The government's Pounds 300 million drive to expand after-school child care could alienate children because the policy focuses on parents, researchers have warned.
Researchers at Brunel University's geography department aim to "re-establish" the importance of the children using after-school clubs, as the government implements its drive to expand the clubs over the next five years.
Research leader Fiona Smith said: "Out-of-school child care is undergoing a period of rapid expansion as part of the Labour government's welfare-to-work programme. But the development has been parent-centred. It has focused on the needs of the growing number of working mothers and unemployed lone mothers."
The Brunel project, part of the Economic and Social Research Council's project on children aged 5-16, will explore children's experiences of out-of-school care and involve them directly in planning and developing their after-school services. "There has been little tangible evidence of what the service means to the children who use it," Dr Smith said.
John Barker, one of the Brunel researchers, said that it was important to treat children as "competent social actors" and consider their experiences in planning.
Pilot studies of children's attitudes have found a high level of satisfaction with after-school provision, but "the children always had new ideas and suggestions about how to improve things", said Mr Barker.
He found that provision varied. Where children could engage in activities unavailable to them at home, such as using a computer or playing team sports, they were generally happy.
Mr Barker said that each existing and new after-school club must have a formal blueprint with mechanisms for involving the children in planning. Staff at the clubs - the "playworkers" - must find new ways of engaging children.
Mr Barker has been encouraging the children to make "video tours" of their clubs and to take photographs of the facilities for discussion.
"The research aims to raise awareness of the need to study children as a distinct social group within geography. We aim to use what children say to improve current practice and inform policy decisions," Dr Smith said.