Early years expansion may not lead to quality, MSPs warned
Nursery - credit Emily Goodstein
Scottish Government plans to increase the number of hours of free childcare will not necessarily lead to improvements in early years education, MSPs have been told.
The amount of free childcare available for all three and four-year-olds in Scotland, as well as vulnerable two-year-olds, is set to be doubled to 1,140 hours a year by 2020, under plans laid out in the SNP manifesto.
However representatives of councils and independent services told Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee this may not lead to better education outcomes unless there is “substantial” investment in quality and flexibility.
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Maggie Simpson of the Scottish Childminding Association said available evidence suggested quality was more important than quality.
“There’s no evidence to say if they are in there for 1,140 hours they will benefit twice as much as they would do if they were not,” she said.
Claire Schofield of the National Day Nurseries Association warned there was a risk quality would be affected by the expansion in hours.
“With the expansion to 1,140 we absolutely have to make sure we have the right level of quality, because the academics and experts on this would say if you expand and it’s not good enough quality you will have a problem in terms of the benefit to children,” she said.
Investment in the workforce would be key, she said.
The issue of flexibility was also raised, in the wake of Scottish Government figures last week which revealed an apparent £140m underspend by councils of early years funding from the Scottish Government to pay for the current policy of 600 free hours per year.
The figure was disputed by local authorities umbrella body COSLA.
“Around a third of local authorities aren’t using childminding services at all,” said Simpson.
COSLA’s children and young people spokesperson, Councillor Stephanie Primrose, said: “We do need to build in flexibility. Local authorities cannot take on 1,140 hours on their own.”