Children's safeguarding at risk in unregulated out of school settings in England

The UK Government Department for Education published a report in November 2022 which has raised serious concerns about the safety and wellbeing of the millions of children in England who attend out of school settings (OOSS). Oversight of out-of-school settings: lessons learnt from the DfE funded pilot - GOV.UK (

The definition of out of school setting used was very broad, so included uniformed, sports, arts and religious organisations, as well as after school and holiday clubs, and individuals, such as home tutors.

This includes school age and holiday childcare for children over 8, as similar to the range of activities outlined above there is no requirement to register with any external agency such as OFSTED which is required for childcare for under 8-year-olds.

The DfE funded a selection of 16 Local Authorities (LAs) in England from 2018 to pilot an exercise in mapping, discovering and providing support, training and advice to a variety of out of school settings and parents using them. This pilot was undertaken given concerns about safeguarding of children, and what legal powers local authorities and others are using to address safeguarding issues in this sector.

Much of the work of the project was to commence in 2019 and therefore the exercise was limited by the onset of the pandemic and related health restrictions.

Nevertheless, even when considering the limitations placed on the overall project, the findings are stark and worrying; this reflects concerns SOSCN has raised in a previous paper about regulated and unregulated services

Unsafe premises, unchecked staff and inappropriate practices, including physical chastisement, inappropriate sexual behaviour, verbal abuse, grooming and reports of child sexual abuse, meant that some children were in immediate danger. Frustratingly for some LA staff working to safeguard children, the legal powers available were not enough in many cases to take action, e.g. a home tutor which children had complained about just denied he had a tutoring business, so there was no action the LA could take.

The report highlighted inappropriate use of social media, with staff befriending children and sending them private messages. Concerns were also raised about the risk of convicted sex offenders working in out-of-school settings as well as the risk of radicalisation through the sharing of extremist material with children.

Again, as we pointed out in our previous regulation paper, parents just assumed that the setting was regulated in some way and did not know how to ask about regulation or standards.

The LA staff involved in the pilot, given the pandemic, also saw considerable churn locally in such services, closing completely or new services set up as restrictions were lifted – even keeping track of what settings existing proved to be a hard task. All found low take up of absolute basic training on recruitment, DBS Checks, child safeguarding, health and safety etc. As expected, it was the 'better' services who took up training and quality improvement offers, rather than those where there were already concerns.

The Local Authorities involved want more powers with resources to do so to regulate some services, they found the use of existing regulations e.g., police powers, child protection etc. often had high thresholds for “immediate danger” despite it being clear children were in ongoing danger.

The report recommendations include:

  • “Considering greater capacity and funding to support and oversee these settings
  • Exploring mandatory guidance on safeguarding standards expected of OOSS
  • Proposing legal compulsion for OOSS to notify LAs about their provision and allow access to settings, so that LAs can ensure adherence to basic safety standards and close down settings who are unable or unwilling to address concerns
  • Considering other agencies having the commitment and resource to support the addressing of issues in OOSS
  • The possibility of establishing a registration and regulation system for those wishing to operate OOSS in order to keep children safe.” (DfE, p 8)

The DfE is not necessarily adopting these recommendations but do plan more investigation and also to pilot a children's rights training approach.

This report reinforces SOSCN and the sector's concerns regarding children's wellbeing if unregulated activities for children and young people were included in the planned expansion of school age childcare in Scotland.

In terms of the 100 safeguarding incidents set out in the report, only 2 were in actual after school clubs, many were in cultural, sports and other organised activities.

In our previous paper we also pointed out the regulated school age childcare sector often feels overburdened in terms of being inspected and regulated on the same standards for younger children in ELC which also officially and rightly is concerned with the education of 2–5-year-olds, as well as their play and care, which is all intertwined. Therefore, for the future we consider school age childcare should have its own more age-appropriate standards.

This report from the DfE is a timely reminder that “voluntary” accreditation does not work and that there has to be a basic level of safeguarding of children, which is compulsory, across all the range of activities, especially, if such activities are funded and supported by government.

last updated: 09/01/2023