Last week I found myself in a room full of excited faces, laughing, singing and everyone was running around having fun.
Unfortunately it wasn’t a City of Edinburgh Council meeting but the uplifting scene that greeted me when I officially opened the new nursery at Ferryhill Primary School.
The state-of -the-art early years setting in Drylaw is the latest new building providing funded childcare for three- and four-year-olds plus eligible two-year-olds which the council has opened across the city.
It is just one piece in the complicated early years jigsaw that the council is putting together to meet the Scottish Government’s commitment to expanding the provision of early learning and childcare from 600 hours to 1140 hours by 2020.
Yesterday fellow councillors on the Education, Children and Families Committee approved our exciting and forward-thinking plans – underpinned by four key themes of quality, flexibility, accessibility and affordability – to meet the 2020 target. We currently provide 600 funded hours to 11,000 children, so nearly doubling the hours is a huge undertaking but with £4.2m funding from the Scottish Government and innovative thinking by the council and early years staff we will get there. Exciting developments include:
– Getting everyone who’s involved in providing early years childcare in each of our four localities together for the first time to share strengths and identify best practice. No more working in isolation but bringing together the council’s early years and childcare settings with the private and voluntary sector.
– Working with the Scottish Childminding Association to explore opportunities to bring childminders into partnership with the council. A pilot project has already started in the north west of the city with a mixed model for providing the 1140 hours through part nursery and part childminder care.
– Expanding last year’s successful Forest Kindergarten pilot project to two settings available at Laurieston Castle and Cliftonhall.
Two of the biggest challenges we face are staffing and providing the physical infrastructure for the extra places. We currently have 650 staff in early years but will require about 800 more. A national recruitment drive starts this month to attract more people to a career in early years and our own Early Learning and Childcare Academy is helping grow and develop our workforce by delivering training and upskilling staff.
We are literally building on the lessons learnt from our new premises as we plan to deliver another 12 new facilities over the next three to four years that create fun, nurturing holistic environments and considering proposals to open more settings for 50 weeks a year.
We will continue to engage with the community as our plans progress. We want to be innovative and open to new ideas – our recent consultation resulted in 2000 parents/carers contacting us to give us their views on how we can shape the childcare landscape of the future.
This is an exciting time for early learning and childcare and everyone has a chance to make a real difference to the lives of our young citizens.
Be in no doubt that the council and its partners are grasping this opportunity with both hands to ensure our children get the best possible start in life.
Councillor Ian Perry is Education, Children and Families Convener for Edinburgh City Council