Thousands of children from disadvantaged backgrounds in Scotland are missing out on their free nursery place, it has been claimed.
Analysis highlighted by the Scottish Liberal Democrats indicates that around 7,500 kids aged two had not taken up their place, despite being eligible for funded early learning and childcare.
According to the party, although 14,500 two-year-olds are eligible, only 6,913 had taken up the offer as of January, a rate of 48%.
The analysis also outlined that uptake has increased by 1,217 (8.4%) in 11 months.
The Scottish Government has said that Scotland is the only part of the UK to offer the equivalent of 1,140 hours to all eligible children regardless of their parents’ working status.
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, insisted that the Government is “not doing enough” to publicise the support available.
“It took years of work by Scottish Liberal Democrats and others to convince the SNP of the benefits of free early learning and childcare,” he said.
“High quality ELC helps families get the best start in life and helps children thrive. But similar offers elsewhere in the UK have far more children signed up.
“The Scottish Government is not doing enough to publicise that this support is available or ensure that parents can access the flexible hours they need to fit this offer around their lives.”
Rennie urged the SNP to “refocus” their efforts on the policy.
He continued: “Expanding free childcare is a win-win. It’s good for families, good for children and good for the economy. The SNP need to refocus their efforts and get this policy back on track.
“With the attainment gap getting wider, not shrinking like the SNP promised, that’s more important than ever.
“We cannot afford to fall further behind other parts of the UK.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our funded early learning and childcare (ELC) offer is supporting parents and helping to give children the best start in life.
“The 1,140 offer is available to all three and four-year-olds and two-year-olds who need it most – and Scotland is the only part of the UK to offer the equivalent of 1,140 hours to all eligible children regardless of their parents’ working status, putting children first
“Across local and national government we are committed to maximising uptake for two-year olds – including through a UK-level data sharing agreement which will be critical in providing local authorities with the information they need to reach their local eligible population.”
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