More children back in school during the holidays

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Media caption"It has become the heart and soul of what our school is about"

A growing number of primary schools are keeping their doors open during the summer holidays.

Funded by the Wales-wide School Holiday Enrichment Programme (Shep), children receive breakfast and lunch and lessons are replaced by sports and activities.

Kath Newman said her nine-year-old daughter Carianne "absolutely loves" going back to her Ebbw Vale primary school over the summer.

Ms Newman said the scheme had "saved" her family after financial struggles.

The number of schools offering the programme has risen by 43% this year.

"It started last year - my husband has ongoing problems and had four major surgeries, and money is an issue," explained Ms Newman.

"So we were really, really struggling and it was a case of feeding the children and going without ourselves. We heard about this programme and it has really saved us because it is a long time."

Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Kath Newman (centre) with her husband Chris, youngest daughter Carianne, son Dan, and eldest daughter Maddy

One teacher in Barry said the scheme had become "the heart and soul of what our school is about".

"Our children and our families need us to be there, not just during term time and not just in the traditional way," said Janet Hayward, head teacher of Cadoxton Primary, in Barry.

Like 75 other primary schools around Wales, Mrs Hayward and her learning assistants welcome children back for three weeks during the holidays.

The school is in a ward in Barry where the latest figures estimate 31% are classed as living in child poverty - above the Wales average of 29.3%.

Funding for the project is available to schools where more than 16% of pupils are entitled to free school meals.

But once running, the programme is open to all children in the school, whatever their circumstances.

Image caption Children can take part in a range of activities, such as baking

Almost 2,500 children took part in Shep last year. This month, 3,700 are expected to pass through school gates usually locked for six weeks.

It is a response to growing concern about some children not getting a healthy diet outside term time.

Isolation and a lack of stimulation over the summer might also contribute to a growing attainment gap, say supporters of the scheme.

Ms Newman said it had "made such a difference" to Carianne's wellbeing.

"This year things have improved but she still loves going. She learns about healthy eating and it is something to do to break up the long holiday," she said.

"She gets to mix with new friends and they do a daily mile every morning and they can choose to walk or jog. They teach them about cooking and go on trips to the local park.

"They even brought owls in yesterday from a local owl sanctuary. It's absolutely brilliant," she told Claire Summers on BBC Radio Wales.

But the £900,000 spent by the Welsh Government this year is nowhere near enough to reach all the children in need, says the Bevan Foundation think-tank.

In a report on the "national scandal" of holiday hunger, it says guaranteeing a place for a quarter of children eligible for free school meals would cost £4.75m.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "We have increased funding for the School Holiday Enrichment Programme by £400,000 to £900,000 this year, which includes £100,000 for a new pilot based on play and community based settings."

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