All local authorities in Scotland are ready to nearly double families' entitlement to free early learning and childcare, Nicola Sturgeon has said, an increase from 600 to 1,140 hours a year.
The Scottish government announced the flagship policy, aimed at allowing families to get back into work, in the last parliamentary term but its implementation – initially due to take effect throughout Scotland by August 2020 – was delayed by Covid-19.
The first minister promised during this year’s election that the Scottish government will now go further, creating a "wraparound" childcare system before and after school hours, with those on the lowest incomes paying nothing for the service.
Manifesto promise: Free early years education from age 1 promised by SNP
Ms Sturgeon, during a visit to Fallin Nursery near Stirling on today, said: “All children deserve the best start in life. Providing access to free, high-quality early learning and childcare enriches children’s early years and provides them with skills and confidence for starting school and beyond. It also supports parents’ ability to work, train or study.
“I am delighted to announce that every local authority in Scotland has assured us they are ready to deliver the 1,140 hours offer by the start of the new term – a truly transformational offer that will benefit children and families all over the country.
“Getting to this point, especially given the challenges of the pandemic, has taken a mammoth effort and I’d like to thank local authorities and private and voluntary sector providers for helping to make it happen.”
The policy will be available to three and four-year-olds, as well as those at the age of two in the most need, amounting to an estimated £4,900 of care per year.
Stephen McCabe, children and young people spokesperson for local authorities body Cosla, said: “This announcement is good news for families across Scotland with children able to benefit from almost double the amount of funded childcare later this month.
“These additional hours will be transformative for families, ensuring children have more time to play and learn while parents and carers will have more opportunities to work, study or volunteer.
“The delivery of the 1,140 hours expansion of early learning and childcare is the result of hard work by councils and our partners, who have made huge efforts to deliver against the extremely challenging and ever-changing nature of the pandemic.”