Children whose parents decide to defer primary school attendance will receive an extra year of free childcare from 2023, Scotland's children’s minister has announced.
The Scottish government’s flagship policy to increase the level of funded early learning and childcare (ELC) from 600 hours to 1,140 – for all children aged 3 and 4 and some aged 2– was delayed earlier this year as a result of Covid-19.
But a progress report has found that 61 per cent of children receiving free care are already getting the target amount.
Deferring school for a year: 'Let parents decide when a child starts school'
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Today, Maree Todd gave an assurance to parents who decide to delay the school start date for their children.
Expansion of free childcare
Under current rules, any child aged 4 at the time of the start of the school year can defer entry for a year, but only those born in January or February are entitled to free childcare, with local authorities deciding if others qualify.
From August 2023, that decision will be taken out of the hands of councils.
“This will ensure that all children who defer will have an equal right to continue with funded ELC if their parent or carer feels it is in their best interests,” Ms Todd said.
While the announcement will increase the number of children in receipt of funded ELC, Ms Todd said a start date of August 2023 “will ensure we are ready to deliver”.
This is the first that we have heard this news, we were expecting some form of communication from @MareeToddMSP this week. Its hard for parents to hear this news via @STVNews or @TesScotland We were not expecting 2023 to be honest. https://t.co/41MbqAHUOM— Give Them Time (@GiveTimeScot) December 7, 2020
Ms Todd added: “The Covid-19 pandemic meant that we had to delay moving to the new statutory entitlement of 1,140 hours of funded ELC for all eligible children, and I will soon be able to confirm when delivery of this transformational policy will happen.
“We will continue to work with education authorities on the implementation of this expanded offer to families and will make more information available in due course.
Diane Delaney, a spokesperson for the Give Them Time Campaign, said: "Our research has evidenced that the postcode lottery of allocation of discretionary deferral funding is causing confusion, stress, distress and ultimately forcing some parents to send their child to school despite feeling concerned about their wellbeing and ability to cope.
"We are elated that the legislation will be brought in to fund all deferrals. However, we need immediate and full implementation in every local authority at the same time. There will be dire consequences for children and families having to wait until 2023 to guarantee full access to funding.
"Parents' worries are exacerbated as a result of the multiple impacts of Covid-19 and the huge loss of nursery time for these children earlier this year. We welcome the offer of the Scottish government to continue to work with parents as they move forward in progressing the implementation of this legislation."