Parents ask questions after report shows three fifths of all nursery places in Scotland do not offer full day care
PARENTS in Scotland are “being let down by a lack of flexibility” in the nursery system, a campaign organisation has warned in a report released this week.
According to the Fair Funding for our Kids campaign (FFK), nurseries have not been able to offer either a full day of care or they are struggling to maintain the 16 hours minimum of free nursery care parents should currently have access to.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to double the amount of free childcare available for three and four year olds in Scotland by 2020 if the SNP won the Holyrood election this year, however parents and childcare campaigners are concerned about the pace of the proposed reforms outlined.
"Our own investigations via Freedom of Information requests and first-hand accounts from parents and nurseries have found there has been very little progress made in ensuring that Scottish parents can access their entitlement." FFK
In a 2014 SNP conference in Perth, the first minister unveiled ambitious plans that would see the number of free childcare hours available increase from 16 to 30 every week, however FFK’s report claims that in some cases even the 16 hour minimum a week is not currently being met.
Research by FFK has found that only three quarters of free places for 3-5 year olds were being offered at council-run nurseries between the autumn of 2014 and the spring of this year, and of these council-run nurseries, nine out of 10 were not able to offer a full day of care even if the parents offered to pay them for the extra hours.
Taking into account private nurseries, 65 per cent of all nursery places in Scotland were unable to offer full day care.
A spokeswoman for the FFK campaign said in an online statement that this placed many working parents in an "impossible situation".
She added: "Despite announcements by the Scottish Government highlighting progress, our own investigations via Freedom of Information requests and first-hand accounts from parents and nurseries have found there has been very little progress made in ensuring that Scottish parents can access their entitlement."
According to Scottish Government figures and announcements made during 2014, the annual entitlement to free childcare for 3-5 year olds rose from 475 hours to 600 since that year.
But in FFK's report, it found that local authorities in Scotland were underfunding places in private nurseries by up to £492 per child, and that 25 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities were offering an hourly rate below the national average cost of a nursery place.
CommonSpace contacted the Scottish Government for comment and further information, but had not had received a response at time of publication.
A survey by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) in March this year found that public funding for state-sponsored childcare schemes do not cover the cost to nurseries anywhere in the UK, but the shortfall is largest in Scotland.
"Taking in to account private nurseries, 65 per cent of all nursery places in Scotland were unable to offer full day care." FFK
Representing 300 Scottish nurseries, the NDNA said that nurseries are paid an average of £3.56 per hour by local authorities for a free place for three, four and five year olds, but this means a shortfall of £1,128 per child per year.
It calculated that the average nursery offering an average of 35 places has to absorb losses of £39,480 every year.
NDNA said the "vast majority" are small businesses that cannot afford these losses and had warned this posed a major threat to the first minister’s plan to increase funded hours from 600 to 1,140 by 2020.
Only 52 per cent of nurseries that responded to its survey said they would offer the extra hours promised by the first minister, with a further 22 per cent saying it was “unlikely” they would do so and the remaining quarter unsure.
"So instead of 16 hours a week for both children I received six hours. I had no idea where to turn to for help." Katherine
The FFK report also critiqued the "near total lack of data on children attending formal childcare settings but not accessing their entitlement", which it said makes it impossible to judge the success of the government's policy.
The organisation cited several case studies featuring accounts from parents from both inside and outside the group. Katherine from East Lothian said: "I was aware of the funded places and we had worked out our family finances accordingly. The nursery fees were just affordable.
"The month before the girls started we received a letter from the nursery informing us that places in partnership nurseries were to be capped and the nursery would pro-rata the allocated hours between all children.
"So instead of 16 hours a week for both children I received six hours. I had no idea where to turn to for help.
"Luckily we had grandparents living relatively close by to plug the gap. Other parents simply had to not take up the place and did not return to work as planned."
"Local authorities in Scotland are underfunding places in private nurseries by up to £492 per child." FFK
Reacting to the report, Sue Palmer, former headteacher and founder of the Upstart campaign which aims for a comprehensive kindergarten stage and a delay in the teaching age of children until seven, told CommonSpace: "It's not just that parents need flexible childcare. It's that young children need the best possible childcare.
"The under-sevens need to build strong relationships with the adults who care for them and the time and space to learn through play with other children – this is how they develop the social, communication and self-regulation skills needed to flourish in the education system and beyond.
"But the current funding system for free nursery places means many children are being passed like parcels from one pre-school setting to another.
"Due to our exceptionally early school starting age, they then embark on formal education at an age when many are simply not equipped to cope with it.
"Scotland urgently needs a coherent early years policy that takes account of what we know about child development. Otherwise we'll have no hope of closing the attainment gap … and mental health problems among children and young people will continue to increase at a frightening rate."
"The under-sevens need to build strong relationships with the adults who care for them and the time and space to learn through play with other children – this is how they develop the social, communication and self-regulation skills needed to flourish in the education system and beyond." Sue Palmer
As a response to the 2014 entitlements granted by the Scottish Government, the organisation FFK was founded in that same year to lobby for parents who are unable to access this entitlement.
Since it was founded in the summer 2014 over 1,000 people have signed up to the campaign consisting of working parents, stay at home parents and some nursery providers who work in Glasgow and other cities across Scotland.
According to the group, its main focus remains on the problems faced by families in Glasgow as campaigners say they have found Glasgow City Council (GCC) difficult in being forthcoming with figures and help.
FFK says that GCC has still not told it how many families are not receiving their childcare entitlement under the current system.
"Luckily we had grandparents living relatively close by to plug the gap. Other parents simply had to not take up the place and did not return to work as planned." Katherine
The group submitted Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) to all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities on 22 June 2016. Local authorities are rquired by law to responde within 20 working days.
From 21 July, FFK analysed the councils’ responses, but the campaign group said that two local authorities, Highland and North Lanarkshire, did not respond.
Picture courtesy of First Minister
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