Shetland should be well-placed to provide the full extended hours of early learning and childcare when coronavirus restrictions are lifted – despite the pandemic causing upheaval to the SNP government’s flagship childcare policy.
The council has been going at full pelt to reach the Edinburgh administration’s key target, which aims to almost double the number of free childcare hours to 1,140.
But nationally the Scottish government’s policy has hit the buffers as coronavirus caused delays.
Quality improvement officer for early learning and childcare Samantha Flaws says minor “tweaks” mean the council should be able to offer fully extended hours once a degree of normality returns.
“It’s probably not a bad picture for us because while we have still got capital works that are needing to be done – we had a couple of projects on site and a few ready to go out to tender – we’ve managed to look at the registrations that came in February and the requests parents have made.
“With a bit of a tweak here and there we’ve been able to confirm 1-1-4-0 hours with parents.”
In the meantime, parents have been informed of an admittedly less flexible interim offer which is due to be rolled out this week.
Childcare settings will have to operate with cohorts of no more than eight, with one key worker allocated to each, during the interims stage.
“As soon as those restrictions lift we would look to be able to move to the full offer as soon as possible.”
Officials at children’s services continue to wait on guidance from education secretary John Swinney, who is due to provide a “clearer steer” on what, if any, restrictions will be in place by 11th August, when it is hoped education can resume on a full time basis.
Meanwhile, contractors are back on site at settings in Aith and Whalsay, after the Covid shock brought construction work to a stop.
Mrs Flaws said work was now being resumed, albeit with a revised time-table.
She added: “I feel we’re in a good place. As soon as restrictions are lifted we’ll be able to offer parents their requested placements.”
There is little doubt Covid-19 has served as an unexpected hurdle as council staff and contractors have prepared for the changes, which have often required significant capital works.
Mrs Flaws said it had been a “huge struggle” to try and figure it all out. Key among considerations in projects such as the so-called one-one-four-o is the “risk register” – a tool used to identify risks that have been identified.
”Never did I have on my risk register a global pandemic,” she said.