Councils face ongoing challenge to deliver additional free childcare hours

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Local councils across the country are busy working to establish solutions that will enable them to meet the Scottish Government’s commitment to double the number of free early learning and childcare (ELC) hours for every child in Scotland by 2020.

And Falkirk Council is no different.

Currently, under The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, all three and four year olds – and those eligible two-year-olds – are entitled to 600 free ELC hours, but the government is looking to increase this provision to 1140 hours in the next two years.

It’s a mammoth undertaking that will require a significant investment in infrastructure as well as an increase in staffing levels and a new approach to the models of delivery.

And it’s one of these proposed models that saw concerned parents of a local nursery contact the Falkirk Herald.

One mum, who asked not to be named, got in touch after learning that Beancross Nursery may be adopting a different approach to providing the entitlement in future compared to others in the area.

She explained that to meet the changes required by the government most nurseries are going to running from 9am to 3pm.

She said: “The majority of nurseries in the Falkirk area are operating over these hours but a small selection, like Beancross, say they are considering doing split hours.

“Rather than spending money to extend the nursery they are saying they will offer two sessions instead.

“Parents have been told that because of funding issues they won’t extend the nursery and will run split sessions between 8am and 6pm.

“It means there will be a morning session from 8am to 1pm and an afternoon session from 1pm to 6pm.

“Our first concern is the number of hours per day – the children would only get five hours a day as opposed to six.

“We have been told they would be in for four weeks over the summer holidays to make up for this difference in hours.

“But most of the parents would prefer the nursery was operating from 9am to 3pm.

“A number of the parents have written to the head of the school as they don’t think it’s a good idea.

“I would consider sending my youngest to a different nursery where it was running from 9am to 3pm, but the trouble then is that he’s not going to be at nursery with the same children who would be in his class at primary school.

“This option might work for families with just one child who will be at nursery, but for other families with older children as well it just doesn’t work.

“Many parents have older children that will be in school.

“It means you’d have to go to the school to drop off the youngest for 8am before heading back to the school to drop others off for 9am.

“Then you’d be back to pick the young one up at 1pm before collecting the others at 3pm.

“Or you’d have to go up to drop off at 1pm, collect from school at 3pm and then go back at 6pm.

“It’s not convenient.

“The other impact as well is the education factor.

“The children are going to get less teacher time this way, as they wouldn’t get teaching time before 9am and they wouldn’t have it after 3pm.

“Then there’s the impact on the teachers as well.

“It will affect their home lives too and I can’t see them wanting to give up their summer holidays to work more hours.

“There are some mums who are out of work at the moment because of child care difficulties, but this new system would not help them to find a job.

“It’s not always possible for companies to be flexible to childcare issues.”

When asked about these proposed changes this week, a Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “We are planning to deliver additional Early Learning and Childcare hours in a number of flexible ways across each local area by 2020, in line with the Scottish Government’s commitment.

“The models of delivery will offer parents a number of flexible choices to suit their individual family needs.

“Parents will be able to choose the model of delivery that suits them best from a choice of five within their local area.

“The model mentioned offers fully-funded places during term time and every week during the summer holidays to assist families with childcare.

“All models will be regularly reviewed to assess demand and uptake levels and information sessions will be arranged to keep parents fully up to date during the implementation phase.”

The Scottish Government’s targets of increasing the number of free ELC hours aims to further reduce barriers preventing parents from working.

In January 2016 the First Minister announced that £1 million would be invested in trials to test different models for increasing the ELC entitlement.