Increase in free nursery hours at risk, warn Scottish councils

Government’s planned rise from 600 to 1,140 hours per year will bring ‘no better gains for children’, argue primary headteachers

The Scottish government’s “most transformative infrastructure project” in this Parliament is in jeopardy because of a failure to plan how it will work financially and practically,  councils have warned.

Local authorities are calling for the government to set out “a clear delivery plan” detailing how it will meet its ambitious target to increase free nursery hours from 600 to 1,140 hours per year by 2020.

Ministers claim the move will help to close the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children.

But without a clear programme of implementation, the councils’ umbrella body Cosla has told TESS, the SNP manifesto commitment is at risk.

Headteachers’ groups have also expressed concerns over the impact, in terms of finances and workload, on schools, many of which have nurseries operating on their sites.

They have warned that school leaders will need “additional and protected management time” to organise nursery staff shifts to cover extended hours during holidays, weekends and after school. Teachers and school leaders work a 35-hour week and the change must not rely on “goodwill”, they have told the government.

‘We don’t have a plan’

David O’Neill, Cosla’s president, said: “We need a plan and we don’t have a plan. The potential consequence is a manifesto commitment made to the public might not be delivered.”

The Scottish government recently announced in the draft budget that £60 million will be made available in the coming financial year to pay for the additional workforce and infrastructure. But funding beyond 2018 has not been confirmed, with the government yet to calculate how much the change will actually cost – although it has committed to fully funding it. The previous move from 475 to 600 hours has cost the government £329 million over the past three years up to 2016-17.

Frank McAveety, the leader of Glasgow City Council, has called on the government to “put their money where their mouth is”.

Primary headteachers’ organisation AHDS, meanwhile, has said that it is opposed to the increase in free hours. It is “a very expensive intervention” that will lead to “no better gains for children than part-time” and prioritises quantity over quality, the body said.

The school leaders also accused the government of planning the expansion of free nursery based on a low-paid, overwhelmingly female workforce. The government has said its hopes that workers in the sector will be paid the living wage of £8.25 an hour but there has been no commitment to funding the move.

The Scottish government said work had already begun on planning for the expansion but it needed to consult before taking “final decisions on implementation”. A government consultation on the expansion closed this week.

[Source:- tes]