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29/04/14 14:39

Childcare and social policy

Minister for Children and Young People Aileen Campbell.
The Scottish Storytelling Centre
April 29, 2014

I am delighted to be here today to talk to you about our vision for childcare in Scotland. Thanks to Paul for his introduction. The last time I saw him was at the fantastic Canongate nursery here.

We want each and every child in Scotland to have the best possible start in life, and improving access to high quality early learning and childcare has a vital role to play in realising that aspiration.

That is why early learning and childcare is a huge priority for this government. So today I want to talk about the significant progress made so far as well as outlining our ambitions for the future.

There is a wealth of evidence that shows us the benefits high quality early years provision can have on children and their families.

We know that in terms of brain development, the more mental stimulation a child gets in their early years, the more developed the parts of their brains dedicated to language and cognition will be in the decades ahead;

We also know that there are social benefits, and while all social groups benefit from high quality provision, it is the children from the poorest backgrounds that can benefit the most from universal provision;

And we know there is a link between the availability and accessibility of childcare and employment opportunities parents, especially mothers, can access.

That is why this government’s long term objective is to build a high quality, universal system of early learning and childcare for all pre-school children in Scotland, where the vulnerable benefit the most, and to do this in a manageable, affordable and sustainable way.

We are taking action now to improve early learning and childcare using the resources available to us; this is building the foundations upon which we can transform provision using the opportunities and choices that would be available from having full control of Scotland’s finances through independence.

I was delighted that the Children and Young People Act was passed by Parliament on 19 February. This represents a major step towards our goal of transforming childcare in Scotland.

The Act will strengthen the role of early years support in children’s and families’ lives.

We are working with local authorities and partners to deliver a sustainable expansion of free and high quality early learning and childcare, and that includes committing more than a quarter of a billion pounds – 280 million pounds – to the expansion over the next two years.

We are expanding from this August funded, high quality early learning and childcare for 3 and 4 year olds – from 12.5 hours a week to almost 16 hours a week. We will also target the most vulnerable 15% of 2 year olds from this August, and reach just over a quarter of two year olds in the second year.

The move from the annual 412.5 hours of funded childcare that was in place when we entered government in 2007 to the 600 hours this August represents an increase of 45%.

And that increase is worth up to £707 per child, per year to families and will remove some of the barriers that parents and carers face in taking up education, training and employment;

And importantly, it will also place flexibility on a statutory footing, for the first time.

This government understands that flexibility and choice are key to supporting families in Scotland. We also know that the need for childcare does not end when children start school.

That is why the Act will now place a statutory duty on Local Authorities to consult with local parents on early learning and childcare and out of school care.

By consulting with parents about their needs, local authorities will be able to develop a comprehensive picture of early learning and childcare and out of school care provision in their area. This should open up opportunities to integrate and support provision where they can.

The consultation process will provide local authorities with the information they need to plan services that best meet the needs of local families.

We know that local authorities can’t tailor services to individual circumstances but the consultation process will introduce a greater level of flexibility and choice in to the system to better meet the needs of parents. For instance, when I was in Angus, the authority was discussing what would work best for them and I know these conversations are happening across the country.

Evidence suggests that high quality learning environments are provided when there is a skill mix of staff, including those with higher level qualifications such as the BA in Childhood Practice, or teachers with early years training, who have an understanding of early years methodology.

We know that the increase of funded hours set out in the Children and Young People Act, as well as our commitment to transform childcare provision in an independent Scotland, presents challenges. But our ambitious plans will also provide us with exciting opportunities to expand and develop the early years workforce.

Earlier this year I was delighted that Professor Iram Siraj agreed to commence an independent Review of the Early Years Workforce, to ensure the development of the workforce matches the scale of our ambitions.

I met the Professor during a recent visit to Scotland and I am confident she will deliver a well-considered and important set of recommendations next year.

In addition to the Review, we are also investing £4 million in developing the workforce over this year and next.

This funding will support the development of the workforce at all levels, and enable an expansion in numbers to accommodate the increase to 600 hours annual provision.

We are truly blessed with an amazingly dedicated workforce that is well qualified and passionate about early years. But it is a workforce that is often undervalued and so we need to work hard on workforce development and continue to attract the brightest and best to deliver the transformation in childcare we want to see.

I’ve set out what we have achieved to date and progress made through the Children’s Act and other initiatives. But that is not the sum of our ambition.

I believe it is only with the full powers of independence that we will be able to fully transform the childcare system in Scotland.

Early learning and childcare is one of our key independence proposals – and, one of our key independence opportunities.

In Scotland’s Future, our independence White Paper, we clearly set out our plans to expand childcare in our first budget and first Parliamentary session.

In our first budget we will commit 100 million pounds to extend 600 hours of annual funded childcare a year to nearly half of Scotland’s 2 year olds. And by the end of the first Parliament those vulnerable 2 year olds and all 3 and 4 year olds will be entitled to 1,140 hours of childcare – which is broadly the same number of hours as provided in primary school. To achieve this, we will invest a further 600 million pounds.

In the longer term, our aim is to provide 1,140 hours to all children in Scotland, from age one to starting school.

Only independence will allow us to deliver these ambitious long term plans. We know from leading European nations that universal childcare provision allows more women to work, which boosts the economy. And it is only with independence that the tax revenues and benefits savings from such an economic boost will flow to Scotland – which is crucial, as it would allow us to reinvest that money back into childcare in order to deliver the world-class system we aspire to.

We know that investing in early learning and childcare is the right thing to do, both for our children and young people, and for our country as a whole. And we know that independence will bring an opportunity, as never before, to transform our childcare system.

Everything we do as a government is designed to help us on the path towards making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up.

We want to develop a system of early learning and childcare that benefits our children, looks after our most vulnerable, and enables families to access the best employment and training opportunities they can.

We are doing a great deal to achieve our aim and the Children and Young People Act is a major milestone in our journey.

But I know we can do more. I want to see an independent Scotland that has a childcare system to rival the rest of the world.

Scotland’s future is its children – this debate has given us the chance to imagine the type of country we want to create and the type of country we want our children to grow up in. I hope it is an opportunity we grasp.