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Education / Out of school childcare beckons for Brae and Sandwick

But a warning was made that expanding childcare in Brae could affect rural schools

A major refurbishment of Brae High School could be on the cards.

GREATER childcare opportunities in Brae and Sandwick are in the works, including provision before and after school and during the holidays.

The hope is that these services will be running from August.

Council officers are intending for the additional costs to be covered by income generated through charges.

The proposals were presented at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee on Monday, with members on the whole giving the idea a warm welcome.

However, there were warnings that increased childcare provision in Brae could encourage people to move their child out of rural areas like Urafirth and Ollaberry, where there would be less childcare provision.

Shetland North member Tom Morton felt there were some risks attached, as well as benefits.

“There could be a threat implicit in this to the viability of smaller schools at a distance,” he said, “if parents see the benefits to them and their children of just transferring their children to Brae primary and then using these excellent services should they become available.”

It comes as the council continues work on plans for a proposed new Brae school.

Elected members were told that a survey of families undertaken last year highlighted that current school-aged childcare services across Shetland do not meet the needs of families.

Early years manager Sam Flaws said the number of childminders in Shetland has also significantly fallen.

A report to members reiterated that access to childcare is a key factor in preventing parents from taking on additional employment.

Flaws said Sandwick and Brae were the first areas identified as places which could benefit from new localised solutions.

She also said there was a hope that the local authority could be in a position as the Scottish Government looks to roll out free school-aged childcare for families on low incomes.

A multi-agency childcare strategic group has been established to help address the childcare issues across Shetland.

There has for instance been childcare issues in Unst, where a local childminder stopped trading – leading the council to look at alternative solutions.

There are only two private regulated day care services for children – Scalloway’s Hame Fae Hame and Peerie Foxes in Lerwick.

“It is clear there is significant demand for childcare provision [in Brae and Sandwick],” councillors were told.

The new out of school childcare proposal will go in front of the council’s policy and resources committee on Tuesday for final approval.

There is space in both the Brae and Sandwick early learning and childcare facilities to extend services.

The extension of the two services would cost around £34,000.

Shetland West member Liz Peterson also expressed concern the potential impact on rural primary schools.

“This is well needed in these areas,” she said. “However I would completely agree with Tom’s [Morton] point that this could be seen as a draw for some parents that are perhaps living in more rural areas of Shetland, and they see the opportunity to have all day care at Brae.”

Peterson said she would like to see these type of services rolled out across Shetland.

When it came to Sandwick, Shetland South member Bryan Peterson said it would be a much needed service in a growing community.

The village did have a private childcare facility up until 2019, and councillor Neil Pearson said he felt this service did not draw children away from outlying areas in the South Mainland.

Vice-chair Catherine Hughson, who stood in for chair Davie Sandison on the item after he left due to a conflict of interests, said “I think we have to look at this as beginning point” – and that Brae and Sandwick were in effect pilots.

“For me I see this is a really important way forward,” she said. “If we’re trying to reduce the barriers to folk that are living in poverty, and in work poverty, to be able to work more hours, I would see this as a stepping stone.”