For many families in Scotland, the system is not delivering a model of childcare that matches the needs of the modern working family. The result of this is that many children are missing out on their early years entitlement.
Right now, thousands of families across Scotland are unable to access their legal entitlement to free early learning and childcare because most council nurseries do not offer suitable hours for working parents.
The Scottish Government’s flagship policy entitles all eligible 3 to 5 year-olds 600 hours of free childcare. However, the government’s promises do not appear to match up with the reality of what local authorities say they are able to provide.
We need quick action. Our children are missing out now and cannot wait.
Here are the key issues:
1. MOST COUNCIL NURSERIES DO NOT OFFER THE FLEXIBLE HOURS THAT WORKING FAMILIES NEED:
Most local authority nurseries offer places that are half-day sessions rather than full days and are only available during school term times.
In order to access these places, working parents must make alternative arrangements for drop off, pick up and care for the rest of the working day and during holidays. Those with children in school may have two or more drop off / pick up locations. This patchwork of childcare is impossible for many families to manage.
In these circumstances a private nursery is a necessity, not a parental choice.
2. THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH FUNDED PLACES AT PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP NURSERIES:
In the absence of a council nursery place, private nurseries can provide a solution for parents who need to work. However, in a number of local authorities places are only purchased in partnership nurseries if they think there are not enough sessions available in council nurseries.
This has led to a shortage of funded places in the partnership nurseries which are providing parents with the service they need to enable them to work.
3. PARENTS ARE BEING ASKED TO MOVE THEIR CHILD TO A DIFFERENT NURSERY TO CHASE THEIR ENTITLEMENT, ONLY TO FIND THAT THERE ARE NO OTHER FUNDED PLACES AVAILABLE TO THEM:
Continuity of care and established emotional bonds are vital for the well being of young children, but parents are being asked to take their children out of a settled environment in order to access their funding entitlement.
When councils purchase places in private nurseries annually, a child may be expected to move nursery three times by the age of five in order to maintain access to funding.
However, because of the limited number of funded places available, most partnership nurseries do not have enough places to cover the children already in attendance. This means that a child whose nursery has had its funded places reduced or withdrawn is unlikely to be able to secure one at an alternative partnership nursery.
Parents may find that the only nursery able to offer them a funded place is too expensive to consider.
This lack of stability in funding for partnership places creates real difficulties for children, parents and partnership nurseries.
4. THERE ARE NO RECIPROCAL FUNDING ARRANGEMENTS BETWEEN LOCAL AUTHORITIES IN SCOTLAND:
Many parents travel across local authority boundaries to work and choose to place their children in partnership nurseries near their place of employment. This causes financial difficulties for councils without reciprocal funding arrangements because the Scottish Government funds provision for children resident within the local authority boundaries only.
The Government has suggested that local authorities ‘maintain a dialogue’ where there is an imbalance. Without formal arrangements, councils can do what they like.
5. EVEN COUNCIL NURSERIES DO NOT ALWAYS HAVE ENOUGH PLACES – ESPECIALLY FOR 3 YEAR OLDS:
There are parts of Glasgow where parents of three-year-olds are told their children will not get a council nursery place until the pre-school year because of nursery closures or high demand.
In these areas parents must look to partnership nurseries. But partnership nurseries are expensive, tie families into a 52-week contract (when funding is only available for 39 weeks of the year), and often there are no funded places available.
6. COUNCIL PLACEMENT AND PARTNERSHIP ALLOCATION SYSTEMS ARE HARD TO UNDERSTAND AND NAVIGATE:
It can be very difficult for parents to establish where and when places are available.
The difficulty parents have finding suitable nursery places causes stress, lowers parents’ confidence in the education system and, for some, can mean the difference between returning to work or staying at home.
7. THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT IS NOT TRACKING THE PROBLEM:
The government has said the roll out of the free hours is a massive success story. Yet they do not track the number of children who are missing out on a free place – so how do they know that the policy is working? We have found that reliable data is thin on the ground.