New figures released by the Scottish Government on Wednesday showed more than seven out of ten children in early learning and childcare (ELC) are now receiving the full 1,140 funded hours. However, just 6,204 two-year-olds of the estimated 14,500 eligible were using the entitlement.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said the statistics showed “variability at a local level” in terms of staffing and only 60 per cent of the total planned additional space had been delivered.
Mr Rennie said: “More than 8,000 two-year-olds are missing out on their childcare entitlement. That terrible take-up rate shows that the SNP has failed to deliver flexible childcare for those who could benefit from it most.
“If the offer is going to be meaningful, families need to actually be able to make use of it. There’s a big difference between having the technical capacity for 1,140 hours and the actual capacity at the times and places that parents need.
“High-quality, flexible childcare is essential for delivering a thriving economy and the best start in life for a generation of young people."
The latest data from the Improvement Service showed that at the end of April, 118,068 children were accessing funded childcare and of these, 87 per cent were accessing more than the statutory entitlement of 600 hours, with 72 per cent taking up the full 1,140 hours.
Funded ELC is available to all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds and from August the entitlement will increase to 1,140 hours a year or 30 hours a week if taken during term time. While the expansion was originally intended for August last year, it was paused as a result of the Covid pandemic.
Children’s minister Clare Haughey said: “These figures show we are well on the way to offering all eligible children 1,140 hours of funded ELC from August – a transformational policy that will benefit families across Scotland.
“Despite the pandemic having an impact on the construction of ELC facilities and recruitment plans across the country, local authorities have continued to make good progress in expansion plans.
“At the centre of these plans is the drive to improve children’s outcomes and help close the poverty-related attainment gap, to improve the health and wellbeing of children and parents, and to support parents into work, study or training. I’d like to thank local authorities and all those who are continuing to work at pace to meet our target.”
Cosla’s children’s spokesman, Councillor Stephen McCabe, said the progress to implementing the expanded hours had been “significant” and that it had “been made by councils despite the continued challenges of the pandemic, including the national lockdown”.
He said: “We know that the additional hours will be transformational with children provided with more time to play and learn, while parents and carers will have more opportunities to work, study or volunteer. We are pleased we are on track for delivery later this year”.