“Two years should mean two years”, says think tank


The independent think tank Reform Scotland has released its latest paper, An Equal Start: fair access to nursery provision. The paper, which can be read in full here, highlights the inequality in the government-funded nursery provision for pre-school children and calls for a simple change to the system which would make it fair and equal.

The think tank’s research shows that although some children are entitled to two years of government-funded nursery provision, others are entitled to as little as 15 months and in practice may receive even less. This can lead to a gap in learning for the child, and a gap in funding for some families who use partnership nurseries of over £1,000.

The report highlights that:

  • Government funding for nursery provision begins only the term after a child turns three, so any child who begins school at the age of four receives less than two years of government-funded provision (see table in notes to editors). 
  • Some children’s entitlement is as little as 15 months and in practice they can receive as little as a year.
  • This birthday discrimination means that a child can be entitled to up to nine months less nursery provision at a local government nursery, or a family using a partnership provider could receive over £1,000 per child less in funding than others, purely as a result of the date of birth of their children (using City of Edinburgh Council figures – see notes to editors).
  • Whilst the Scottish Government’s commitment to extend the  government-funded provision is welcome, unless this anomaly is addressed it will widen the entitlement gap.
  • Reform Scotland’s research (following FOI requests to the Scottish Government and local authorities) suggests that there is potential additional capacity in the state system for over 26,000 more nursery places to help cover the additional places necessary to equalise provision.

Reform Scotland is calling for an equal system where all children are offered a full two years of government-funded nursery provision irrespective of their age at the commencement date. This would be equitable in a similar way to the provision of primary school education, where all children are offered seven years of government-funded primary education irrespective of their age at the start of Primary 1.

To achieve this, provision should commence at a fixed point in the year (probably August), two years before the child is due to start school.

Having collated responses from the Scottish Government and local authorities to FOI requests, the think tank has calculated that the policy change would result in around 27,000 additional registrations, which could potentially be covered by the spare capacity in the system currently (although there would be some additional costs such as staffing).

Commenting, Alison Payne, Reform Scotland’s Research Director, said:

“This is a question of equality. It cannot be deemed to be fair that children and hard-pressed families are offered such widely divergent periods of funded nursery provision purely because of when the child’s birthday falls.

“A child born in October of any given year will start school at the same time as one born in July, yet the October child is entitled only to 18 months of government-funded provision as opposed to the two years offered to the July child. A new year baby, born in January of the following year but starting school with the July and October children, will be entitled to even less – only 15 months.

“Not only does the system discriminate against younger school-entrants in terms of the gap in learning with their older counterparts, for families using partnership nurseries it can cost them over £1,000. Whilst the Scottish Government’s commitment to extend the current government-funded provision from 475 hours to 600 hours in the Children and Young People Bill is welcome, unless this anomaly is addressed it will widen the entitlement gap.

“We want the government to use the Bill to end this inequality and ensure that all children are entitled to two years of 600 hours of government-funded nursery provision. The existing age discrimination is indefensible and we hope the government will now recognise this.

“The government provides seven years of primary education irrespective of a child’s date of birth. It should do the same for nursery provision. Two years must mean two years.”

Reform Scotland’s report also calls for:

  • Parents to be able to take up their entitlement with any provider, as long as it meets necessary standards set by both Education Scotland, which is responsible for inspection of the education side of the nursery, and the Care Inspectorate, which is responsible for inspection of the care side
  • Local flexibility so that – recognising that the legislation provides a minimum, not a maximum level of care – councils can work out patterns of provision of nursery care which respond to the needs and circumstances of the parents and children in their area
  • Consideration to be given to introducing a premium to the entitlement for children from more disadvantaged areas 



1. The full report can be accessed by clicking here.
2. The table below, gives an indication of the difference in entitlement in the current system.  The figures illustrated are based on those used within City of Edinburgh council area:

Child’s birthday

Entitlement to government funded nursery provision begins (either at a local authority nursery or funding entitlement for partnership provider)

Total nursery entitlement before beginning school

Approximate financial entitlement for partnership provision before beginning school (based on Edinburgh council’s figures of £1,550 per year/£516.65 per term)

1 March to 31 August

August (Autumn Term)

2 years


1 September to 31 December

January (Spring Term)

18 months


1 January to 28 February (based on a child starting school aged 4)

April (Summer Term)

15 months