Increasing the number of hours of free early learning and child care provision will be “absolutely transformative”, Maree Todd has said.
Under Scottish Government plans, by August 2020 every three and four-year-old in Scotland, and some two-year-olds, will be eligible for 1,140 funded hours per year.
It is an increase on the 600 hours children are currently eligible for.
However, concerns have been raised that partner providers could struggle with the increase.
An annual survey by the National Day Nurseries Association indicated that many private nurseries do not feel confident that sufficient funding will be passed on to providers by local authorities to enable them to deliver the 1,140 hours.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland on Thursday, the Minister for Children acknowledged the frustration over the process.
Ms Todd (pictured) said: “There had to be phasing – we couldn’t go straight from 600 hours to 1,140 hours overnight.
“I know that that phasing is causing challenges and I know that there are partner relationship issues in some parts of the country where folk have found it difficult to get information from the local authority.
“We are really working to improve that everywhere. There are some fantastic examples of really good partnership working around the country as well.
“Yes, I understand that there’s frustration at the moment, but come 2020, when this is fully rolled out, it will be absolutely transformative for children.
“Partner providers are going to be absolutely crucial to the delivery of this ambition.”
An agreement was struck in April which means £990 million will be spent on day-to-day funding for the scheme by 2021 – £150 million more than the government’s previous estimate.
Earlier this year, Audit Scotland warned it would be “difficult to increase the infrastructure and workforce to the levels required, in the limited time available”, and noted a gap between council and government estimates of costs.
Ms Todd said the new system would hand greater power to parents in choosing a nursery that best fits their needs.
She said: “When this full offering is available, there will be an option to choose a nursery with different hours, so long as it meets the national standard and so long as it has a place available, it would be an option to choose to put your child into a nursery that does suit the hours of work.”
“We were very keen that the children who need this most benefit from it first.
“So we asked councils, and we made it very clear what we expected them to do is to phase first in the areas of highest deprivation and that has meant that largely, local authority nurseries have been the first to phase because it’s largely local authority nurseries that are operating in the areas of highest deprivation.”
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Scottish Government / PA Wire.