The allocation of early learning and childcare (ELC) places in East Ayrshire has been delayed due to the priority to concentrate on the urgent task of providing critical childcare for those who need it most in partnership with other childcare services in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Scottish Government’s subsequent route map to recovery clearly sets out the plans for easing coronavirus restrictions in four phases, with the reopening of ELC settings taking place during Phase 3.
National guidance on reopening early learning and childcare services in Phase 3 was published on Monday 15 June and has been developed to support a safe reopening of ELC settings in a manner which is consistent with wider efforts to control transmission of the virus and protects the health of children, their families, and the staff group. This is in line with the Strategic Framework for reopening schools and ELC provision published on 21 May.
The Strategic Framework has also identified three groups that will have priority access to provision where capacity is limited:
• Children who may be provided with access to daycare services under section 27 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995
• Children eligible for the funded entitlement of 600 hours of ELC i.e. eligible 2 year olds and all 3 and 4 year olds
• Key worker families (as determined by the Scottish Government) requiring critical childcare
Linda McAulay-Griffiths, Head of Education said: “We have been in close contact with the Scottish Government throughout lockdown and have been awaiting the Phase 3 guidance on reopening early learning and childcare services. We are now in a position to confirm the allocation of places and parents and carers will receive direct contact from their centre shortly.”
“Further details about the pattern of hours for allocated places will be determined once we have reviewed the guidance and considered the implementation of this in each ELC setting.
“We will be discussing the guidance with our funded ELC providers who in turn will assess their available capacity. Thereafter, these funded providers will be in touch with parents and carers regarding children who are returning to their service and with parents and carers who have applied for a place.”
The necessary public health measures that must be taken to allow for safe reopening will change the way that ELC settings deliver services and how they operate. Consideration must be given to the physical capacity both inside and outside, which may be affected by public health measures; staffing capacity, the need to work in small groups, minimising contact between these groups, ensuring physical distancing between adults and ensuring enhanced hygiene practices and infection control procedures.
Councillor Fiona Campbell, Cabinet Member for Skills and Learning said: “Last week the Council’s Executive Committee agreed to seven key principles for the allocation of ELC places. The principles are:
• every eligible child resident in East Ayrshire will be allocated a place
• a small number of full time places will be provided in early childhood centres for key worker families requiring critical childcare, where capacity is available
• cross boundary applications will be allocated a place, if capacity is available
• as a starting point, each ECC will aim to allocate every eligible child an initial 2 sessions per week
• depending on overall numbers, staffing capacity and public health measures and advice, the number of hours or sessions may change over time as experience shows what can be safely managed
• every early childhood centre will work towards the delivery of 600 hours at a pace that takes account of the national ELC framework guidance and the three groups identified in the Strategic Framework who will have priority to that capacity
• we will work with our funded providers to reopen and deliver ELC as per the national ELC framework guidance
“This is a fair approach to the allocation of places. Capacity will be affected by the public health measures, set out by the Scottish Government that must be followed to allow for the safe reopening of early learning establishments during phase three.
“Teams from across the Council are working together to ensure that early years provision is available to as many children as possible and each establishment will be in touch with parents and carers shortly. This is a very complex issue that requires extensive planning and staff are working round the clock to ensure that plans are in place as quickly as possible.”