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Education / Less than half of parents using full early learning entitlement, survey suggests

JUST under half of parents or carers with children in early learning and childcare settings in Shetland are using their full free allowance, a survey has suggested.

This come after the Scottish Government greatly increased free hours on offer to 1,140 per child a year.

Two aims of the policy were to improve children’s outcomes and support parents into work, study or training.

The project saw nurseries across Shetland undergo refurbishment and expansions, with the costs funded by the government.

A survey was undertaken by Shetland Islands Council late last year to gauge how parents are using the service, and around 57 per cent of people said they do not use the maximum time on offer.

In term-time settings this is 30 hours a week, and for year-round ones it is 22.75 hours. Parents and carers have flexibility to chose the amount of hours they require.

At the moment funded early learning and childcare is available to all three and four year olds, and some eligible two year olds. The provision can also include childminders.

A key reason behind the level of uptake is parents believing their child is too young and not ready for the full hours yet in a formal setting.

Some also wanted to phase their child into the hours, while there were also part-time workers who did not need to use the full entitlement.

Four respondents said they do not want to use the available hours in full because they want quality time with their child, and three felt their nursery’s opening times do not fit in with their working schedules.

A total of 119 parents or carers responded to this survey.

Three quarters of respondents said they used funded early learning and childcare to go to work, while 64 per cent also said they used it for their child’s development.

Eight out of 10 said they were happy with the choice of settings on offer, but limited provision was a particular issue in Nesting, the North Isles, Sandwick and Bressay.

Eighty per cent of respondents also said they either strongly agreed or agreed that their current setting offer was effectively meeting their needs, and there was also praise for staff.

A survey was also undertaken on childcare facilities for school-aged children, which was answered by 316 people.

One key point is that around half of parents/carers felt that access to school-aged childcare in Shetland is not sufficient to meet their family needs.

Across the survey, respondents were continuously calling for an increase in the number of out-of-school childcare options.

This involves more facilities providing care before school begins, after school finishes, and during the school holidays.

Three quarters of respondents also said they rely on family or friends to provide childcare.

A report presented to councillors this week said two new wrap-around childcare facilities in Sandwick and Brae are at the early stages of development, and expected to be available from August.