STEP 3 - Research the Need for Out of School Care

To be confident that there is a need for an OSC club locally, market research needs to be undertaken. The research should not only establish how great the demand for the service (indicating numbers of potential users) but also illustrate what potential users are seeking; this may cover such things as fee pricing and structure, opening hours and the programme of activities.

Market research is a necessary stage for both voluntary and independent organisations as it is vital to know what potential users want and to develop a successful childcare service based upon this. Unless you have a clear understanding of your local market, your service will struggle if it is not serving parent/carers' and ultimately children's needs.

There are a number of ways of gathering this data but the most common is short surveys/questionnaires aimed at parents and children. Another method is to hold focus groups for interested parties.

3.1 Parent Questionnaire

The questionnaire to parents needs to establish the following:

  • If parents would use an after school care club and how often they would be likely to use it i.e. everyday, a couple of times a week or occasionally
  • How much they would be prepared to pay
  • Ideal opening hours
  • Number and ages of children
  • Parents' current employment/training patterns and/or ability to take up employment/training opportunities if an OSC club was available
  • Activities they would expect the service to provide
  • Ideal location

For ease of analysis, the questions should be structured so that parents have a fixed choice of answers either “Yes, No, Don't Know” or a scaling system where they mark the number which best reflects their beliefs: “on a scale of 1 – 5 where 1 is strongly agree and 5 is strongly disagree”. You should avoid questions which require a narrative response as this is very difficult and time-consuming to analyse: if response to the questionnaire is high you may have a lot to sift through.

N.B. At this stage you are gathering evidence to show need for an OSC club and what it should provide. You don't however need to start thinking about the details of providing and running the service- leave that till later.

At the start of the questionnaire you should also include a brief explanation about what an out of school care club is (parents or carers may not be familiar with the term), as well as a contact details for members of the Steering Group: people may wish to contact you to discuss it further.

3.2 Children Questionnaire

The children questionnaire is very different from the parent one in that it focuses purely on the needs and wants of the child. In this questionnaire do not include questions on ideal opening hours, fees, location and so on: it should only ask children what they would like provided for them in the service.

Remember although out of school care is often seen as being a service to working or studying parents it is really a play and leisure service for the children and so their needs must be top priority.

The questionnaire should be easy for children to understand: use pictures and images as well as text and make it colourful if possible. Keep answers very simple: “Yes, No, Don't know&rdquo variety is best and include images to represent each of these answers such as: ☺ - these can be coloured-in or circled.

Provide a list of activities for the children to choose from include such things as drama, music, team sports, outdoor games, cookery, board games and so on.

3.3 Distribution of Questionnaires

The simplest way of distributing the questionnaires is through the local schools by way of a “school-bag drop&rdquo: questionnaires are distributed to all children to take home. Make appointments with the headteachers to discuss your plan further and arrange distribution of the questionnaires.

If the school is holding an event such as a parents' evening, sports day or a concert ask permission to distribute questionnaires directly to parents or set up an information stand.

3.4 Analysis of Questionnaires

Having sent out the questionnaires all you can do is wait for returns. You don't want to wait for ever so remember to include a return by date for completed questionnaires.

You may be disappointed by the number of returns you receive: although this questionnaire is important to the Steering Group it may be a low priority for busy parents. You could receive anything from a handful to a lot. And remember, even although you may receive a low number of responses they may all be very positive: it is positive responses you are seeking.

It is not possible to fulfil all the requests of parents: you are looking for the most common responses. Although you should make an attempt to accommodate parent's requests you will not be in a position to fulfil all of them. So, for example, a parent may request childcare to cover shift work beyond 6.00pm. If it is only one parent it is not economically viable to do so but if it is a repeated request you might consider providing some form of care.

In respect to more unusual requests, please exercise caution. At this stage the responses are only hypothetical, and although parents may say they will use the service, in reality, once the OSC has been set up there are always discrepancies between initial responses and actual take-up of the service.

3.5 Focus Groups

Focus groups can often provide the best feedback as it allows participants the opportunity to discuss and share their thoughts in greater depth. You may wish to take the parent questionnaire as the basic structure for the meeting, and indeed you will want all participants to complete one, but you should also have a number of items for discussion that you want explored further.

On a practical point it is best if two people conduct focus groups: one to host and lead the event and the other to take notes. And again, it can be difficult to attract busy parents: you may wish to turn it into more of a social occasion by providing cheese and wine or tie it in with events that the school are already holding.

last updated: 29/11/2023