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Education / Grant fund could help preschool providers upgrade facilities

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

A TEMPORARY fund could be established which would provide grants of up to £10,000 for early learning and childcare facilities to upgrade indoor and outdoor spaces.

The fund will be open to all providers of preschool education in Shetland which are offering funded hours.

It comes amid the Scottish Government-funded expansion of free early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours a year for all three and four year olds.

Members of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee gave the short-term fund the thumbs up at a meeting on Monday, and the proposal will now go to the policy and resources committee next week.

A report from early learning and childcare quality improvement officer Sam Flaws said that as part of the expanded provision a ‘follow the child’ approach will be introduced, allowing parents flexibility to decide how they want to use their hours.

Flaws said guidance states that under the expansion, it is “important that we have the right physical infrastructure, both indoors and outdoors, to improve outcomes for children”.

“This includes capacity but also appropriate and stimulating care and learning environments for all children in early learning and childcare,” the report added.

Council run nurseries have already been upgrading facilities in a phased approach over the last couple of years.

Flaws told the meeting that the council works in partnership with nine funded providers – two private, two voluntary and five childminders.

“We feel it’s really important that we support these providers,” she said.

The proposed grant scheme would run from 1 April to to 31 March 2022, by which time the government’s ring-fenced funding for the expansion will come to an end.

For settings with one to 23 registered places, funded providers would be able to apply for up to 100 per cent of costs up to a maximum of £5,000.

For those which offer 24 or more registered places, this cost cap increases to £10,000.

Funding could be used for works to improve or extend internal spaces to ensure they are of a standard to accommodate children for longer periods of time, such as space for eating, or sleep/rest.

There is also a focus on works proposed to improve the outdoor space attached to a setting, and/or to improve the flow from the indoor to outdoor spaces.

“Outdoor spaces should provide children with a variety of different natural outdoor experiences and opportunities,” the grant guidelines say.

The maximum cost of the grant scheme is expected to be £55,000, but it will come from the government’s ring-fenced funding – meaning there will be no additional cost to the council.

It August it was announced that all families could access the additional hours they requested during registration week in February last year, which was well ahead of target.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021