POLITICS: Early learning and childcare expansion

By Lucy Ashton

More than seven out of ten children in Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) are now receiving the full 1,140 funded hours, according to the SNP government.

The number of children has risen by 10,510 since February – an increase from 65% to 72%.

The latest data from the Improvement Service shows that at the end of April 2021, 118,068 children were accessing funded ELC. Of these, 102,410 children (87%) were accessing more than the statutory entitlement of 600 hours, and 84,606 children (72%) were accessing 1,140 hours.

Children’s Minister Clare Haughey, pictured right,  said: “These figures show we are well on the way to offering all eligible children 1,140 hours of funded ELC from August 2021 –  a transformational policy that will benefit families across Scotland.

“Despite the pandemic having an impact on the construction of ELC facilities and recruitment plans across the country, local authorities have continued to make good progress in expansion plans.

“At the centre of these plans is the drive to improve children’s outcomes and help close the poverty-related attainment gap, to improve the health and wellbeing of children and parents, and to support parents into work, study or training. I’d like to thank local authorities and all those who are continuing to work at pace to meet our target.”

Councillor Stephen McCabe, COSLA Children and Young People spokesperson, said:  “I welcome the progress that has been made towards the implementation of the 1,140 hours ELC expansion by August. This report shows that significant progress has been made by councils despite the continued challenges of the pandemic, including the national lockdown.

“We know that the additional hours will be transformational with children provided with more time to play and learn, while parents and carers will have more opportunities to work, study or volunteer. We are pleased we are on track for delivery later this year”.

Funded early learning and childcare (ELC) is available to all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds. From August 2021, the entitlement will increase to 1,140 hours a year (30 hours a week if taken term time).

The expansion of funded ELC, originally intended for August 2020, was paused in April 2020 to give local authorities the flexibility to focus on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, pictured left,  has today said that the “terrible” take up rate shows that the SNP have failed to deliver flexible childcare for two year olds, as new figures revealed that as of April 2021, just 6,204 children of the estimated 14,500 2-year-olds eligible for free early learning and childcare were using the entitlement.

… (c) Wullie Marr Photography

The figures were revealed as part of a Scottish Government progress report published this morning. The report notes:

  • “variability at a local level” in terms of staffing.
  • Just 69% of all capital projects are now complete, delivering 60% of the total planned additional space.
  • only 595 of the 918 capital projects are forecast to be required to deliver 1140 from August. The remainder are being developed to increase flexibility. Of the 595 projects required for August, it is forecast that 90% will be complete by August 2021.

Willie Rennie said: “More than 8,000 two-year-olds are missing out on their childcare entitlement.

“That terrible take up rate shows that the SNP have failed to deliver flexible childcare for those who could benefit from it most.

“If the offer is going to be meaningful, families need to actually be able to make use of it. There’s a big difference between having the technical capacity for 1,140 hours and the actual capacity at the times and places that parents need.

“High quality, flexible childcare is essential for delivering a thriving economy and the best start in life for a generation of young people.”

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