When those original mums moved on from the campaign, we moved in to run it. We had to – both of us had experienced the bewilderingly foggy world of pre-school childcare, and both of us were keen to improve it.
Did we succeed? Well, yes and no.
Yes, in that we got childcare for working parents onto the political agenda. No more could MSPs look at us blankly and say,
“But we’ve delivered the free 600 hours, haven’t we?”
Our research reports – compiled in between jobs, kids, housework and occasionally acknowledging the existence of our husbands – comprehensively proved that they had not. Over the years, we found out that:
– Almost half of ALL nursery places in Scotland were for half days only – impossible for most working parents to use
– Two-thirds of councils required parents to pay up-front for their supposedly free childcare
– Only four Scottish councils had reciprocal agreements with every other council about handling cross-boundary nursery placements
– Nine out of ten parents who wanted to change their working situation said that finding appropriate childcare was the biggest barrier.
And there have been positive changes.
Councils are, gradually, moving away from the hated half day place. Our first survey, in 2015, found that 98% of all council nursery places were for half days. By the time of our final survey, in 2018, this stood at 68%: a reduction of over a quarter.
And of course, there is the Blueprint: the Scottish Government document which promises that, by 2020, the entitlement will be 1150 hours and funding will follow the child, meaning parents can place their child in any nursery which meets their needs. In theory, this should spell the end of the half-day place for everyone except those it genuinely suits.
We are proud of our record. But have we achieved everything we wanted to?
Not by a long shot. We hoped to see much faster change. We are acutely aware that there are still many parents being offered 9am-12.10pm places that they cannot make use of, therefore missing out on their funded hours. There are still parents who need their child to go to nursery in a different council area than the one they live in, but cannot get any local authority to accept responsibility for their needs. And there are plenty of parents who are just bamboozled by the whole impenetrable patchwork of local childcare services, and can’t understand why it needs to be so complicated.
To all those parents, we are sorry we couldn’t persuade politicians to fix the system in time for your child. We did try. And we are grateful to all of you who spoke out in support of our campaigning. So many parents – far too many to name – let us quote them in press releases, blogs and tweets. Others appeared on the radio and TV, usually for the first time, conquering their nerves in order to speak up for themselves and their peers. This campaign would literally have been nothing without you. Thank you.
We’re grateful, too, to the journalists who took the time to listen to us. The problems with half-day places are neither easy nor quick to explain, but we never struggled to get a hearing from the media.
And thanks are also due to the politicians and civil servants who did listen, and raised our issues repeatedly in parliament and in government meetings.
We think now is the time to call it quits. With the 2020 deadline just a year away, it’s hard to focus attention on the problems that still exist in our childcare system. And by 2020, neither of us will have kids in nursery anymore.
So what now? From 2020, we want to see:
– A complete end to councils capping the number of partnership places they will fund
– A national agreement on funding children who live in one area but need to attend nursery in another
– Ring-fenced childcare funding
– A minimum hourly rate to be paid to providers by local authorities.
It won’t be for us to follow up on these expectations: we’ll be navigating a new world of schools, exams and parents’ nights. But we have no doubt, if the promises of the 2020 Blueprint are not met, there will be a new group of parents who will get together around a kitchen table and decide that enough is enough.
If this experience has taught us anything, it’s that parent power is real. We are not throwing away the experience of Fair Funding for our Kids. We’re just putting it aside, ready for the next generation.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us.
Katherine and Carolyn