EAST Renfrewshire Council has committed to almost doubling the amount of free childcare available to families from August.

As part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to increasing the current 600 hours of nursery provision to 1,140 hours per year, East Renfrewshire was on track to deliver by the August 2020 deadline.

However, the coronavirus pandemic and its restrictions meant this delivery date was scrapped.

Despite this, the council has now confirmed it will still be in a position to proceed with delivering the additional hours for families, but with less flexibility and choice than had been planned.

Social distancing will mean the number of children at each setting will be reduced – leaving parents facing restrictions on when their kids can attend.

Councillor Paul O’Kane, East Renfrewshire’s education convener, told the Barrhead News: “I’m delighted that we will still be able to provide families with the increased hours they had planned for.

“Our ambitious expansion plan has had to be altered and, whilst there will be less flexibility and choice, I believe that the financial benefit to families will be welcomed during these difficult times.

“All our settings will need to change the way they operate to adhere to social distancing guidelines but we will adapt and provide the very best experiences possible for our youngest learners.

“We will continue to work closely with families to support their needs as best as we can. Learning will not return to normal for a long time because of Covid-19 but being able to offer families this increased support will be extremely beneficial.”

A crucial element of the council’s expansion plan was the creation of six new nurseries across East Renfrewshire but the coronavirus pandemic has meant work on those construction projects has been halted.

The council said the new buildings will be essential to meet the ongoing demand throughout the academic year but, given that they will not be complete by August, it is now aiming to register outdoor space at its existing nurseries with the Care Inspectorate to ensure enough places are available for the revised plans.

This could mean children spend part of the week within a traditional nursery setting, with the other hours delivered through outdoor play. 

The council has said that, when construction work does resume at each of the sites and the projects are completed, “careful planning will enable children to transition to their original choice of early learning and childcare setting.”

It added that it is “well prepared” in terms of recruiting the significantly-larger workforce that will be needed to deliver the increased hours of nursery provision.

A spokesperson said: “By retraining existing staff, the council had ensured it was well placed and the final group will complete their qualifications soon, ensuring the required staff will be in place to deliver 1,140 hours.”

Families will be contacted within the next week to confirm their 1,140-hour offer of early learning and childcare.

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