CHILDCARE and early years education are vitally important policy areas in Scotland. This commitment is manifest in many recent pieces of legislation, not least the SNP government’s flagship Children and Young People Act, which seeks to “make Scotland the best place in which to grow up”.
While this goal should be applauded, it is becoming clearer that a full-scale rethink of this sector is required if we are to adequately adapt to the childcare challenges of the future.
Unfortunately, high costs, inflexibility and inaccessibility act as barriers to the effective functioning of a childcare system that operates in the best interests of children and families alike.
For instance, a greater emphasis should be made on ensuring parents have the confidence that their childcare choices adapt to suit the demands of their working lives.
Services like wraparound care are vitally important to parents, yet too many can’t take advantage of this.
Providers also need to be given the space to innovate with their childcare offerings. Our nursery group, for example, has extensive developmental, imaginative and stimulating resources for children that contribute to their social, emotional and learning progression. More must be done to ensure the spread of best practise like this in the sector.
Underpinning all this must be increased levels of investment in childcare. Many private nurseries across the country are feeling the brunt of local authority fiscal retrenchment as officials exhibit a territorial preference for council nursery provision over private partners.
This has led many to end relationships with private nurseries that have stretched back for years, forcing many private nursery groups to put off investing in Scotland.
However, it is unclear if any extra funding goes to council nurseries as a result. Taken as a whole, this may not only undermine quality in the sector but also delay moves towards transformative change.
While no-one doubts the level of commitment of our officials to making Scottish childcare the best in the world, we need to begin asking hard questions as to how our current system needs to be changed in order to make this dream a reality.
• Graeme Scott is chief executive at Bertram Nursery Group in Edinburgh