The scale of challenge facing Fife in meeting its early years obligations has been thrown into sharp focus.
The kingdom must almost double the number of early learning and childcare (ELC) hours two to four-year-olds receive each year.
Up to 500 new, qualified staff, almost £50 million in capital funding over a three-year period and more than £35 million of revenue funding annually is needed to meet the Scottish Government’s target of expanding the number of hours from 600 to 1140 per annum from August 2020.
The details were included in a report considered by Fife’s education and children’s services committee as the local authority prepares to tell the Scottish Government how it plans to provide the equivalent of 30 hours per week to eligible children from 2020.
Councillors heard Fife’s approach aims to open up more choice for parents and carers and will be based around the region’s seven family nurture centres, with an agreed range of services offered in each of the kingdom’s 23 extended local nursery areas.
Each area will provide term time Fife Council nursery provision, full-year council nursery provision, a combination of private nurseries, playgroups and childminders, and wraparound services which cover the period before and after funded ELC sessions and school holidays.
The council is also looking at a range of alternative services which could include ‘outside in’ nurseries, outdoor nurseries, out of nursery clubs, farm kindergarten, and nursery provision located in leisure centres, workplaces, health centres and care homes.
Carrie Lindsay, education and children’s services executive director, said: “To deliver flexible and transformational services across the seven local areas we require a culture of improvement and innovation building on the strength of universal support.
“The proposed models of flexible ELC provide additional opportunities for parents ie accessing employment, improving life chances through access to longer hours to meet working needs.
“It is key to our vision for 2020 that we continue to consult and listen to parents as we move forward with implementation to ensure sufficient choice and flexibility is available in every area of Fife.”
Councillors heard a number of pilot projects have been identified and are likely to be trialled over the next two years.
These include an outdoor nursery in Ceres and a scheme which will use existing space within Fife Council leisure centres to offer further flexible services for parents and carers.
Discussions have also started with the Scottish Childminding Association and a group of Fife childminders to consider the provision of additional flexibility within local areas.
That will not only aim to see flexible ELC placements for two-year-olds but will also provide alternative routes for childminders to gain qualifications in the sector.
The council estimates it will need a further 400 to 500 early years officers qualified to HNC or SVQIII level to deliver the additional capacity.
The extra provision will also require refurbishment of the existing school estate so nearly £50 million in capital funding will be needed between 2018/19 and 2020/21, along with £35 million of revenue funding on an annual basis from 2020/21, to meet the demand expected.
Fife will submit its plans to the Scottish Government next month, and expect to be told its allocation early next year.