Campaign group Fair Funding for Our Kids (FFFOK) met with Angela Constance, cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning, yesterday (17 November) to discuss how the Scottish government intends to deliver its promise to double the free hours for three and four-year-olds, when it says that thousands of children are unable to take up the current offer.
At the moment, all three- and four-year-olds in Scotland are eligible for 16 hours of free childcare a week, however the Scottish Government has committed to increasing the offer to 30 hours by 2020.
Although FFFOK claims a large number of children are unable to take up the 16 free hours as the majority of places are available at council-run settings, many of which offer just sessional care and are open term-time only.
The parent campaign group says it left the meeting feeling frustrated and angry as Ms Constance was unable to answer basic questions, including:
- how many extra childcare places will be needed to fulfil the promise;
- how much it will cost and the amount of money the Scottish Government will have available to fund the additional hours;
- the number of new settings that will be required to provide the places;
- how many extra training places and modern apprenticeships will be needed to ensure there are enough early years staff available;
- he timetable for implementation.
The Scottish education minister told FFFOK that, ‘The new promise will be delivered by 2020 because it has to be’, and that much would depend on the chancellor George Osborne’s Spending Review next week (25 November).
According to the parent campaign group, a further 26,000 childcare places will be needed in order for the Scottish government to deliver on its promise.
Their figures are based upon the total number of existing nursery places in Scotland as listed on the Care Inspectorate website, compared with the projected child population as per the latest statistics from the National Records of Scotland.
To provide the extra places, FFFOK claims that a minimum of 650 new nurseries and 3,250 extra staff will be needed. However, it says the numbers are likely to be much higher as their figures do not take into account geographical spread or demand for paid places.
Jenny Gorevan of Fair Funding for Our Kids (Glasgow), said, ‘The first minister is right to put childcare at the heart of next year’s elections. But how will she deliver on this new, bigger promise if she cannot even give children what they are entitled to now.
‘The plan to deliver infrastructure expansion on this scale by 2020 needs to be well in hand by now but the cabinet secretary doesn't have even ballpark figures on the most basic facts.’
She added, ‘Scotland has some of the highest childcare costs in Europe. The system needs radical overhaul not half-baked sloganeering. All our politicians have to come up with better before next year's elections.’
A Scottish Government spokesperson said, 'The figures estimated by Fair Funding for our Kids assume nothing will change between now and 2020 to deliver this increase in funded hours and fail to take account of Scotland’s 5,500 childminders. They also assume that doubling the hours of free childcare available will mean that we will need to double the number of childcare places.
'This is not true. We can reassure parents that preparations are well underway to deliver this massive expansion of 1,140 hours and ensure a place for every eligible child. We have already made clear this delivery will cost around £800 million and will result in a significant increase in the early years workforce. We will work with local government to ensure the extra money being provided is used to create the new places. We are already working with local government to plan for a significant infrastructure expansion to meet the increased demand and to ensure the extra money being provided is used to create the new places
'The minister for children and young people, as lead minister, has also announced the establishment of a new Strategic Forum to help develop our plans for expansion to ensure we have a high-quality, flexible system of early learning and childcare that is affordable and accessible for all.'