Flagship early years expansion likely by August

Covid delayed the near-doubling of funded early years hours, but minister says the policy will be fully in place next year

Tes Reporter

The Scottish government's flagship expansion of early learning and childcare is expected to be in place by next August

The Scottish government’s flagship aim to almost double funded early learning and childcare is likely to come into effect from August, MSPs have been told.

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 officially put on hold in March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, although in November a report found that most eligible children were already receiving the full 1,140 hours.

Background: Most children get more early years hours, despite Covid

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Quick read: Why do so many educators dismiss the early years?

Related: Children who defer school start will get free care

Children’s minister Maree Todd told the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee today that the start date for the programme is expected to be shifted to August 2021, a year later than planned before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Expansion of free early learning and childcare

“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.”

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.

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

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 primary school entry are eligible for the full 1,140 hours, while local authorities are charged with deciding if others should be provided with the same service. However, Ms Todd revealed on Monday that children whose parents decide to defer primary school attendance will receive an extra year of free childcare from 2023.

Ms Todd told the committee today: “What I can say, as I’ve said many times before, is I fully expect local authorities to make decisions about additional funded ELC in a deferred year for August to December children to be based on the assessment of a child’s wellbeing.”

Ms Todd said that “most local authorities accept most requests” for additional ELC from children in a deferred year.

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