Nursery Fact Sheet



Although there had been historical provision for some three and four year olds to attend nursery in Scotland, provision varied from area to area, and it was not until the enactment of The Standards in Scotland’s Schools Etc Act 2000 that a duty was placed on local authorities to provide preschool education to all three and four-year olds and set a minimum entitlement. Section 35 of the Act also gave authorities express power to secure provision through suppliers other than themselves.

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 increased the entitlement so that all three and four-year olds are now entitled to 600 hours of government-funded nursery provision as well as vulnerable two–year olds.  Nicola Sturgeon has committed to doubling the number of government-funded hours of childcare by the end of the next Parliament if the SNP is re-elected in 2016.

Entitlement begins the term after a child turns three (or two).  As a result, unlike school where there is one fixed entry point and everyone is entitled to seven years of primary school education, there can be a difference of up to 15 months between children’s legal entitlement – as illustrated below.

The majority of state nurseries, though this will vary from council to council, offer around 3 hours a day, for 5 days a week during the school year – which makes up the 600 hours funded by the Scottish Government. Some councils may allow hours to be bundled so that more than one session is taken in one day, others will not. Some may allow only part of a provision to be taken up, others will not. And these policies may change over time. There are no catchment areas for council nurseries, including nurseries attached to schools, so there is no guarantee of a place in a nursery at a convenient location (especially important if parents are also organising the drop-off and pick-up of other children at school or nursery.)


Child’s birthday Entitlement begins Total entitlement Approximate entitlement in hours Approximate financial entitlement Number / % of births registered (2013)
1 March – 31 August August (Autumn term) 2 years 1,200 hours £4,200 27,994 / 50.2%
1 September – 31 December January(Spring term) 18 months 1,000 hours £3,500 17,795 / 31.9%
1 January – 28 February April(Summer term) 15 months 800 hours £2,800 9,960 / 17.9%

Children born in January and February are entitled to defer starting school and are guaranteed an additional year of government-funded provision. Children born between September and December are able to defer but receive no guarantee of funding.  Growing Up In Scotland research suggests that roughly 50% of children born in January and February deferred in 2012.

Reform Scotland reports:
The Virtual Voucher, (2015)
An Equal Start: Fair Access to Nursery Provision, (2013)
Ending Birthday Discrimination in Nursery Provision, (2013)
Only 50% of children guaranteed two years of government-funded nursery provision, (2013)

Further reading:
Scottish Government – Early Learning & Childcare
Commission for Childcare Reform
Fair Funding for our Kids campaign
Family and Childcare Trust