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SIC preparing to deliver 30 hours’ childcare

Education and families committee chairman George Smith.

WORK has begun on how Shetland Islands Council will deliver on the Scottish Government’s “transformational” plan to almost double the number of hours of early learning and childcare for 3-4 year olds.

The local authority has to submit an initial delivery plan to the government by the end of September. The commitment means all three and four year olds, plus two year olds who are entitled, will be able to receive 30 hours a week of childcare by 2020 instead of the current 15 hours a week during school term time.

Speaking during Monday’s meeting of the education and families committee, chairman George Smith said he could foresee implementing the policy being “quite challenging for us given our geography – it is going to be quite difficult in some settings”.

He said there was a balance to be struck between early learning and childcare, and noted that, while on the upside it would free up parents to go back to work earlier, there could also be “an emotional impact for bairns spending longer in a childcare setting”.

SIC quality improvement manager Audrey Edwards said the government was “provider neutral”, meaning local authorities could essentially choose how much they relied upon privately run childcare facilities to ensure there are ample places.

A trial of the 30 hours a week model began at Urafirth Primary School in April as part of a package of £371,000 in government money received by the SIC in 2017/18. A total of £400 million in capital funding will be available to councils between now and 2020.

Further trials are now getting underway at Whiteness and Dunrossness primary schools.

Edwards’ report said the policy was based on evidence suggesting that “universal and high quality early learning and childcare provides children with the confidence to integrate well into school” and described it as “one of the biggest transformational changes that is being processed in social policy across Scotland”.

While the “nitty gritty” detail will come later, Edwards told councillors at Monday’s meeting that the SIC would look to “make the best use of what we have and the early learning places that we buy” from private providers and then “create what we need”.

There will be additional staffing requirements including increased hours for existing posts, some new early years assistants and early years practitioners – as well as a new senior post which will offer the possibility of career progression for early years workers for the first time in the islands.

Smith said it was essential the cost of implementing the policy was “set out very clearly so there is no ambiguity around the cost of this in a place like Shetland”.