Thousands of children who have lost months of nursery time to the pandemic are preparing for the big step up to primary school in August.
But like the parents of Robin Ritchie-Milne, who will turn five in October, many will be worried their children are not ready for the transition.
Parents of children who turn five after school year begins in August have the right to delay their school start for a year, but unless their birthday is in January or February their access to a funded nursery place may depend on where they live.
Angus Council already awards funding to all parents who want to defer P1 entry, and last year Dundee City Council approved all but one application.
Perth and Kinross Council approved 89% of funding applications last year, while Fife Council, at 85%, had one of the lowest approval rates in Scotland.
However, ahead of new legislation coming into force in 2023, Robin’s family, who live in Cellardyke, hope the situation in Fife could be about to change.
From 2023 the automatic right to another year of funded early learning and childcare which already exists for children born in January and February will be extended to all children who turn five after the start of the school year in August.
That will be too late for those youngsters who have already lost nursery time to Covid but Fife councillors are to consider introducing that right this year.
Robin’s mum Chloe Milne is anxiously awaiting the outcome of her application for funding.
She said: “Normally an October-born child would get about 21 months of early learning and childcare but because of the pandemic [Robin] has had only had two three-month stints at her school nursery.
“Partly to do with that and partly to do with other reasons, I felt that four was too young.
“Because of missing out on the pre-school year I really think it would be best for her to have another year in a pre-school setting.”
Fife councillors, who have recognised a “lack of equity” in provision, have requested a report from education officers on the possibility of extending the entitlement to August to December born children this year.
Chloe, a marketing manager, said: “It would make a huge difference to us.
“I’m really hopeful that the report that comes back shows this would be in the best interests of children this year.
“Coronavirus has had a huge impact on these children and it is the right thing to do to bring in an automatic funding policy.”
It was Councillor Kathleen Leslie, the Fife Conservatives’ education spokeswoman, who persuaded councillors to make the move, telling them of the months of nursery time lost by children and a lack of awareness among parents of the right to defer for four-year-old born before January.
She said: “I am absolutely delighted that the motion received unanimous support from councillors.
“This outcome means a report will come to the education and children’s services sub-committee where councillors can rightly explore this in more detail.
“We know that a change to the legislation is coming in 2023 so it is important we begin to look at this now.
“Ultimately I would like to see a change in place for this academic year so that no child misses out on an additional year at nursery if that is what their parents want and I will continue to push for that and speak up for parents who have been affected by the current policy.”
Nursery to school transition
Shelagh McLean, head of education and children’s services at Fife Council, previously told us that parents can apply for a deferred start to primary school for children who are four when they are due to start school and that this system has worked well for some time.
Staff, she said, understood challenges families may be facing currently and great work had taken place to deliver remote learning and keep in touch.
She said: “As the year progresses, work to ensure a positive and effective transition from nursery to school will take place. Staff will continue to work with children and families to help them feel supported and prepared for starting school.
This is an important time for children and families and it is understood there may be anxieties and concerns when taking this next step. Support to reassure and to overcome fears will continue to be offered to families.”
Shelagh McLean, Fife Council
“This is an important time for children and families and it is understood there may be anxieties and concerns when taking this next step.
“Support to reassure and to overcome fears will continue to be offered to families.
“They often feel happier when they meet their new headteacher, see a primary one classroom and the approaches being used and meet the staff who will be supporting their child.
“In primary one in Fife, pedagogy and practice is tailored to this important stage of childhood development and ensures the nursery experiences of children are built upon.
“Promoting playful pedagogy in primary one is an important area of work that has been in place over the last few years and this will continue to support our youngest learners’ transition from nursery to school.”