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Education / Early learning expansion ‘on track’

The Happyhansel Primary School in Walls has recently had an extension built to provide additional space for early years activities. Photo: SIC

AROUND one third of Shetland’s early learning and childcare providers are now delivering expanded hours as part of the Scottish Government’s drive to increase provision across the country.

A total of seven settings in Shetland are now in place to offer the increased 1,140 free hours per child a year.

Members of Shetland Island Council’s education and families committee heard on Monday that Happyhansel in Walls and Mossbank moved to provide the increased hours in April.

They have joined Whiteness, Brae, Dunrossness and Urafirth in expanding their hours.

The next early learning and childcare settings to move to the increased hours will be Lerwick’s facilities after the summer holidays.

This means that the number of children in Shetland now benefitting from the additional hours is 191, or 34 per cent of the total number.

A total of 600 hours of free early learning and childcare per year – equating to around 16 hours per week during term time – was previously offered to all three and four year olds in Scotland, as well as some two-year-olds.

The council will receive ring-fenced capital funding of nearly £3.5 million to 2020/21 for upgrading facilities, as well as recurring revenue funding of £3.14 million which is ring-fenced until 2021/22.

Over the last 12 months the local authority has made 32 appointments for early learning and childcare to cope with the increased hours on offer.

Only two of these, however, were from the private or voluntary sector.

A number of jobs are currently being advertised, with five modern apprenticeships on offer.

Capital work for upgrading and expanding Shetland’s childcare facilities has been underway over the last couple of years as part of a phased implementation.

Tenders are in the process of being awarded for the next four priority settings at Baltasound, Bell’s Brae, Cunningsburgh and Sound.

Work across the council’s portfolio is expected to continue through to August 2020.

Lerwick councillor Peter Campbell asked whether projects to upgrade Bell’s Brae and Sound, as well as Baltasound and Cunningsburgh, were on track for later this year.

The council’s capital programme manager Robert Sinclair said while some influence on timescales may be lost once the project is in the hands of the contractor, everything was on track.