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Education / Early learning expansion squeezing out childminders

A “SIGNIFICANT reduction” in the number of childminders in Shetland is partly down to the national expansion of funded early learning and childcare (ELC), a meeting has heard.

It comes as councillors agreed on Tuesday to introduce wraparound childcare for school children in Brae and Sandwick.

Early years manager Sam Flaws said there was a need in both of these areas for care before and after school, and in the holidays.

She said a survey of current school-aged childcare services across Shetland do not meet the needs of families.

The issue of childminders was raised during a meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee on Tuesday, during which elected members gave the final green light to the Brae and Sandwick plans.

Following a question from Shetland West member Liz Peterson, Flaws said some local childminders have stopped because they feel their business it no longer viable.

She said part of this is the national expansion of free early learning and childcare hours, which allows a child to receive up to 1,140 hours per year.

This includes childminder provision as well as nurseries, but Flaws suggested some are being squeezed out.

“We do have an open offer that childminders can provide funded early learning and childcare, and we thought that would help them to be part of this provision, but I think what most are finding is that it’s just not viable for them anymore,” Flaws said.

That feedback from those leaving the sector has highlighted other issues too.

“It’s just becoming so challenging for them – the bureaucracy, the paperwork, the policies and procedures that they have to have in place from operating from their own homes is really difficult,” Flaws said.

Meanwhile the council has been working with the Scottish Childminding Association as part of a drive to encourage more people in remote and rural areas to think about entering the sector.

There has been a “fair bit of interest” already in the recruitment drive.

“We will certainly work very closely with them to support them through any registration processes, additional grant funding and support as best as we can,” Flaws said.

The Scottish Rural Childminding Partnership pilot is led by the Scottish Childminding Association with £170,000 of partnership funding from South of Scotland Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland.

More information can be found online.

Chief executive of the Scottish Childminding Association Graeme McAlister said the childminding workforce in Scotland has declined by 26 per cent – 1,457 people – in the last five years during the implementation expanded early learning and childcare.

“This decline has been experienced in every local authority area and is particularly pronounced in remote and rural areas,” he said.

“This is why we have prioritised the establishment of the Scottish Rural Childminding Partnership and the current childminder recruitment pilot in remote and rural areas.

“The expansion of ELC and the manner in which it has been implemented nationally and locally in Scotland has had a devastating effect on the childminding workforce.

“This has included a significant increase in bureaucracy and paperwork which has affected childminders disproportionately.

“There is a need for recognition from all of the responsibility to prioritise additional support for childminding nationally and locally.

“The Scottish Government has received a series of constructive evidence-based recommendations to redress these issues and there is a need for an urgent step change in action to prevent the further decline of childminding as a unique form of childcare and family support.”

The association’s findings around the number of people who have given up childminding are based on an audit of childcare providers in August and surveys of childminders and parents.

In response to the audit a Scottish Government spokesperson previously said “childminders are a valued part of our ELC sector, providing high-quality childcare in a nurturing, home-based environment”.

“The audit found that a majority of parents surveyed are receiving their first choice of childcare provider,” they added.

“However, we recognise that the report highlights some challenges for the childminding sector.

“We will consider the findings in detail and work with our local government partners to ensure councils are supported to further develop their ELC offers in response to parental demand and local circumstances.”