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Childcare policy delay causes woe for Highland parents

By Scott Maclennan

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Parents are calling for answers about how much childcare they will be entitled to.
Parents are calling for answers about how much childcare they will be entitled to.

Calls from desperate parents have led to Inverness MP Drew Hendry contacting Highland Council to demand clarity over how much free childcare will be available.

Despite schools being set to go back in just two weeks’ time, many parents remain in the dark about how much childcare can be accessed.

The situation became clouded after the Scottish Government allowed local authorities to use cash from early learning and childcare, known as ELC, for the response to Covid-19.

It means the introduction of a nationwide policy of 1140 hours of free childcare per year has been delayed, though not cancelled, and could be introduced unevenly across the region.

Sophie Ronaldson, a parent in Merkinch, who has twins who were due to be going full time in August, felt she had been placed in an impossible position.

“I have planned my work around the commitment [of 1140 hours of ELC] and now I am likely to lose my job because I simply cannot work and look after my children,” she said.

“It is not only a massive blow to me, but it will be for hundreds of other parents in the same position. Just weeks before term starts and no-one knows what they are doing.”

Mr Hendry wrote to the council demanding that education chiefs listen to concerns voiced by parents, particularly about day care at the Gaelic primary school in Inverness.

“I’ve raised this issue directly with the council’s interim executive chief officer for education and learning [Paul Senior],” Mr Hendry said. “I’m certain that he understood the concerns that parents have raised about the provision of the additional nursery hours, especially at Bun-sgoil Ghaidhlig Inbhir Nis.

“He has assured me that he will take parents’ concerns seriously and that he will respond quickly to set out the council’s plans.”

Mr Senior said: “For those ELC settings which were due to move to 1140 hours in August, as part of the final phase of the council’s delivery plan, this transition will be put on hold temporarily.

“When the Scottish Government releases the revised date for the statutory requirement to deliver 1140 hours of ELC, a decision will be made as to whether the final phase will be incremental or planned to the required date. Prior to Covid-19 the council had made positive steps towards delivering 1140 in August and so an incremental final phase is possible.”

Schools in the Highlands are due to reopen on August 12 after being closed since mid-March due to the pandemic.

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