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Plight of Westminster's young people

PUBLISHED: 11:52 06 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:54 07 September 2010

Josie Hinton Westminster s provision for children continues to be far from satisfactory according to government figures released last week. The new figures rank the borough as fifth worst in Britain for providing out-of-hours activities for secondary scho

Josie Hinton

Westminster's provision for children continues to be far from satisfactory according to government figures released last week.

The new figures rank the borough as fifth worst in Britain for providing out-of-hours activities for secondary school pupils, revealing the huge challenges facing Westminster's parents.

Mike Potter, Westminster's acting head of early years, said the council was closing the gap on the national average and was on course to meet the national target of 85 per cent of schools providing an extended service by September. He said latest figures show 66 per cent of schools currently offer out-of-hours activities.

But in a letter to Regent's Park and Kensington North MP Karen Buck, schools minister Jim Knight has expressed concern about the situation in which "Westminster children continue to lose out".

He wrote: "While Westminster is making some progress, it is below the average for London - 69 per cent of London [secondary] schools currently provide the full offer, compared with 50 per cent in Westminster."

And this is despite Westminster housing some of the country's poorest children - with above the national average on free school meals and with no access to a garden.

Secondary school parents are not the only group struggling with Westminster's provision for children. A group of Marylebone mothers are set to open a new children's centre to address the crippling shortage of childcare in their area.

Marylebone mums Claudia Morales Martin and Diane Ward are spearheading the project as they say their children fall into the gaping hole in children's services. "We were aware of the problems accessing nurseries and afterschool and holiday activities through our own experience as mothers of little ones living in this area," said Mrs Morales, 36, of Weymouth Street.

"Through our children, we became in touch with other mothers experiencing the same problems of being forced to go outside our community to access childcare or face long waiting lists."

A survey completed by the council last May found there were 380 children under five years old in Marylebone competing for just 43 nursery places - almost nine for each place. It also found there was no provision for out-of-hours activities for children over five in the area.

Marylebone was also ranked as the most costly area in the borough for nursery fees along with nearby Maida Vale and Little Venice.

Mrs Ward and Mrs Morales Martin now hope to escape spiralling fees and endless waiting lists by opening the non-profit centre, which already has mothers queuing for places. It will offer affordable nursery places, a drop-in centre and much needed afterschool and holiday activities.

Facing the problem of finding affordable premises in Marylebone, the mothers are now working closely with Westminster children's services and the Pre-school Alliance to find a suitable home.

Mr Potter said he had met with the mothers and was sympathetic, but added: "It is important to note that there is childcare provision nearby to where they would like to see a nursery based. At present we are in talks with local providers to deliver more affordable and flexible childcare.


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