Thousands of Scots ‘miss out on childcare’

Claims of Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish Government that 98.5% of children have a free nursery place have been pooh'poohed. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Claims of Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish Government that 98.5% of children have a free nursery place have been pooh'poohed. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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Thousands of children are missing out on their entitlement to free nursery care, parents will tell Nicola Sturgeon today.

A nationwide survey of nurseries has revealed a “hidden” tranche of youngsters across Scotland who do not receive a free place, according to the Fair Funding for Our Kids (FFFOK) campaign group. The findings will be presented to the First Minister at a meeting tonight.

Ms Sturgeon pledged to transform childcare as a key priority after becoming First Minister.

But the survey, which has gleaned findings from dozens of nurseries in Glasgow and West Lothian, shows more than 1,000 youngsters in these areas alone do not have a funded place.

The mothers group has branded the Scottish Government’s claims of 98.5 per cent uptake as “meaningless” because official data fails to include all children. They now want a full government investigation into the shortfall.

FFFOK spokeswoman Kelda Bryson said: “We got so frustrated listening to politicians say the free nursery policy has ‘universal uptake’ against our own experience, we decided to survey partnership nurseries ourselves.We have surveyed two council areas so far and the figures are bleak.”

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to move towards a system of effective full-time universal childcare in order to get a generation of Scottish mothers back into the workplace.

Most youngsters aged two, three and four are entitled to around three hours of free nursery care each day. The system falls down when working parents try to keep their youngsters in for a full day by paying for the remainder themselves. This is because there are only a limited number of “partnership” nurseries where parents can combine their free entitlement with “top-up” provision funded out of their own pockets.

Ms Bryson added: “Many working parents are forced to use a private nursery because councils do not allow them to top up or combine free hours in a council nursery to cover the working day. Councils know this so pay for some free places at private ‘partnership’ nurseries but if your child isn’t one of the lucky ones, you have to meet the full cost yourself.”

FFFOK undertook the Scotland-wide survey to find out how many children attend partnership nurseries without funding. In Glasgow, they received 47 responses from 95 nurseries surveyed. This showed 1,608 eligible children attending partnership nurseries but only 873 with funding, leaving a shortfall of 743 without funding.

In West Lothian, 18 responses were received from 23 nurseries, both partnership and non-partnership. This showed 673 eligible children but identified only 335 with funding, leaving 338 without a funded place.

The group also dismissed claims by Ms Sturgeon of a 98.5 per cent registration as proof that the policy is reaching ­almost all three and four-year olds.

A Scottish Government spokesman said last night the Children and Young People Act set out to significantly expand funded childcare provision and increase flexibility, year on year.

He added: “Local authorities are now required to consult with groups of parents at least once every two years on patterns of childcare provision that would best meet their needs, which will introduce a greater level of flexibility and choice to the system as we work with local government to further develop and expand provision.”