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Anger in Badenoch and Strathspey over 'nursery postcode lottery'

By Gavin Musgrove

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Deshar Primary School council parent representative Harriet Bettoli and Nick March at the school with the new nursery (left).
Deshar Primary School council parent representative Harriet Bettoli and Nick March at the school with the new nursery (left).

Highland Council has insisted it is keen to roll out extended free early learning and childcare hours at the first opportunity at nurseries and playgroups in the strath which are now missing out – including at a brand new facility in Boat of Garten.

Some families started benefitting on Wednesday from the start of the 1140 hours scheme – a Scottish Government-funded push to give parents access to more free childcare.

But other youngsters aged three to four and eligible two-year-olds attending nursery facilities which are part of the third and final phase of the council’s roll-out will still only be entitled to the previous level – 600 hours annually per child.

Education chiefs have paused the scheme’s introduction blaming Covid-19 complications.

So far it is only in place at Carrbridge Primary School nursery, Abernethy Primary School nursery, Gergask Primary School nursery and Wild Willows in Kincraig.

The council has said it cannot afford to introduce the big increase in hours right now because of additional running costs including cleaning and catering and the construction of expanded facilities.

But the local authority has been criticised with claims that preparations to implement the government plan should have been much further advanced than they are.

It is an even tougher pill to swallow for Deshar Primary School’s parent council, where brand new nursery premises are now available after the local community raised £80,000 to increase capacity.

The doors opened midweek but there is anger only 600 hours of early learning will be provided for the children there.

Hariett Bettoli, the school’s parent council chairwoman, said: “The approach outlined by the Highland Council essentially leaves parents in the strath in a nursery postcode lottery and does not address the inequality across the region...

“We are not asking for special treatment we are asking that they get the same support as parents and children five miles either side of the Deshar community.”

A well-placed source said Highland Council is probably the furthest behind local authority in the roll out of the 1140 hours scheme.

Local Highland councillor Muriel Cockburn (SNP) said: “I am frustrated and saddened that this exemplar project will not be delivering this Scottish Government programme of extra learning and I will work to ensure that this facility is fully operational as soon as possible.

“In the meantime I have asked for a detailed timetable of 1140 dates and roll-out for Badenoch and Strathspey.”

A Highland spokesperson said: “A decision was made to pause the final phase of the expansion of 1140 hours of early learning and childcare (ELC), temporarily, in response to Covid-19 and the removal by the Scottish Government of the statutory duty on local authorities to provide 1140 from August 1, 2020.

“This position was agreed at council in June. This means that Deshar nursery will not be offering the 1140 hours of ELC as planned this month.

“Highland Council is keen to continue with the final phase of ELC expansion at the earliest opportunity.

“Until then, the aim is to ensure all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds can access – as a minimum – their statutory funded 600 hours of ELC.”

Phase three of the roll-out of 1140 hours was for facilities needing major changes to accommodate extra capacity.

More on this story in the latest Strathy now on sale.

Children's Minister says 1140 hours scheme roll-out should not be 'paused' in Highlands

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