Scottish Government to relaunch childcare expansion rollout in August

The Scottish Government's "transformational" expansion of childcare is likely to come into effect from August, MSPs have been told.
The Scottish Government wants to restart the expansion of childcare hours from August. Picture: John DevlinThe Scottish Government wants to restart the expansion of childcare hours from August. Picture: John Devlin
The Scottish Government wants to restart the expansion of childcare hours from August. Picture: John Devlin

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon first revealed the policy, which aims to increase free early learning and childcare (ELC) for children not yet in school from 600 to 1,140 hours per year, in 2017.

It was put on hold in April as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Children's minister Maree Todd told the education and skills committee on Wednesday the start date for the programme is expected to be shifted to August next year.

"We are firmly committed to the rollout of the transformational ELC expansion programme and the benefits we know that it will bring to our children and families and will continue to work with local authorities and providers to deliver that as quickly as possible," she said.

"The ELC expansion board met last Friday to consider the evidence that has been gathered already to deliver the expansion, including the advice of an independent review.

"Having carefully considered that evidence, the board has recommended a date for 1,140 hours of August 2021."

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A decision is yet to be made on the final date, but Ms Todd said she will announce it "in the coming days".

She aims to introduce the legislation required for the rollout before Parliament is dissolved for the Holyrood elections in May.

Despite the programme being delayed, a recent progress report published last month found 61 per cent of children receiving free ELC are receiving 1,140 hours across Scotland.

The minister also announced an added expansion to the programme this week, pledging children who have deferred entry to primary school will receive an extra year of ELC from 2023.

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Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray questioned the minister on why there is such a long wait for the extra year.

Currently, children who are born in January and February and have deferred are eligible for the 1,140, while local authorities are charged with deciding if others should be provided with the same service.

Ms Todd said she had "real concerns" about the capacity of delivering 1,140 hours without adding an "unknown variable" such as the extra time needed by those who have deferred.