Scotland's early years minister announces free childcare trials

Scotland's early years minister announces free childcare trials

Scotland’s childcare minister has announced Edinburgh, Aberdeen and the Scottish borders will begin trailing the Government’s free childcare offer for three and four-year-olds from January 2017. 

Aided by Scottish Government funding worth just over £138,000, early years settings in the three locations will participate in trials to test different ways of delivering the Government’s extension of free childcare to 30 hours a week (1,140 hours), ahead of the scheme’s rollout in 2020. 

Scotland’s early years minister Mark McDonald, who made the announcement during a visit to Craigentinny Nursery, said: “The Scottish Government is not simply determined to increase the amount of early learning and childcare. We are also determined to deliver the flexibility that families need to make best use of high quality childcare. 

“By trialing different delivery models we will be better able to understand what parents and children need and want. The three successful local authorities announced today put forward a diverse range of proposals and I look forward to seeing how these work in practice.” 

Edinburgh trial

In Edinburgh, the trials will be targeted at nurseries in areas of high deprivation, with Craigentinny and Ferryhill nurseries identified as potential settings. Around 10-12 children in each setting will receive the additional hours and the Scottish Government will invest just over £32,000 in the trial. 

Councillor Cammy Day, education children and families convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “Apart from the positive educational benefits the project will also give pupils from areas of social deprivation opportunities and experiences which may otherwise be limited to them.” 

Aberdeen trial

Aberdeen City Council has put forward a proposal jointly with Early Years Scotland to trial a new approach to providing childcare for eligible two year olds. 

The trial will be based on the existing model of Stay and Play delivered by Early Years Scotland. Unlike existing services for vulnerable two year olds where a general period of settling in is planned, this is focused on offering parents the opportunity to stay and play to achieve positive outcomes for children, especially disadvantaged children and families. 

The trial target group is 20 two year olds where parents have expressed a reluctance to leave their children. It will be located at Manor Park Primary school, a deprived area which currently has little two-year-old provision. 

The service will be offered four days per week, 50 weeks of the year. The Government will provide over £39,000 of investment towards the trial. 

Scottish Borders trial

The Scottish Borders trial will offer extra hours to children accessing early learning and childcare in the Philiphaugh Community School campus in Selkirk. 

It builds on existing provision where wraparound exists but parents are required to pay. The trial will offer an increase in the number of hours of childcare provided Monday to Friday during term and additional provision will be offered during holiday periods to meet parent demand. The Government will provide over £66,000 of investment for the trial. 

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation into childcare options including Children in Scotland’s Childcare Commission proposal that parents can opt to receive funding in a childcare account. Scotland’s remaining free childcare trials programme is expected to to be announced in December. 

Purnima Tanuku, the chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said: “The first three trials involve different groups of children and families, exploring a variety of models and including outdoor provision. 

“We would like to see the remaining trials continue to encompass a range of models and it’s crucial that they involve fully private and third sector nurseries. These are key players who already provide flexible early learning and childcare for tens of thousands of working families and are essential to delivering this extension in the funded entitlement.” 

Research published on 14 November by Heriot-Watt University for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has identified that extending the improved provision for good quality, flexible, subsidised childcare across the working year would be 'the biggest single contributor to the reduction in poverty.' 

Referring to the research, the childcare minister added: “As highlighted in research from Heriot-Watt University, quality childcare is a key contributor to reducing poverty and tackling inequality. Today marks the latest milestone in Scotland’s journey towards a high-quality, flexible childcare system that helps children, parents and families the length and breadth of the country.” 

Welsh and English trials

Scotland’s announcement follows the Welsh Government’s announcement on 9 November that six local authorities in Wales would test the 30 hour free childcare offer for three and four-year-olds from September 2017. The childcare offer will be piloted in Wales in Gwynedd, Anglesey, Flintshire, Swansea, Blaenau Gwent and Rhondda Cynon Taf 

From last September, working parents in England were able to benefit from the 30 hour offer in eight pilot areas, namely Wigan, Staffordshire, Swindon, Portsmouth, Northumberland, York, Newham and Hertfordshire