Early years - prevention better than cure
I want early intervention to be the hallmark of the Government's work, and we are committed to supporting children in their vital early years. That's why we've already extended nursery provision across Scotland by raising levels to 475 hours per year for all three- and four-year-olds and are committed to increasing entitlement by 50 per cent.
Government funding for nursery pilots involving two-year-olds was never due to continue beyond June 2008. Our historic agreement with local government means councils are free to decide what pre-school services they provide for two-year-olds, ensuring they are tailored to meet the needs of youngsters in their areas. While a nursery place at the age of two might be the right solution for some youngsters, other children might be better served by other forms of family support with their mothers, for example in family centres.
We will set the long-term direction with our forthcoming early years strategy, which will consider the range of services needed to support young children and their families. I firmly believe that providing the right help and support from birth can drastically reduce the need for intervention in later life.
Many problems - from indiscipline in schools to violence on our streets - can have their roots in a child's early years. This is definitely a case where prevention is better than cure, but we need a joined-up approach which addresses all the issues that such children and families face. The early years strategy will deliver that kind of approach and early entry into pre-school for vulnerable children is, no doubt, one of the options we will examine.
One thing is certain: when it comes to looking after our children, an early start is the best start.
Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.