While Scotland had been on track to deliver 1140 hours of early learning and childcare (ELC) from August, Covid-19 has now made it impossible to continue with the planned recruitment and infrastructure projects required to support expansion.
As the focus moves to saving lives and looking after those most vulnerable to the virus, the immediate priority is to ensure that Scotland has emergency childcare in place to support families during the pandemic.
National Day Nurseries Association has flagged up the importance of Scotland using the money set aside for expansion to both support nurseries in the current situation – and in the longer term.
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‘Impossible to continue’
National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) Chief Executive, Purnima Tanuku OBE said: ‘During these very uncertain and difficult times, delaying the 1140 hours of ELC rollout has ended up being necessary. It would be impossible to continue with planned recruitment and infrastructure projects for the next few weeks.
‘It would have been useful for early learning and childcare representative organisations and the wider sector to have been actively consulted in this decision. Private and voluntary run ELC settings are part of the essential infrastructure for delivering these places and a lot of work has gone into people’s planning for this.’
She added that it is a very challenging time for both parents and providers so they will all need supporting now to make sure that nurseries are in a position to be able to offer essential childcare when the country gets back to business as usual.
‘Many of our member nurseries have already told us they fear they will not exist as businesses in a few months’ time,’ she said. ‘We want to see local authorities working closely with all types of providers to make sure they can continue to pay their overheads, especially those who were not involved in ‘phasing in’ the expanded hours.
‘It’s now crucial that local authorities and the Scottish Government works together with the sector to mitigate the negative impact that this decision will have in tandem with the current crisis. The money that has been set aside for the ELC expansion must be used to support the sector in both the short term, so they can remain open for key workers’ children, and their longer term survival.
‘We will work with the Scottish Government now to look at the right time to begin reinstating the expansion plans.’
Waiting for a clearer picture
Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd and COSLA spokesperson for Children and Young People Councillor Stephen McCabe have issued a joint statement.
‘Before the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear a couple of weeks ago, Audit Scotland confirmed we were on track to deliver 1140 hours of early learning and childcare from August 2020. Indeed, Councils had already built or refurbished hundreds of buildings and recruited thousands of additional staff, and in excess of 50,000 children were already receiving more than the current entitlement of 600 hours.
‘That progress was driven by and a testament to the strong partnership working between central and local government throughout the expansion programme. Our commitment to delivering the expansion, and to making sure our children have access to the best support and opportunities for development in their early years, remains undimmed and our partnership working will continue with that aim.
‘Tens of thousands of children have already benefited from expanded hours, and we expect this will continue when normal provision resumes. Once there is a clearer picture of the impact and duration of the pandemic response measures, we will work together to agree the right time to reinstate the statutory requirement and ensure that all eligible children can access 1140 hours of high quality early learning and childcare.’