ALL children should be given access to two years of free nursery education before starting school, a think tank has said.
Reform Scotland wants the Scottish Parliament’s education committee to back moves it says will end the “wide variation” in children’s entitlement to government-funded nursery provision.
It says only 50 per cent of children in Scotland are entitled to two years’ provision, while others receive as little as 15 months. It depends on which part of the country they live in.
Under the current system, children begin nursery at the age of three, so those born later start primary school at a disadvantage, having had less pre-school education.
Amendments to the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill put forward by Tory MSP Liz Smith are to be considered by the education committee today.
Reform Scotland said backing the amendments would put an end to the disparities in nursery provision.
Research director Alison Payne said: “The Scottish Government put childcare and nursery provision at the heart of its white paper on an independent Scotland, no doubt because this is an issue of importance to many Scots.
“I am, therefore, disappointed that the Scottish Government has not yet taken the opportunity to ensure that all children in Scotland have a basic equal entitlement to government-funded nursery provision. That can change today.
“Liz Smith’s proposed amendments are a simple solution – just as all children are entitled to seven years of primary education irrespective of their date of birth, they should be entitled to a basic two years of government-funded nursery provision.
“To achieve this, Reform Scotland believes that nursery provision should start at a fixed point in the year, probably in August, just as it does for school.
Ms Payne added: “These amendments are also necessary to ensure that disadvantaged two-year-olds receive a full additional year of nursery.”
Currently, children aged three or over are entitled to a free part-time place in either a council-run nursery or a private one working in partnership with the local authority. Reform Scotland said its research had shown some children were entitled to as little as 15 months of government-funded provision and, in practice, may receive even less.
It said the “anomaly” could lead to a gap in learning for the child, and a gap in funding for some families using partnership nurseries of more than £1,000.
The Scottish Government said the claim that only 50 per cent of children born in Scotland were entitled to two years’ provision was a “gross exaggeration”.
A spokeswoman said: “Our current focus is to build additional hours and flexibility into high-quality childcare, increasing entitlement to around 16 hours a week. This is a huge step forward in improving our young children’s prospects and supporting parents.
“While some variation will remain whether a child begins nursery on their birthday, the month after or the following term, the system makes the best use of the entitlement in relation to the child’s age and needs. Parents of the youngest children – those born in January or February – will continue to be entitled to a further year’s funded early learning and childcare if they feel it best for their child.”