the procedure for obtaining parental/carer permission?
- Is there a rest area for younger children?
Financial support for childcare costs
If the scheme your child is attending is registered with the appropriate national body, you may be able to claim the childcare element of working tax credit. There are qualifying conditions for this assistance. The HM Revenue & Customs has developed an online Tax Credits calculator which will be able to work out if you qualify for help with childcare costs.
(HM Revenue & Customs Tax Credits online Calculator)