The most recently published figures showing numbers of children receiving funded early learning and childcare at the local authority level are included in the Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland report for 2021. That was published in December 2021 and showed that, in September 2021, there were 1,303 registrations for funded ELC in Argyll and Bute, a rise of 4.6 per cent from the previous year. The figure for September 2020 was 1,246.
In December, the Scottish Government will publish the Summary Statistics for Schools in Scotland report for 2022. That report will include figures to show the number of child registrations for funded early learning and childcare in September 2022 at national and local authority level, including Argyll and Bute.
Outdoor play and learning is already an integral everyday part of ELC in Scotland and we know the benefits of high-quality outdoor play for children’s positive physical and mental development. It is our vision that children in Scotland’s ELC sector will spend as much time outdoors as they do indoors, and time outdoors will happen every day in every setting. As outlined in the “Best Start: Strategic early learning and school age childcare plan for Scotland 2022-2026”, which was published on 6 October, we will continue to work with our partners to build on the range of outdoor learning support for providers that we put in place during the pandemic. That will include publishing a new chapter of our popular “Out to Play” ELC practitioner guidance series in the new year, entitled “caring for our outdoor places”. The guidance will set out sustainable ways to explore, look after and care for our outdoor spaces.
Argyll and Bute is leading the way when it comes to funding following the child with some of its cross-border early learning childcare placement arrangements, offering real flexibility to suit the child and, equally important, the working parents and carers. However, that is not the case nationally.
I have a constituent who lives in south-west Edinburgh but works as a teacher in East Lothian. The care available to her from the City of Edinburgh Council does not suit her work or her commuter challenges and she might be best suited with a placement in a neighbouring authority—for example, East Lothian. Does the minister agree that, given the pressures of juggling work and childcare, local government should be looking to remove obstacles and make it easier for families to access the 1,140 hours that they need by actively encouraging local authorities to facilitate cross-boundary placements?
Provider neutrality is absolutely central to our approach to delivering ELC, which means that parents and carers can choose to access their child’s ELC entitlement in any provider that meets our key quality criteria, whether that is a childminder, a private or third sector setting, or a local authority nursery. I would certainly be happy, if Sue Webber wants to write to me with the specific details, to come back to her on anything that we can do to assist.