Food and Fun: Union wants more staff for summer play schemes

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Media caption,

A summer food and fun club for children is proving a hit with parents and children alike

More children could benefit from free meals and activities over the summer holidays if there were more staff, a teaching union has said.

The Food and Fun scheme aims to support pupils from disadvantaged areas during the school holidays.

NAHT Cymru said there was "real difficulty" in recruiting teaching assistants to run the schemes.

The Welsh government said they were run by a wide variety of staff.

About 8,000 places are available for school-age children across 200 sites in Wales.

The 12-day programme aims to promote healthy living, support positive well-being and improve engagement with education.

One parent praised the initiative as the increase in the cost of living affects people's finances.

NAHT Cymru, a union which represents headteachers, said it did not oppose the "important" scheme.

"The only issue that we see with it, is it's probably isn't reaching as many children as perhaps it might in terms of those children in need and living in poverty," the union's president Kerina Hanson said.

Image caption,
Cohen and Isla say the scheme is beneficial for them

"Because we rely mainly on our teaching assistants to run these schemes there's a real difficulty at the moment in recruiting into teaching assistants posts in schools."

About 60 children are taking part in the scheme at Pantside Primary School in Newbridge, Caerphilly county.

Mother-of-two Samantha Harding, whose daughter goes to the sessions, said the cost of living crisis means things were "tighter and tighter" financially with each passing month.

She now works more hours which means less time with her family.

The Food and Fun scheme is a "massive help financially", she said, as it takes the pressure off feeding her daughter twice a day every day over the summer.

Isla, nine, said she enjoyed going to the scheme because "you can do loads of different activities and you get lunch earlier".

Image caption,
Ellie Sage says the scheme helps her to get to know pupils better

Cohen, eight, said his favourites activities were playing with the parachute and playing tag.

Teacher Ellie Sage said she did not mind giving up some of her holiday to work on the scheme.

"It's nice because you get to meet and interact with the children that I might not necessarily have that opportunity to on a daily basis," she added.

Councillor Ian Roberts, education spokesman for the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), said the scheme was "particularly good" because it helped young people who can be disengaged over the summer holidays.

But he recognised there was a shortage of teaching assistants.

The Welsh government has provided up to £4.85m for the programme and said school leadership teams support the planning and organisation.

A spokesman said: "Food and Fun schemes are run by a wide variety of staff such as play workers, youth teams, sports development teams and catering staff, as well as school staff including teachers and teaching assistants."

It added: "While there may be occasional local recruitment difficulties, the overall position on recruitment and retention of school support staff in Wales is relatively robust, and the total number of teaching assistants increased from 2019/20 to 2020/21."