Dozens of the additional graduate posts the Scottish government pledged to introduce into nurseries in deprived areas remain unfilled almost a year after the first minister pledged to deliver the extra support for disadvantaged preschool children, a Tes Scotland investigation has revealed.
In 2017, Nicola Sturgeon committed to ensuring nurseries in the most deprived areas benefited from an additional graduate by August 2018 – either a teacher with early years expertise or a graduate practitioner with the BA childhood practice award.
However, a Tes Scotland freedom of information request has revealed that, as of July, 36.5 posts remained unfilled, or roughly eight per cent of the total allocation of 435 posts.
Background: Nursery teacher numbers plummet
South Lanarkshire, for example, had yet to fill 23 per cent of its allocation, a total of six posts. Glasgow, meanwhile, had yet to fill 20 per cent of its allocation, a total of 23.5 posts.
Scottish Liberal Democrat children and young people spokesperson Carole Ford said the figures boded ill for the government’s pledge to expand free nursery hours by next year.
She said: “There is one year to go until parents are expecting to take up the expanded entitlement but these figures suggest that the Scottish government is set to leave families in deprived areas in the lurch.
“Liberal Democrats worked hard to persuade the SNP that free early learning and childcare is one of the best investments we can make and is critical to improving a child’s life chances."
She added: “Unfortunately, the resulting expansion of free hours has now been shown to be behind schedule and some nurseries are actually shutting because of a lack of staff. They should be thriving. The childcare minister needs to take action to ensure that nursery expansion reaches every corner of Scotland.”
Next year the entitlement to free nursery hours for eligible children will rise from 600 hours to 1,140. One of the key concerns when it comes to families being able to secure the new entitlement is that there will be enough staff on the ground to deliver it.
An additional 12,000 early years workers will be required across the country overall.
In August, the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) published a survey that covered 181 childcare providers and found that 71 per cent had recruitment issues.
Glasgow City Council told Tes Scotland it was currently advertising for 25 of the graduate posts, adding it was important they were filled by “high-calibre candidates”.
Chris Cunningham, Glasgow’s convener for education, skills and early years, said: “We hope to be able to secure high-quality lead practitioners as a result of this recruitment drive which has included TV advertisements.”
A Scottish government spokeswoman said the government was working with local authorities to fill the remaining posts. She said the roles could be very specialised and some had taken “slightly longer to recruit to than anticipated”. The spokeswoman added that some councils had included “bespoke, additional criteria” to ensure “the most suitable, highly qualified candidates” were recruited.
She added: “We are investing an unprecedented £2 billion into increasing early learning and childcare over a five year period where all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds will be entitled to 1,140 funded hours a year – an estimated saving of £4,500 per child per year.
“We know that high-quality early learning and childcare can play an important role in reducing the poverty-related attainment gap. We have dedicated funding for 435 equity and excellent leads to work in all 32 local authorities with a focus on improving outcomes for children in the most deprived areas of Scotland.”
The news comes as teacher numbers in nurseries are plummeting; between 2008 and 2018 the number of teachers working in nurseries halved dropping from 1,672 to 821.
Scotland’s largest teaching union has described the drop as “a matter of serious concern” and has called on the Scottish government to address the issue.
Earlier this year, the EIS annual general meeting in Perth heard that the job of being a P1 teacher was getting harder every year because many children were starting primary school without a basic level of ability, including being able to sit still or hold a pencil.
However, the Scottish government argues that teachers only form part of the early years workforce. It has also started to record the number of other graduates with degrees relevant to early-years education who are working in Scotland’s nurseries. In 2018, that figure stood at 2,302.