Early learning on track to expand

Tuesday April 9th 2019

Vogrie Country Park

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Work to introduce places for children to receive 1,140 hours of free early learning is “on track” to meet a Government deadline, Midlothian councillors have been told.

Currently out of just under 3,000 children who receive Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) provision in the council area, only one in five are being given access to the extended hours.

The Scottish Government wants all eligible children to have 1,140 hours of free care by August next year.

However, a report to councillors this week reveals that in Midlothian it is expected the number of children receiving the extended hours will have reached 41 per cent by August this year.

In a report to cabinet, the council’s director of education said: “This is in line with the Scottish Government’s expectation that if they are on track towards successfully delivering the expansion, local authorities should have achieved 40 per cent of places as 1,140 hours by August 2019.”

Among avenues being looked at by the local authority to expand ELC to youngsters is the introduction of the council’s first two outdoor facilities, with one planned for Vogrie Country Park and the hunt for a second site ongoing.

The council has set aside £200,000 for each of its outdoor early learning centres.

It is also looking at increasing the number of funded providers it uses and revealed it would raise the current hourly rate paid for three and four-year-olds to its partners from £3.70 to £4.50 an hour.

It revealed that while 80 per cent of children taking up places in ELC currently did so in council settings, the increase in hours would require an additional 160 council places, costing an estimated £2.78million and requiring 20 additional staff.

It said that while the council was recruiting more staff, it was also looking for more funded provider places and childminders.

The report said that increasing the hourly rate would “strengthen their sustainability during the transition to 1,140 hours, reducing the risk that the council is unable to meet its legislative requirement”.

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