Council commits to expansion despite Covid-19 challenges
Published: 19 May 2020
The Council has committed to almost doubling the amount of free childcare available to families from August this year, despite the challenges Covid-19 has presented.
As part of the Scottish Government's commitment to increasing the current 600 hours of nursery provision to 1,140 hours per year, the Council was on track to deliver by the August 2020 deadline.
The impact of Covid-19 restrictions though has meant that the Scottish Government has removed the original delivery date which had been set for local authorities.
Despite this change, and no duty to provide this increased offer of early learning and childcare, the Council has confirmed it will still be in a position to proceed with delivering the additional hours for families, although with more limited flexibility and choice than had been planned.
This is despite building work at six new nurseries being postponed during the pandemic. It will mean that the number of children able to attend each setting will have to be amended to ensure social distancing can be adhered to, and once restrictions are lifted all eligible families will be able to benefit from their full allocation of additional hours.
Councillor Paul O'Kane, Convener for Education and Equalities said: 'I'm delighted that we will still be able to provide families with the increased hours they had planned for. Our ambitious expansion plan has had to be altered and whilst there will be less flexibility and choice, I believe that the financial benefit to families will be welcomed during these difficult times. We will continue to work closely with families to support their needs as best as we can. Learning will not return to normal for a long time because of Covid-19, but being able to offer families this increased support will be extremely beneficial. All our settings will need to change the way they operate to adhere to social distancing guidelines, but we will adapt and provide the very best experiences possible for our youngest learners.'
A crucial element of the Council's expansion plan was the creation of six new nurseries across East Renfrewshire and those suspended construction projects will be essential to meet the ongoing demand throughout the academic year, and to meet the planned delivery model offering choice and flexibility for parents.
Given that these new facilities will not be complete by August, the Council is now aiming to register existing outdoor space with the Care Inspectorate, which will be crucial in ensuring enough places are available for the revised model.
When construction work does resume at each of the sites and the projects are completed, careful planning will enable children to transition to their original choice of early learning and childcare setting.
The Council was also well prepared to have the significantly increased workforce in place to deliver the increased hours of nursery provision before Covid-19 took hold, with the Councils 'grow your own' workforce strategy proving extremely successful.
By re-training existing staff, the Council had ensured it was well-placed and the final group will complete their qualifications soon, ensuring the required staff will be in place to deliver 1,140 hours.
Families will be contacted within the next week to confirm their 1,140 hour offer of early learning and childcare for their child. It must be stressed that all offers will be subject to public protection guidance and social distancing, therefore hours where children can attend nursery may be impacted.