Early years expansion rolls out

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Work is now well underway to get the Falkirk area ready for a massive expansion in its early learning and childcare provision which will be complete by August next year.

Plans are now in place to have 26 projects completed by February 2020.

That means 1140 hours of free early learning and childcare will be provided annually from August 20 via a range of different and flexible options through Falkirk Council establishments, private partner nurseries and child-minders.

The expansion, fully funded by the Scottish Government, will also lead to a major jobs boost for the district, with an estimated 75 posts being recruited.

While many nurseries are already able to offer the additional hours which have been rolled out, others are still being adapted to cope with the huge expansion.

The government hopes that as well as giving children from poorer backgrounds a more equal chance to succeed at school, it will also allow more parents to return to work for longer hours.

Members at the council’s education executive were told seven major projects are currently at the design and specification phase.

These include a £2.3 million early learning centre which will be built in Hallglen, including a kitchen that will provide meals for several other centres.

Work is expected to start by May with a target opening date of December 2019.

Work will also soon be underway at Callendar Business Park Nursery, while a new early years campus at Kinnaird is expected to be ready to open in August.

There are also plans to increase the capacity at Victoria and work will take place during the summer.

A further three projects will also start earlier than planned at Camelon ELC Centre, Denny ELC Centre and Wallacestone Primary School.

Doubts had been expressed about the suitability of the Kinglass Social Work office in Bo’ness, which had been suggested as a possible site.

Council officers promised they would look at all the objections and bring the matter back to the committee for a final decision before proceeding with any work.

Officers are supporting private nurseries to phase in the implementation of 1140 hours from August and councillors agreed an increase in their hourly rate to £5.

Councillor Adanna McCue, spokesperson for education, said: “Major progress has been made to deliver the Government’s commitment to increase the number of early learning hours from 600 to 1140 by 2020.

“We are already offering 1140 hours in some of our establishments and we are well on track to deliver this significant increase in hours to all pre-school aged children by August 2020. While the additional infrastructure associated with the expansion is moving forward at a pace, our early learning and childcare workforce is also growing.

“By August 2020 it is planned to recruit staff to fill an estimated 75 posts. In addition our successful Modern Apprenticeship scheme has also been highly effective with 29 modern apprentices already having been appointed to early learning and childcare posts.”

Councillors also agreed to fund a senior cook position to work with staff, parents and “wee people” to find the best way to deliver meals to children in nurseries.