Fife’s readiness to provide sufficient spaces to fulfil a pledge to expand early learning and childcare by August 2020 has been called into question.
By the start of the 2020/21 academic year, local authorities will be expected to be able to deliver 1,140 hours to all eligible two, three and four-year-olds per year, up from the present 600.
Education chiefs in Fife have been working on models of delivery, using council or private nurseries, playgroups and childminders. A huge capital investment programme of refurbishments, extensions and new builds is under way.
However, Councillor Dave Dempsey, the leader of the region’s Conservative group, has claimed many parents remain confused about the arrangements.
“The increase from 600 to 1,140 hours per year – basically half-time to full-time – has been known about for quite some time.
“However, there’s been little detail so far and, now that the detail is seeping out, parents are concerned.
“Fife Council is to offer four variations – six hours a day for the school year; half a day for 49 weeks of the year; two full days plus half a day for 46 weeks; funding for a DIY arrangement with an approved private provider.
“All of those will be offered somewhere in a locality but the definition of locality is broad.
“As of now, parents don’t know officially what will be on offer where they live, even if they already have a child at nursery there.”
SNP councillor Fay Sinclair, convener of education and children’s services, stressed there will be a lot more options for families and double the number of free hours of childcare on offer.
“This ambitious expansion will give parents flexibility and access to a high standard of care for their children in a way that best suits their family, and provides children with high-quality early learning that can make a significant difference to their development,” she added.
“A range of session times across different Fife Council school and stand alone nurseries will be offered, as well as with partner nurseries and childminders.
“While it is not possible to offer every combination of hours at every nursery, families will be able to choose from all of the options across long-established locality areas.
“These options will be published next month and allocations will be made in line with the council’s admissions policy.”