More than two thirds of three to five-year-olds attending council nurseries have places for just three hours and 10 minutes per day, according to a new report.
A study by childcare campaign group Fair Funding for our Kids found that 68% of all council nursery places for three to five-year-olds in 2017/18 were for half days only.
Almost half (48%) of all nursery places in Scotland were half days only, while less than 3% of all nursery places are for full days all year round, according to responses to Freedom of Information requests submitted by the group.
Children aged three to five are entitled to 600 hours a year of free childcare, however campaigners said that half-day places, many of which are offered in term time only, are almost impossible for working parents to make use of.
A campaign spokesman said: “Early years care is so important, but working parents continue to miss out.
“Very few people have bosses who are prepared to let them work for less than three hours a day, and many don’t have grandparents who can fill gaps in childcare.
“We need much faster progress in eliminating half-day places except where parents specifically request them.”
The report found that 16% of all nursery places in 2017/18 are for full days in term time only, up from 3% in 2016.
While 68% of council nursery places and almost half of all nursery places were for half days only, this is an improvement on 2016, when 90% of council places and 65% of all places in Scotland were offered on this basis.
The study also claimed that local authorities in Scotland are underfunding partnership places in private nurseries by up to £461 per child a year.
The research found that 21 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities are offering an hourly rate below the national average cost of £4.03 an hour.
Campaigners concluded that Scotland is still “some distance from the fully funded, flexible, child-centred system that we need”.
The Scottish Government has pledged to increase the free childcare entitlement to 1,140 hours a year by 2020.
Campaigners are calling for action to address the problems and a focus on improving the childcare sector so that it works for all families.
A Cosla spokesman said: “This information is historical. Cosla and Scottish Government are working together, not only on the expansion to 1140 funded early learning and childcare but also to maintaining a high quality provision for our youngest children as we prepare for the expansion.
“The commitment to the 1140 expansion means that all families will benefit from longer and more flexible approaches in every local authority area.
“Cosla are clear that our priority is quality of provision for the funded entitlement as we make children’s outcomes our focus for the expansion programme.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Early learning and childcare flexibility and choice is increasing across the country.
“More local authority settings are providing funded early learning and childcare entitlement out with school hours as well as enabling families to access their child’s entitlement from other providers who already offer extended opening hours. This will further increase as we almost double the funded entitlement to 1,140 hours from August 2020.
“This enhanced offer will improve outcomes for children and contribute to our goal of closing the poverty related attainment gap.
“It will be delivered through a new Funding Follows the Child approach, which will allow children to access high quality early learning and childcare at any setting that meets a new national standard and has a place available.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott MSP said urgent action is needed to ensure people can take up their existing entitlement.
He said: “High quality childcare lasting though the day can be an enormous boost for children and parents alike. These figures show that is not available in many places and half day places don’t work for many parents.
“We need flexible full-time childcare and early years’ education that meets the needs of parents and children.”