Half of private nurseries in Scotland have no access to teachers despite an SNP pledge that every pre-school child should benefit from teacher input.
The Scottish government's pledge followed research showing teacher involvement in pre-school education resulted in higher quality learning experiences for children.
However, a survey by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), which was published today and received responses from 226 nurseries, found that 46 per cent do not have "access to" teachers, which could include professionals employed by local authorities or shared with other settings.
This finding follows the latest teacher census figures – published in December last year – which show that between 2010 and last year the number of nursery teachers in Scotland dropped by 40 per cent, from 1,543 to 921.
The Scottish government has now started to collect figures on the number of other graduates working in the early years – for instance, those with a BA Childhood Practice – arguing “teachers now only form part of the ELC [early learning and childcare] graduate workforce”.
However, the NDNA survey found: “Despite recent Scottish government initiatives on graduate recruitment to the sector, the average nursery employs only two graduates, with almost a fifth (23 per cent) not employing any.”
The Scottish government has already been accused by the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) of prioritising quantity over quality as it moves towards almost doubling the entitlement to free nursery for three- and four-year-olds and some two-year-olds.
By 2020, it aims to provide 1,140 hours per year; the current entitlement is 600 hours.
AHDS has said that it is opposed to the increase in free hours, arguing it is “a very expensive intervention” that will lead to “no better gains for children than part-time”.
Responding to the NDNA survey AHDS general secretary, Greg Dempster, said: “If we are serious about providing a high-quality experience in the early years for our children then we need to increase the recruitment of those higher qualified staff that the research has demonstrated produce better outcomes for children and impact positively on the rest of the staff team.”
The NDNA survey also found just 30 per cent of private nurseries said they were likely to offer 1,140 hours.
This contrasts hugely with the picture last year, when the annual survey found that more than half of private nurseries were likely to deliver 1,140 hours of funded childcare to all three and four-year-olds.
NDNA’s chief executive Purnima Tanuku said private nurseries did not feel confident that sufficient funding would be available from local authorities to make it worthwhile for them to deliver the full 1,140 hours provision.
When it came to the 600 hours of free early learning and childcare currently available, the average nursery was having to absorb £1,188 for each child during the course of the year, she said.
She added: “Although we welcome the Scottish government’s ambitions to give all children the best start in life, the sector needs to see the policy given priority and sufficient resources behind it for it to be a success.”
A report earlier this year from public spending watchdog, Audit Scotland, said the Scottish government had underestimated the cost of its pledge to almost double free nursery hours by £160 million per year.
It also said there was a “significant risk” that councils would not be able to deliver the promise on time.
A Scottish government spokesman said since the NDNA survey was carried out the Scottish government had agreed “a landmark near £1 billion funding package with Cosla”. He said this would enable local authorities to offer “fair and sustainable funding rates to private and third sector nurseries”.
The spokesman added that the introduction of a 'funding follows the child' model would provide more opportunities for private sector nurseries.