Dundee is anticipating Edinburgh's moves on the extended nursery day by piloting similar plans in three of the city's nurseries.
An integrated education and childcare service at Kirkton and Foggyley nurseries is set to be approved on Monday. The third nursery has yet to be decided. They will be free from 8.15am-5.15pm, for families in need but for others at a charge if places are available. Senior nursery nurses will provide "stimulating child care" outwith normal nursery hours.
A report by Anne Wilson, Dundee's director of education, says growing numbers of lone parents on low incomes are prevented from taking jobs or training because they cannot get access to child care. The extension of the nursery service would help promote Dundee as a "child-friendly city".
The report warns that council nurseries will lose income to private and voluntary groups if changes are not made.
The extended service, which will be piloted at a cost of Pounds 3,100 from January to March next year, will focus on "children in need" : those with special needs, in "difficult or needy" circumstances, whose first language is not English, or whose entry to primary 1 has been deferred on educational grounds.
Parents of other four-year-olds will pay Pounds 10 a week for the additional hours in the morning and Pounds 15 for a late afternoon place. Parents not "in need" who want to turn a part-time place into a full-time one will be charged Pounds 29 a week, which will also be payable by those who live outside Dundee. Private nursery charges in the city range from Pounds 46 to Pounds 53 per week for a full-day place.
Mrs Wilson's report makes clear that children in need will have priority for places but adds that income from parents "has the potential to offset costs and means full council funding could be targeted at providing no-cost services for those children with the greatest need".
The council has decided not to introduce a sliding scale of charges because it could prove difficult to administer but pledges to review the position at the end of the pilot to ensure families do not fall into a poverty trap. The extended provision will concentrate on providing "a caring and cosy environment where breakfast or tea can be provided and children can relax in a comfortable and supportive environment". Nursery nurses and auxiliaries will operate a shift system.
Foggyley and Kirkton nurseries already have experience of serving both working and disadvantaged parents. The council aims to select the third nursery from a mixed or more affluent area.
"Investment in children" is long overdue, Christine Riach, Dundee's early years adviser, says. But she told last week's SINA conference: "If we are to protect and invest in children we need to bolster parents for whom there is currently very little support. Yet when things go wrong, it's the parents - usually followed by teachers - who find themselves in the dock."
Mrs Riach stressed the importance of avoiding "a stigmatised service with which parents are reluctant to get involved because it implies failure on their part". The council plans to produce parent education packages and encourage parents in an "advocacy role" on behalf of their children.
"It is better to build a child than repair an adult," Mrs Riach said.