Last week heralded one year to go before we have to meet the ambitious target of providing an additional 1140 hours funded early learning and childcare in Edinburgh.
Providing double the number of hours for three and four-year-olds plus eligible two-year-olds is a huge undertaking. It presents many challenges but thanks to innovative thinking by the council and early years staff, and full Scottish Government funding, we are making positive progress towards meeting this ambitious target.
Our exciting and forward-thinking plans, underpinned by four key themes of quality, flexibility, accessibility and affordability, are transforming the early years learning and childcare landscape in the Capital.
Unlike some other local authorities, Edinburgh started implementing the additional hours two years ago, giving us plenty of time to take on board any lessons learnt and adapt our plans going forward.
We already have more than 3,000 children benefiting from the extra hours and our proactive approach to taking our partner providers with us has resulted in 79 of them coming on board and five forest kindergartens up and running by late October to add to the mix.
There’s no doubt that two of the biggest challenges are recruiting staff and providing the necessary infrastructure.
Through our recent national recruitment drive we have an additional 360 staff already in place ranging from senior early officers and practitioners to modern apprentice trainees. Add to this our own Early Learning and Childcare Academy which is helping grow and develop our workforce by delivering training and upskilling staff.
Our new state-of-the-art early years settings are all designed on sector-leading research to support children’s learning and development and aim to be nurturing environments which are homely, inviting and calming.
New buildings have already opened at Corstorphine, Davidson’s Mains, Ferryhill and Leith primary schools with early years centres also opening at Granton and Tynecastle.
We are currently on site building five more nurseries this coming year at Craigentinny, Granton, Nether Currie, St John Vianney and St Mark’s primary schools. Each of these will provide between 64 and 137 places and are expected to open their doors in spring next year.
Other innovative ideas to meet the additional hours include our partnership with the Scottish Childminding Association and our successful Forest Kindergarten project which is going from strength to strength.
We now have three fully operational forest kindergartens at Laurieston Castle, Cammo and Cliftonhall and a further two sites will be ready in October at Craigmillar and Newbattle, providing a blended model of early learning and childcare for around 200 children.
There are now 11 local authority settings open from 8am to 6pm all year round and we are considering proposals to open more settings for 50 weeks a year.
Obviously, we will continue to engage with the community as our plans progress and we always want to hear innovative and new ideas.
This is an exciting time for early learning and childcare in Edinburgh. We and our partners are grasping this opportunity with both hands to ensure our children get the best possible start in life on their journey to becoming successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.
Cllr Ian Perry is convener of education, children and families at Edinburgh City Council.