He also added that current school terms were designed for “an agricultural economy” and should be modified to be “consistent with the pressures of a modern society”.
Commenting on the proposals, Liz Truss, the Conservative Minister, said that the Government will shortly announce how to lengthen the school day – including wrap-around childcare.
The proposals will set out plans for longer school days, which could see local childcare providers called in to look after pupils from 3pm or parents asked to run local school clubs, the minister said.
Ms Truss said: “We’re hoping to have new proposals out shortly, particularly on schools-based childcare and how we’re going to enable more schools to offer that.”
When challenged by one of the mothers present on how it could work, Ms Truss said: “This doesn’t mean teachers working longer hours. It can mean private sector nursery providers, voluntary sector providers, parents running an after school club.”
In her speech to around 50 working women, who are part of the new networking group Citymothers, the Conservative minister said: “We want more schools to be involved more in childcare. It’s crazy in this country that we have so many schools open 9-3 and then empty afterwards, when they have brilliant facilities; many parents want to work longer than 9-3.
“We’re doing work to enable schools to be able to offer more of those services. There are some very good examples of schools that already offer 8-6 provision, either using teaching staff, teaching assistants, local nursery staff; there are many flexible ways it can be done.”
She said: “What we’re planning to do is make it easier for schools so they don’t need to go through lots of different registration processes,” adding schools were “un-utilised assets” that should be brought to life after-hours.
During her speech, Ms Truss criticised the “complex” childcare system in the UK, where British childcare costs are the second highest in Europe, behind only Switzerland.
“Our parents pay more than double what parents in France and Germany are paying on childcare,” she said, adding that government money ploughed into the system doesn’t “flow through to the frontline” as well as it should.
“At the moment we have a system that isn’t working for parents… Something has gone wrong with the system.”
She also defended controversial changes to the childcare vouchers system, which at present is only available for a fifth of employees. The new system will make tax breaks available per child, although it will be less generous to higher-rate taxpayers.
However, business must also play its part in helping reduce the burden of childcare, the minister said. She urged industry to ditch the “presenteeism” culture which forces mothers to ‘show their face’ at work rather than work flexible hours or from home.
“In some of our companies, there is still too much of a presenteeism attitude rather than an outcomes-based approach. I used to work for Shell, Cable and Wireless, but we all have to change the culture.”