Carolyn Lochhead: The future is uncertain but nursery places are not working right now

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meets some of the children at the Butterfly Nursery in Arden, Glasgow (John Gunion/The Scottish Sun/PA Wire)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meets some of the children at the Butterfly Nursery in Arden, Glasgow (John Gunion/The Scottish Sun/PA Wire)

THIS week, Audit Scotland reported the Scottish Government may not deliver its pledge to double free childcare hours to 1140 a year by 2020.

Less widely reported was its finding the current entitlement of 600 hours may not be delivering value for money or helping parents work or study.

This is no surprise to Fair Funding For Our Kids. Our parent-led campaign started in 2014 with the aim of making it easier to use the funded childcare hours which three and four-year-olds should receive.

Many of us have struggled with the half-day places offered by council nurseries, which can mean parents are expected to drop their children off at 9am and take them away at 12.10pm.

How many employers offer a shift of less than three hours?

Our research has found two-thirds of all nursery places in Scotland are for half-days only.

So it’s no wonder Audit Scotland found limited evidence that the childcare policy is helping parents to work. In fact they quote one parent who had to stop work as they couldn’t fit employment around their nursery hours.

Last year, our survey of 400 parents found nine out of 10 who wanted to change their situation said the main barrier was lack of childcare.It’s frustrating as the quality of Scotland’s childcare is excellent. We almost never hear from parents concerned about the standard.

But we hear from many who are sick of politicians talking about delivering free childcare when the reality is different.

And all this is before we consider parents who work in one local authority area but need their child to attend childcare in another.

Government guidance says all councils should have reciprocal agreements on handling these situations, but our research shows just four Scottish councils do.

We have previously called for the expansion to 1140 hours to be paused, until the existing entitlement can be delivered in a way that is consistent and accessible for working parents.

We are also calling for –

  • An end to councils capping the number of places they will fund in partnership nurseries, which often provide longer hours that working parents need;
  • A national agreement on funding children who live in one area but need to attend nursery in another;
  • Ring-fenced childcare funding.

We hope the Scottish Government will listen.

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