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Education / Expanded early learning programme now available across Shetland

SHETLAND Islands Council has said it has delivered on the provision of 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare from today (Monday).

Chairman of the education and families committee George Smith said he was pleased to see a high uptake of the new entitlement.

The Scottish Government has increased parents’ entitlement to early learning childcare from 600 to 1,140 hours per year. Photo: Pixabay

The Scottish Government flagship policy to nearly double early learning and childcare for three and four year olds from 600 hours annually to 1,140 had been phased in over a number of years with nursery classes at Urafirth, Dunrossness and Whiteness the first to offer additional hours.

Smith said the job to make it all happen by the target date although the Scottish Government had removed its statutory requirement due to the coronavirus crisis.

However, despite the relaxation in the target date the SIC continued with the plans to ensure that all families could access the additional hours they requested during registration week in February 2020.

The final eight nurseries coming on board today are at Aith, Lunnasting, Mid Yell, Skeld, Sandwick, Scalloway, Little Tikes – Tingwall, Whalsay.

The SIC said that of all funded early learning and childcare placements in Shetland, 40 per cent of families have opted to use their full 1,140 hour per year entitlement.

A further 43 per cent have opted for some additional hours on top of their previous entitlement of 600 hours.

In addition to council run nurseries four private or voluntary sector providers, including Hame fae Hame and Peerie Foxes, and five childminders, have been accepted as providers.

Smith said: “Children’s services staff have worked extremely hard to implement this early years and childcare expansion in Shetland, on top of the challenges of the last few months.

“The high uptake of placements reflects how well this scheme has been received locally by parents and carers, and families will benefit significantly from this provision.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said all this was good news for parents and children in Shetland.

“Liberal Democrats have long championed a major expansion of childcare as a way to support children, tackle the attainment gap and boost the economy,” she said.

“This is excellent work from Shetland Island Council and shows that with effort and organisation it is possible to deliver on this commitment. I’d like to thank staff who have made this happen whilst responding to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is an example that the Scottish Government should look to learn from given the struggles that some other local authorities are experiencing.”

Since 2016, the local early learning and childcare workforce has increased by 40 per cent and staff have been supported with development plans and training over the four year period.

Some of the building projects to support the expansion have been delayed and will now be rescheduled.