Eleven of Scotland’s 32 councils have so far met the Scottish Government’s flagship pledge, which would double the existing entitlement from 600 hours to 1,140 a year.
The entitlement was originally scheduled to be introduced nationally last month, but was delayed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The policy, which would benefit all three and four-year-olds as well as some two-year-olds, has now been pushed back until after the current 2020/21 school year.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has previously said she is “deeply sorry” the plans have been put on hold.
The expansion was shelved at the end of March just after lockdown was introduced to allow hard-pressed councils to focus on their Covid response.
The Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee quizzed officials from the Scottish Government and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) yesterday.
Alison Cumming, the government’s interim director for early learning and childcare, said some local authorities have met the 1,140 hours pledge even though it is not currently compulsory.
These are Angus, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, Scottish Borders, South Ayrshire, Stirling and Shetland.
Ms Cumming said: “Glasgow and Edinburgh are delivering a mix of provision at the minute, delivering 1,140 where they possibly can.
“I understand that in Glasgow city it’s almost all settings that are delivering 1,140 hours and they are working through the remaining Covid impacts to roll out 1,140 as soon as possible.”
The 1,140 hours entitlement roughly equates to the primary school week, providing about seven hours a day over the equivalent of a school term, although flexibility would be at its heart.
Committee convener Anas Sarwar asked about progress towards building and refurbishing nurseries before the pandemic began.
Paul Johnston, the Scottish Government’s director-general for education, said 912 projects were under way.
Of these, 90 per cent needed to be completed to meet the pledge, but 43 per cent were ready in April, he said.
Mr Sarwar asked: “So 43 per cent, and you’re still convinced you would have got to 90 per cent by August if it wasn’t for Covid?”
The director-general responded: “Yeah, we’ve referred to the various steps that were in place.”
Mr Sarwar replied: “I think anyone listening would think that was very, very far-fetched, but we’ll take you on that.”