Moves to expand Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) and implement 1140 hours of funded ELC in Argyll and Bute by August 2020 are continuing to progress, despite the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In March the Scottish Government announced that local authorities would no longer be legally obliged to deliver 1140 hours of funded childcare from August 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis.
However, Argyll and Bute Council has confirmed that its Education and Property Services teams have, where possible, continued to progress expansion plans and will be in a position to resume key projects as soon as lockdown restrictions are lifted.
An extensive programme of refurbishments to existing properties had already started to prepare for the 1140 hours. Further work on these is likely to be delayed until next summer, but that this will not affect its ability to deliver 1140 hours from this August should the COVID-19 situation allow.
Recruitment of new staff to deliver the expanded hours has continued with the vast majority of those required expected to be in post by August.
The ELC expansion has increased employment opportunities in the area with more than 70 new posts being created including child minders, admin and other support staff. The council has been working closely with the Scottish Child Minders Association to promote child minding as a career to assist staff recruitment.
Council funding has been made available to help providers and child minders prepare for the expansion with grants offered to every nursery and to each child minder delivering ELC.
A free training scheme has also been implemented for staff working in both the council and partner providers.
The proposed expansion in childcare, from 600 hours to 1140 hours, is part of a Scottish Government initiative aimed at providing young people with a high quality experience that can make a significant contribution to their development, and help close the poverty related attainment gap.
Policy Lead for Education, Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, said: “Our plans to expand ELC provision in Argyll and Bute were on schedule for completion by the August deadline. However, as with so many other aspects of community life, these have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in terms of our ability to complete the planned refurbishment programme.
“We have continued to liaise with parents, partners, practitioners and community groups to ensure all are kept informed on how things are progressing despite the changed circumstances we are all having to deal with.
“If, as we all hope, the situation with the pandemic improves soon, we look forward to resuming work on our refurbishment programme and delivering the planned expansion of ELC hours which will have so many benefits for children, parents and carers across Argyll and Bute.”