Auditors warn Scots childcare ambitions may not be met

19 Feb 18

It will be difficult to achieve the Scottish Government’s ambition for a huge expansion in early learning and childcare by the end of the decade, auditors have warned.

Councils are preparing to provide 1,140 funded childcare hours for all three and four-year-olds as well as eligible two-year-olds (the 15% from the most disadvantaged background) – a doubling of existing provision.

It is hoped this will both improve outcomes for children and support parents to work, study or train.

But a report prepared for the Scottish auditor general and Accounts Commission, published last week, said fulfilling this would be difficult in the time available because detailed planning did not begin early enough.

There is also a gulf between councils and the Scottish Government on what the policy is expected to cost, it said.

The report highlighted the expansion in funded childcare announced in 2014 to 600 hours and reviewed its effectiveness.

This policy was driven forward with little evidence behind it or agreed measures of success, the watchdog noted. And, while parents were very positive about the impact of childcare and early learning on their children, research found the impact on their ability to work was only limited.

Accounts Commission chair Graham Sharp said: “The scale of change needed over the next two years is considerable and there are significant risks that councils will be unable to deliver that change in the time available.

“There is now an urgent need for plans addressing increases in the childcare workforce and changes to premises to be finalised and put in place.”

Scotland’s auditor general Caroline Gardner added: “Focusing on the early years has the potential to make a real difference to young peoples’ lives but the Scottish Government was not clear enough about what the expansion of funded hours in 2014 was expected to achieve.”

But she acknowledged that the Scottish Government was now “planning better” for how it will evaluate the expansion in childcare hours.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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