PARENTS in Midlothian will be among the first in the country to benefit from a flexible approach to childcare after the area was chosen to pilot a new approach.
The trial, announced by the Scottish Government, will see childminders working in closer partnership with existing childcare centres in a bid to make life easier for families.
However, parents in Edinburgh and the rest of the Lothians will have to wait and see if the trial is a success before a similar approach can be brought into force.
In the Midlothian trial, parents will be able to use childminders before and after nursery as part of their free childcare allowance – meaning they can fit their hours around their work.
The childminders will work with existing services run by six Sure Start centres in Midlothian and Mayfield Nursery School.
Deputy manager Eliza Waye said the centres would team up with the Scottish Childminders Association (SCMA).
She said: “We are really excited to be able to be part of the trial.
“The proposal is that we work closely with the SCMA and if a parent opts to have the blended model – part of the time with the childminder and part of the time with Sure Start – we’d then partner with a childminder and work out the best plan of care for that particular child.
“For some children being in a nursery setting can be quite daunting, particularly if they are coming in at two years old and they haven’t experienced that before.
“It will allow us to sit down and look at the individual needs of the child and decide what’s best.”
All three- and four-year-olds in Scotland, as well as vulnerable two-year-olds, are currently entitled to 600 hours of free childcare each year.
The 14 different trials, which will receive £1 million in government funding, come as councils across Scotland prepare for 2020, when the number of annual free hours is set to almost double to 1140.
Cllr Bob Constable, Midlothian Council’s cabinet member for education, said the ability to be flexible was key.
He said: “By offering early learning hours that fit in with a family’s needs, not only can children benefit from high quality education, but also parents are then able to pursue other opportunities such as jobs, training or a college course.”
Edinburgh’s trial will involve Craigentinny and Ferryhill nurseries being extended with nature kindergartens to improve outdoors learning.
However, Cllr Cammy Day, the city’s education leader, said the council was still as keen as ever to forge a closer relationship with the Capital’s childminding workforce.
He said: “We recognise the valuable role childminders play in a child’s development. As we move forward to delivering the target of 1140 hours by 2020 we are absolutely committed looking at more flexible opportunities for parents and the use of childminders is one way forward.”