Think tank commends commitment to nursery expansion, but highlights birthday discrimination which means some children would face almost a year’s less nursery provision with some families being almost £3,000 worse off

New First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that she intends to double the number of hours of government-funded childcare for 3 and 4 year olds by the end of the next Parliament.

However, independent think tank Reform Scotland has released new figures showing that, unless a loophole in the system is closed, the unintended consequence of the policy will be that many children will be placed at an educational disadvantage, and many families placed at a financial disadvantage, compared to their peers.

Currently, the legal entitlement to government-funded nursery provision starts the term after a child turns three. This means that, for example:

– a child born in August receives a full two years, or 1,200 hours of government-funded provision before starting school
– but a child born in September will receive only 18 months, or 1,000 hours and a child born in January will receive only 15 months, or 800 hours
– the financial disadvantage for families using partnership nurseries means that a child born between September and December loses out by £700 while children born in January and February could lose out by £1,400.

See table below for full information.

While doubling the number of hours of government-funded provision is to be welcomed, unless this birthday discrimination is ended, it also doubles the scale of this problem.  As a result, some children would start school having received 800 fewer hours of nursery provision.

Reform Scotland is calling for all children to be given a basic legal entitlement of two years nursery provision, starting in August two years before the child is due to start school, irrespective of their age at the time. This would harmonise nursery provision with the primary school system, where each child is entitled to seven years of education irrespective of their age at the beginning.

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

“With nursery playing such a vital role in a child’s educational development, it is unacceptable and unfair that there is such a wide variation in entitlement based simply on the date of a child’s birth. This can leave too many children at an avoidable disadvantage when starting school.

“Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to childcare is well-known, admirable and welcomed. But the sweet concoction of additional provision leaves a bitter aftertaste for those children who will be disadvantaged when starting school, for no other reason than when they were born.

“Reform Scotland believes that every child should have the same basic entitlement to nursery provision – just as they do to primary school. This is why we believe that nursery provision should start at a fixed point in the year, just as it does for school.

“This may seem like a minor issue when the First Minister is talking about such huge expansion.  However, for the 50% of children currently being disadvantaged this needs to be addressed.

“When the roof of your house is leaking, it is best to fix it first before adding an extension. Nicola Sturgeon’s first priority should be to close this loophole.”




1. Reform Scotland is an independent, non-party think tank that aims to set out a better way to deliver increased economic prosperity and more effective public services based on the traditional Scottish principles of limited government, diversity and personal responsibility. Further information is available at

2. The figures for partnership funding are an estimate and based on Edinburgh Council’s partnership funding levels.

3. We have approximated the hours based on an each of the three terms being equal, therefore 200 hours per term.

4. Table 1: Existing birthday discrimination within nursery entitlement

 5. Table 2: New birthday discrimination after doubling provision

  6. Reform Scotland believes that disadvantaged children should start their provision in the August three years before they are due to start school, rather than in the term after a child turns two. This is the only way to guarantee an additional year’s provision and to ensure that the policy adequately deals with the problems it seeks to address.

7. Children born in January and February are entitled to defer starting school – the Growing Up In Scotland research, Early Experiences of Primary School, published in 2012 reported that just under 50% did so in 2009.

8. Media contact: Andy Maciver / Peter Duncan, Message Matters, 07855 261 244 / 07740 469 949 or /