Funded Childcare Scheme Needs Overhaul

Parents should be able to use their Government-funded nursery provision at all nurseries which meet the required standards, a think-tank has said.

Reform Scotland has called for the introduction of a "virtual voucher'' to help parents access their full entitlement.

The Scottish Government has a policy of offering all three and four year olds 600 hours of funded nursery provision per year but many working parents cannot find council nurseries which offer suitable hours, the think-tank has said.

Some local authorities allow parents to use their child's entitlement to attend a private "partnership'' nursery while others, such as Glasgow, are limiting the number of "partnership'' places available.

Reform Scotland wants parents to be able to use their "virtual vouchers'' at all nurseries which meet Education Scotland and Care Inspectorate standards.

In a briefing note on the issue, Reform Scotland said: "It is unfair on both parents and children for the Scottish Government to set a policy, but allow local authorities to restrict the ability of parents to access that vital provision.

"It is not an excuse to argue that you have provided enough places in local authority nurseries if parents are unable to access those places because the hours or location on offer make it impossible to take up.''

Research director Alison Payne said: "This is not about the private sector versus the public sector, but acknowledging that most council nurseries do not provide the full-time care that working parents need, and therefore for all children to be guaranteed to receive government-funded nursery provision the money must follow the child.

"We have a simple suggestion - if an independent nursery meets the Education Scotland and Care Inspectorate standards, parents should by right be able to take their full government-funded entitlement there as a 'virtual voucher'.

"This is not radical and already happens in some areas in Scotland. However, Reform Scotland believes that this should extend to all working families in Scotland.

"We accept and commend the work many politicians are doing to try to help parents remain in, or get back into, work.

"However, this means that policies with regard to nursery provision need to reflect this goal and that requires enabling parents to take up their child's nursery entitlement at an establishment which fits in with their working pattern.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Children and Young People Act set out to significantly expand free childcare provision and increase flexibility, year on year.

"Local authorities are now required to consult with groups of parents at least once every two years on patterns of childcare provision that would best meet their needs, which will introduce a greater level of flexibility and choice to the system as we work with local government to further develop and expand provision.''

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