A third of Scottish nursery children are already benefiting from extra funded hours of childcare, which will be fully rolled out next year.
The Early Learning and Childcare Expansion Delivery Progress Report has found that more than 46,000 children in 32 local authorities in Scotland have taken up the offer of more than 600 hours of funded care. The figure is six per cent higher than predicted for children aged between three and five.
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Figures show that a significant increase in expansion occurred between April 2019 and August 2019, likely due to the summer break, with the number of three to five-year-olds receiving more than 600 hours of care increasing from 18,120 to 43,309 – a 139 percentage increase.
All three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds are entitled to 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare, but this is due to expand to 1,140 hours a year from August 2020.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, said: ‘From August 2020 all three and four-year-olds across Scotland, and around one-quarter of two-year-olds, will benefit from the most generous early learning and childcare offer in the UK.
‘Our ambitious £2 billion programme will give children access to almost twice as many funded hours annually, worth up to £4,500 per child every year. It will also give parents and carers more flexibility to explore work, education or training opportunities.
Ms Sturgeon commended the positive impact expansion is already having on settings during a visit to Sauchie Nursery in Alloa. She said: ‘With less than one year to go many local authorities are making good progress with more than a third of eligible children now accessing expanded childcare and nearly half of additional staff needed in post.
‘That’s major progress but we know the next ten months will see a big effort from everyone to make sure we deliver on time in August. We are confident but we do not underestimate the hard work ahead.’
Lynsey Graham, headteacher at Sauchie Nursery, said: ‘Sauchie Nursery has had the excellent opportunity to phase in the delivery of the 1,140 hours of free early learning and childcare over the last two years - this has ensured the expansion has been developed with the needs of the children and families at the heart of the project.’
The report also found that 214 nurseries have been built or refurbished and the predicted total capacity for 1,140 hours funded early learning and childcare in local authority settings was 2.8 per cent above the forecast at 43,359 children.
Councils have reported that the total number of additional staff required for expansion is 8,458 full time equivalent, which makes more use of the private and voluntary sector.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) Scotland, criticised the report for relying too heavily on data from local authority settings and said that failing to recognise the importance of private and voluntary providers means ‘part of the picture is missing’.
She said: ‘These latest figures from the Scottish Government clearly show that private and voluntary providers are key to the expansion’s success. There is evidence that parents want the flexibility to blend the early learning and childcare approach that works for them, so all sectors need to be fully supported to deliver this policy.
‘The fact that the report still relies heavily on data from local authority settings means that a vital part of the picture is missing. The data in the update shows that the public sector has taken on almost six per cent more staff than was expected at this point in time. Meanwhile private settings are facing a recruitment crisis.
‘NDNA Scotland has worked hard with the Scottish Government and Convention of Sottish Local Authorities (COSLA) to improve partnership arrangements for delivering this policy. As a result, we are seeing recognition from councils that private and voluntary providers will have a bigger part to play come August 2020, with a 20 per cent increase in the predicted uptake through partner providers.
‘Providers across Scotland have welcomed the Scottish Government’s ambitious vision to give all children the best start in life, but they must keep true to the principles of provider neutrality and parental choice. Working parents need flexibility which the private and voluntary sector has always provided.’