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Free childcare in Scotland: All you need to know about nurseries in your local area

Childcare changes are here - but how does it work?

Nursery in Scotland has undergone huge change in recent years, with parents now benefiting from more funded hours and flexibility.

The good news is, every local authority in the north and north east, from Aberdeen to Shetland, is ready to go.

Our guide provides the lowdown of how to make the most of the scheme.

How many free nursery hours in Scotland are available?

The Scottish Government has doubled nursery hours. Children aged three and four can now access 1,140 hours of early learning, for free. That 1,140 is flexible. Taken in term time, it’s the equivalent of 30 hours a week.

Your 1,140 hours can be spread over the school holidays too, and it’s not limited to the school day – good news for shift workers. Generally, school nurseries offer more ‘traditional’ hours. Childminders and private settings can be more flexible.

Regardless of how it’s split, every local authority in north and north east started offering the 1,140 hours from August 2021 term.

What about two-year-olds?

Some two-year-olds can also access 1,140 hours childcare. This includes all looked-after children and children whose family receive a qualifying benefit.

The Scottish Government says this amounts to around a quarter of children aged two. To check whether your child can get 1,140 hours, visit ParentClub.

Can I access free childcare in Scotland if I want to use a childminder?

The Scottish Government has a policy called Funding Follows the Child. This does what it says on the tin – children are funded wherever they want to go, within reason. The government says it’s about putting the choice back into parents’ hands.

Your child can access their funded hours at a local authority setting, a private provider or childminder. That is provided they meet the necessary care standards and have a recognised contract with the council.

Can my child attend two nurseries?

Yes, this is called a split or blended placement. Again, the idea here is to give parents and carers flexibility. For instance, some parents will keep their child’s place in a smaller, rural nursery but also give their child some time at the ‘feeder’ nursery for their local primary school.

Some Highland parents send their child to an exclusively outdoor nursery part of the week, and a more traditional setting for the rest of the week.

What are the latest Covid safety measures in Scottish nurseries?

With the country now in level zero, many restrictions have been lifted. Cleaning and hand washing is still important in reducing the spread of the virus. The Scottish Government refreshed its guidance last month.

Parents and carers are now allowed to visit their child in nursery, if their visit is thought to benefit the child’s wellbeing, progress and development. Visitors need to be given advance permission and a risk assessment completed by the nursery manager.

In more good news, children can now be taken on trips that encourage outdoor learning – so a trip to the local park or swings is fine.

A child at nursery age in Scotland eating an apple
Babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers will receive milk and a healthy snack in a new scheme

More safety measures in place

As the country emerges from the pandemic, inspections will happen more often. This is to ensure that early learning centres are coping with the changes and vulnerable children are getting the support they need.

The Scottish Government also set a goal that every learning, teaching and childcare space should have Co2 monitors fitted by the October holidays. Ventilation will improve in areas with high Co2 readings.

More milk and snacks

The Scottish Government introduced a new Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme this year. Babies, toddlers and children will get milk and a healthy snack if they attend nursery for more than two hours a day.

Children with special dietary requirements can have an alternative to cow’s milk, and babies offered infant formula.

Additional free childcare in Scotland coming down the line

The Scottish Government plans to further expand early years provision. Councils are currently waiting for more details, but the proposal is to offer more free childcare hours to one and two-year-olds. Low income families will be the first to benefit from this.

There are also plans to create a new system of wraparound childcare for school aged kids. The aim is to help parents get back to work and to offer more support for vulnerable families.

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