Early learning and childcare

Plans are in place for the reintroduction of 1140hrs of funded early learning and childcare in 18 Early Childhood Centres and introduced in two new Early Childhood Centres, after the Executive Committee’s meeting of Thursday 23 July.

The Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd had confirmed to all local authorities on Wednesday 8 July that from Tuesday 11 August ELC entitlement would remain 600 hours and that the legal obligation to increase provision to 1140 hours from August 2020 had been suspended.

Councillor Fiona Campbell, Cabinet Member for Skills and Learning said: “A revised date for full implementation of the expansion to 1140hrs will be jointly agreed by the Scottish Government and local authorities in due course, and will be mindful of a number of factors that are a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic including the delay to capital programme projects and the recruitment of practitioners.

“However, if the virus remains suppressed and the Scottish Government provides appropriate guidance, the Council aims to reintroduce the delivery of 1140hrs of funded early learning and childcare on a phased basis in the 18 Early Childhood Centres providing these hours prior to lockdown. We will also aim to introduce the increased hours in Nether Robertland ECC and Netherthird ECC on the same basis.

“This is a complex situation and teams across the Council are working closely with the Scottish Government on detailed plans and we will continue to communicate with our parents and carers throughout the planning process.”

The 20 Early Childhood Centres aiming to provide 1140hrs of funded early learning and childcare are:
Auchinleck, Bellsbank, Catrine, Crosshouse, Galston, Hillbank, Hurlford, James Hamilton, Kilmaurs, Littlemill, Mauchline, Muirkirk, Nether Robertland, Netherthird, New Cumnock, Newmilns, Riccarton, Shortlees, St Andrews and Whatriggs.

All other Early Childhood Centres, which were due to deliver 1140 hours in the final phase of our ELC expansion plan, will continue to deliver 600 hours until such times as we are in a position to increase the hours.

When the refreshed guidance for the reopening of early learning and childcare is published, we will need to consider the implications and implementation of the public health measures for each setting and how this impacts on the phased reintroduction of 1140 hours and 600 hours. There will need to be discussions with individual settings to plan, review and revise the allocation of places and agree a timescale to phase in the increased hours.

Allocation of places

The Scottish Government’s route map to recovery, which clearly sets out the plans for easing coronavirus restrictions in four phases, saw the reopening of Early Learning Centre settings during Phase 3.

National guidance on reopening early learning and childcare services in Phase 3 was published on Monday 15 June and had 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 staff. 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 – eligible 2 year olds and all 3 and 4 year olds
• Key worker families (as determined by the Scottish Government) requiring critical childcare

The necessary public health measures implemented have changed the way that ELC settings deliver services and how they operate. Consideration had to be given to the physical capacity both inside and outside, 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: “At the Council’s Executive Committee meeting of Thursday 11 June, the 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 has been affected by the public health measures set out by the Scottish Government that must be followed within early learning establishments.”