Fresh fears over doubling of free nursery hours

Scottish government is falling short of targets to provide extra places as part of expansion of free nursery provision

Tes Reporter

New fears have been raised over the Scottish government's plan to double free nursery hours

The flagship Scottish government plan to double free nursery hours is falling far short of targets for staff and children’s places, a new report shows.

The report, dated June 2019, became available in response to a Scottish Liberal Democrat parliamentary question answered on 7 August.

It shows that early learning expansion is 5,135 childcare places and 416 staff behind schedule. Expected total capacity was 24,970 children, but the actual figure is 19,835, some 20.6 per cent below the forecast number.

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "It is easy to see why the Scottish government would be keen to bury this dire report without so much as a press release.

"While the childcare minister, Maree Todd, has been brazenly telling everyone that the expansion is on track, these figures show in black and white that simply isn't the case.

Expansion of free nursery hours 

"There is precisely one year to go until parents are expecting to take up the expanded entitlement. They will already be making plans.”

Mr Rennie added: "This report indicates that the Scottish government is set to leave families in the lurch unless it seriously steps up its efforts."

The doubling of the statutory entitlement to funded early learning and childcare – from 600 hours to 1,140 hours – is due in August 2020.

It would cover all three- and four-year-olds and around a quarter of two-year-olds.

The report also reveals that staff recruitment is 16.1 per cent below the forecast level: the predicted number of additional full-time workers was 2,589 – but the actual figure is 2,173.

Only "approximately 10 per cent" of the additional infrastructure capacity required for the expansion is complete, with 44 more projects "in construction" and 738 projects "in development".

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "We remain confident that all local authorities and their partners will be ready to deliver when the 1,140 hours entitlement comes into force next August.

"Indeed, thousands of children across Scotland are already receiving this new entitlement a year early and we know that more staff have been recruited since April.”

The spokeswoman added: "We are, of course, still 12 months away from full implementation, and local authority plans are quite properly continuing to evolve in response to specific local needs."

Earlier this year, delegates at the AGM of Scotland's biggest teaching union, the EIS, heard that the job of primary teachers was getting harder because many children were starting primary school without a “basic level of ability”.

Some pupils cannot sit still or hold a pencil, delegates heard during a debate, in which concerns were raised about the lack of qualified teachers in many nurseries.

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