Councils’ legal obligation to double free childcare removed

Scottish Government suspends statutory duty so councils can focus on responding to coronavirus pandemic.

Councils will no longer be legally required to almost double free childcare provision by August, so they can instead focus on emergency childcare for families during the coronavirus pandemic.

Scotland’s local authorities had a statutory duty to increase hours of free pre-school education for three and four-year-olds, as well as eligible two-year-olds, from 600 hours to 1140 hours.

The near doubling saw local authorities build or refurbish hundreds of buildings and recruit thousands of additional staff.

However, the Scottish Government has decided to suspend the statutory duty so councils can focus on responding to the current pandemic.

No date has been provided for when it might be made a legal obligation again.

A joint statement has been issued by Maree Todd, minister for children and young people, and councillor Stephen McCabe, Cosla spokesperson for children and young people.

It said Audit Scotland had confirmed councils were on track to deliver 1140 hours of early learning and childcare from August.

The statement continued: “In these exceptional circumstances it is not realistic or reasonable to expect that local authorities can deliver their original expansion plans to secure high quality experience for all children in time for August this year.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible to continue with the planned recruitment and infrastructure projects required to support expansion.

“As we focus on saving lives and looking after people most vulnerable to the virus the immediate priority is to ensure that we have the emergency childcare in place to support families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“To support local government with this critical response work, the Scottish Government has now moved to suspend the statutory duty on local authorities to provide 1140 hours of early learning and childcare from this August.

“Tens of thousands of children have already benefited from expanded hours, and we expect this will continue when normal provision resumes.

“Once there is a clearer picture of the impact and duration of the pandemic response measures, we will work together to agree the right time to reinstate the statutory requirement and ensure that all eligible children can access 1140 hours of high quality early learning and childcare.”

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