All children aged four when they are due to start school in Fife next year will be entitled to another year of funded nursery if their parents choose to delay their P1 start.
Fife Council is to join a pilot scheme to offer funding for an additional year of Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) from August 2022.
That means children who have officially reached the age for primary school but are not yet five years old when school starts in August will qualify for the funding – if their parents choose to defer.
Four other councils will also join the pilot in August – Aberdeen City, Clackmannanshire, Glasgow City and Stirling.
Annie McCluskey, from Give Them Time, an organisation which has campaigned for several years for the starting age for primary school in Scotland to be raised, says the news is “fantastic”.
Annie, from Glenrothes, deferred entry into school for her own twins three years ago. They are now in P2.
She said: “I certainly have no regrets deferring my twins’ start and I’m delighted that no parent will have to go through what we did to get there.
“Some parents were finding themselves between a rock and a hard place if they knew school was not the best place for their child but they could not afford to fund another year of nursery themselves, so it’s great that will no longer be an issue.”
Annie added that her “only concern” would be if the funding was limited to a local authority setting, as is currently the case.
However news on that detail is yet to be confirmed either way by the council.
Mum Chloe Milne, of Cellardyke, deferred her daughter Robin’s entry into P1 this year.
While her application for funding was accepted by the council, their current policy to only allow its use in local authority nurseries meant she could not access it.
She said: “There is the assumption that will not happen next year – I would be surprised if it did, but that’s yet to be updated on the website.
“It’s a year too late for me but I’m thrilled that all children who apply next year don’t have to go through this, pay themselves, worry about money or fight for it.”
The Scottish Government has committed £8.9 million to support the move and the funds will available to local authorities from August 2022.
Expansion of scheme
Five other councils started the initiative last year – Angus, Argyll and Bute, Falkirk, Scottish Borders and the Shetland Islands.
The scheme is anticipated to be rolled out to all councils across the country in August 2023, however the government has said it is monitoring results in piloting areas first.
Fife Council’s head of education and children’s services, Shelagh McLean, said: “Taking part in this pilot will make sure we are in the best position possible to respond to the change of legislation expected in August 2023.
“It means that all children in Fife who are five after the start of the term in August 2022 and before the end of December 2022 will be eligible for an extra funded year in nursery if their parents submit a request for a deferral.
“All deferral requests will still be discussed with parents and carers to make sure they are in the best interests of the child.”
‘A drop in the Ocean’
However campaigners such at Sue Palmer, of Upstart Scotland, who holds strong opinions on the starting age for primary school, says more is needed.
Sue said: “It’s great that more parents of four-year-olds will have access to funding for an extra nursery year, but this really is a drop in the ocean, especially after Covid.
“All children between three and seven should be receiving relationship-centred, play-based kindergarten care and education, rather than being rushed into formal schooling.
“There’s a mental health crisis among children and young people in this country and the best way to promote children’s long-term health and well-being – and their lifelong learning – is to focus during the early years on learning through play.”