Children attending early learning and childcare sessions to be given free meal

A free healthy meal will be given to all children who attend a funded early learning and childcare session, the Scottish Government has announced.

The Scottish Government published a plan on Tuesday focusing on how expansion of early learning and childcare provision in Scotland will be implemented.

The document lays out the national standards which all providers wishing to deliver funded entitlement will have to meet from 2020.

Funded entitlement is to be doubled from its current 600 hours per year to 1,140 hours per year from August 2020 for all three and four-year-olds, and eligible two-year-olds.

The scheme, developed in partnership with Cosla, will ensure access to outdoor play sessions for all children – regardless of where they live.

Providers will also be enabled to pay all childcare workers delivering the funded sessions at least the real Living Wage.

It will be introduced from August 2020 and will aim to be “provider neutral”, and give parents a choice over where they choose to access funded hours of childcare for their children.

Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd said: “The earliest years of a child’s life are crucial to their development and high quality early learning and childcare plays a vital role in helping children realise their full potential and closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

“This is a unique opportunity to transform the way we deliver early learning and childcare, which is why we are using the National Standard to ensure no child in ELC goes hungry or misses out on the benefits of outdoor learning, exercise and play.

“Families were already going to receive an increased number of funded ELC hours by August 2020. Our new Funding Follows the Child approach and National Standard, set out today, will build on this further, ensuring that high quality and choice remain at the heart of the expansion to 1,140 hours.

“And because we know that children and families benefit most when they have strong, positive and trusting relationships with staff, the National Standard underlines our commitment to a professional, dedicated and skilled workforce who are fairly rewarded for the hard work they do.”

Cosla’s Children and Young People Spokesperson, Councillor Stephen McCabe, said: “We welcome the publication of the National Standard, which has been developed in partnership by Cosla and the Scottish Government.

“The National Standard underpins the commitment to nearly double the funded entitlement of Early Learning and Childcare to 1,140 hours per year for three and four-year-olds, and eligible two-year-olds.

“It is intended to ensure that from August 2020 children will receive a high-quality, accessible service aimed at improving outcomes and tackling the poverty-related attainment gap.”

On Monday, Unison warned if the Scottish Government is to meet promises to expand free childcare, more staff will have to be trained, with an increase in their wages.

A Freedom of Information request made by the organisation to every council and college in Scotland suggested there are not enough people in colleges or on in-work training courses to meet the staffing levels needed for the promised extra hours.

The request indicated there are currently 6,983 part-time students and 3,173 part-time students on courses which could potentially lead to a job in childcare, either with or without further study.

It also reported around 444 modern apprentices are in local authorities and 1,102 people are undertaking work based training that could qualify them for work in the early years.

However, Audit Scotland estimated 12,000 Whole Time Equivalent (WTE) extra staff would be needed for the expansion.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, Iain Gray MSP, said: “This is the latest in a long line of warnings that the Scottish Government is not doing enough to implement this policy.

“We have heard from councils, Audit Scotland, nurseries and now the workforce that there is a high risk that there will not be sufficient staffing in place.

“Throughout this process the Minister has arrogantly told us that everything is going to plan, while repeatedly being told by all the stakeholders that it is not.

“Childcare expansion has the potential to deliver for young people, but the Government at the moment only stands to let them down.

“This is what happens when a policy is written to fit on an election leaflet and not to fit around the lives of Scotland’s families.”

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