Give Them Time campaign: A Year in Review – Patricia Anderson

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I didn’t set out to start a campaign but then again, who ever does? 

The Deferral Support Scotland Facebook group was set up in May 2018 for parents to obtain accurate information on the legal right to defer p1 start for any child still age four at the school commencement date (almost half of councils’ websites provided inaccurate eligibility details at that time – see point 5 of our evidence here) as well as being a place to share experiences of applying for continued nursery funding in different local authorities.

I was stunned immediately by the discussions of parents being misinformed about their rights, conflicting advice being given about application processes from those who should know, inaccurate information being provided on councils’ websites and in their letters to parents, dismissive attitudes towards deferrals and widely varying supposedly “child-centred” processes in place across local authorities for determining who will get funding or not.

This couldn’t be right, could it? Surely such poor practice and inconsistency would have been exposed and challenged by now if these comments were really true? Surely so much time and resource couldn’t be justifiably spent by councils on such processes? Surely there would have been a media outcry? There hadn’t been and so the Give Them Time campaign was born.

KEY ISSUES

Postcode Lottery

Obtaining a PhD can seem easier than successfully applying for a funded deferral in some local authority areas (I’ve written about this here and here) such as Inverclyde Council which has funded an average of only 13% of requests in recent years (including 0 out of 41 in 2014/2015) whereas Moray, Renfrewshire and East Ayrshire have funded 100%.

Miscommunication

I’ve seen misleading correspondence from various councils to parents about deferred entry being granted or not. The reasonable interpretation of such language is that a council has the legal right to deny a deferral and not “just” the continued funding and continued place at the same nursery. 

On 5/4/19 COSLA’s Children and Young people’s Board agreed to greater transparency regarding deferral rights and application processes but the campaign has seen no evidence of this being implemented yet. Many councils’ websites are still inaccurate and letters are still being sent to parents with ambiguous if not downright misleading text in them.

We welcome COSLA’s commitment to greater transparency but refusing to agree a date by which this will happen is extremely disappointing. It shouldn’t require a national agreement of 32 local authorities to ensure they provide accurate information to the public and we shouldn’t have to check up on whether it’s happening or not.

HIGHS

* Scottish Government run websites have been updated with correct deferral information.

* A members’ debate on the campaign’s aims took place in the Scottish Parliament on 1st May 2019 at which cross-party support was established.

* On 20tht June 2019 North Lanarkshire Council voted unanimously to automatically fund continued nursery places for all children legally deferring p1 start.

* We’ve provided accurate information on the legal right to defer and the application process in each local authority to hundreds of people across Scotland (there are now almost 1400 members in our Facebook group).

LOWS

* The Scottish Government still insists that the move to play-based pedagogy in many p1 classes across the country smooths the transition to school and mitigates the need for deferral. We disagree (you can read why here). 

* On 2nnd May 2019, Fife Council, the third largest local authority in Scotland, failed to carry a motion to move to an automatic funding model for deferrals.

* Parents continue to be undermined by being dragged through long, drawn out processes often involving an army of professionals to establish if the local authority agrees that they are indeed making a decision in the best interests of their child by choosing to defer them.  Writing a supporting statement for a deferral funding application can feel like preparing evidence for a defence in court and often involves writing a list of a child’s “deficits”. The law states that being a parent is enough but in practice it’s not.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

1140 Hours

Thirty hours a week of free early learning and childcare for 3-5 year olds is coming in Aug 2020 with many councils piloting it now. This means some children are already getting 30 free hours a week of nursery more than a year before this entitlement becomes statutory. Meanwhile those mid-Aug to 31 Dec borns being deferred (who aren’t entitled to start nursery till the Jan after they turned 3 and who will therefore only be entitled to a maximum of 1.5 years of funding) continue to be forced to jump through hoops for a further year’s funding whilst others enjoy 14 hours extra a week prematurely. Will councils fund fewer “discretionary” deferrals if they now have to finance 30 hours instead of the previous 16?

East Dunbartonshire Council

Earlier this month EDC decided to fund all 3 year olds to start nursery the day after their third birthday rather than the term after it when the Scottish Government funding kicks in. This means that a child born on 1sMarch will have had 2 years and 4 months of nursery before the first point they can start school whereas a 31stDec born child will have had a maximum of 1.5 years – that’s 10 months of difference. How can this be fair or even affordable for the Council as it means keeping spaces unfilled from Aug till Mar-June the following year for a third of three year olds, some of whom may only attend for a few weeks or even days if their birthday falls in June. EDC is even promoting this as “Good News!” on their website. Will this policy change make it even more difficult to get continued nursery funding for mid-Aug to Dec born deferrals with availability being stretched so much?

THE WAY FORWARD

We have lots of ongoing work and options to consider: a public petition to the Scottish Parliament, another parliamentary debate (this time with a vote), meeting with the Minister for Children and Young People again, discussions with COSLA, civil servants, liaising with individual local authorities, councillors and MSPs, more Freedom of Information requests, information events for parents in Glasgow and Edinburgh – the list goes on.

As long as parents have the legal right to decide whether to defer their four-year-old or not and as long as councils or the Scottish Government fail to take a uniform approach, we won’t stop fighting for continued nursery funding for them. As Reform Scotland’s Early Years’ Lottery report highlighted in Jan 2017, our flawed system perpetuates “institutionalised age discrimination” and it’s definitely not Getting it Right for Every Child.


Patricia Anderson is a campaign spokesperson for Give Them Time