Campaign group finds free hours barriers for parents in Scotland

Gabriella Jozwiak
Friday, August 19, 2016

Restrictions on the way Scottish early years settings deliver government-funded free childcare are preventing parents from accessing the entitlement, a Scottish campaign group has claimed.

Research published by the Fair Funding for our Kids (FFFOK) campaign found difficulties in council-run and private, voluntary and independent (PVI) nurseries after issuing a Freedom of Information request to all Scottish local authorities.

 Responses from 30 of Scotland’s 32 authorities revealed 65 per cent of all nurseries, and 89 per cent of council-run nurseries, only offered free care for three- to five-year-olds in half-day sessions lasting three hours and ten minutes.

 The report, Where’s my nursery place?, explained that parents were rarely able to pay for their child to remain at the nursery for the rest of the day, which meant working parents needing full-day care gave up accessing their entitlement.

 PVI settings in the country have to enter into a partnership agreement with their local authority, but only 27 per cent of funded provision was available within this provision, with the remainder at council-run services, the research found.

It also revealed that at least three Scottish local authorities were restricting the number of funded places they provide in partnership settings, regardless of demand.

FFFOK spokeswoman Katherine Sangster told Nursery World the Scottish government should 'move away from free hours because it’s not working and see how you can get more flexibility in the system for working parents'.

She suggested this could be achieved if council-run nurseries were able to offer longer periods of subsidised care, and local authorities removed caps on the number of children receiving free care in PVI settings.  

National Day Nurseries Association chief executive Purnima Tanuku agreed that the Scottish government should make free hours available to 'any Care Inspectorate approved provider of a parents’ choice’.

‘Alongside this, funding reform is needed,' she added. ‘NDNA’s last survey showed that nurseries in Scotland have the highest shortfall in funding of free childcare places for three- and four-year-olds in the UK. Each has to absorb an average of £39,480 per year or £1,128 per child each year.’

FFFOK’s report also included findings on underfunding levels within local authorities. It suggested 25 of the 32 governing bodies offered settings an hourly rate below the national average cost.

It named Perth and Kinross as the worst performing local authority where a funded partnership place was valued at £1,902 for 600 hours compared to the Family and Childcare Trust’s reported national average of £2,394 - an underfunding of £492 per child per annum.

A Scottish Government spokesman challenged the results, stating that annual statistics published in 2015 showed 97 per cent registration for funded entitlement to early learning and childcare for three- and four-year-olds.

'Through the Children and Young People Act, we put flexibility on a statutory footing for the first time, meaning local authorities are now required to consult with groups of parents on patterns of childcare provision that would best meet their needs,' he continued.

'The majority of local authorities have had these conversations and have increased flexibility through a wider range of choice and options like half days, full days and alignment with school days.'

FFFOK is meeting Scottish minister for childcare and early years Mark McDonald on 30 August to discuss the findings.

The Scottish government placed a requirement on local authorities to provide a mandatory minimum of 600 hours of free childcare for three to four-year-old children a year in 2014.

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