Still campaigning: fair funding for all

We at the Give Them Time campaign should have been celebrating our success in December 2020 as the Minister for Children and Young People started the process of changing a law which would see all, not just some, four-year-olds automatically entitled to a further year of nursery funding if they deferred their primary one start.

However, the news that the legislation would not be fully implemented until 2023 was incredibly disappointing. Our dismay was compounded when it emerged that the five local authorities in the pilot of the new legislation were already fully funding the further year. We had hoped for an immediate change to prevent any more parents across the country from having to endure the inconsistent, bureaucratic, stressful, unnecessary process of applying to their local authority for so-called discretionary deferral funding. Instead of closing our laptops, the campaign ploughed on.

Our focus returned to local authorities as they have the power to change their individual policies to fund all deferrals in advance of legislation compelling them to do so. There were previous failed efforts to prompt change in Fife, North Lanarkshire and East Renfrewshire. However, Highland and Falkirk Councils had already changed their policies, so despite the daunting prospect of campaigning in all of the remaining local authorities (we’re all volunteers), we knew change could happen at local level.

Last month, we successfully convinced councillors in the City of Edinburgh to join Highland and Falkirk Councils and to change their policy too, as they voted to fund all deferrals from now until 2023. This reignited our passion and ambition to convince more local authorities do the same. Many local authorities already consistently fund all such applications (20 out of 32 in 2020) but we want them to go a step further: to be brave and bold and to think about the peace of mind it would bring to many families if policy were to reflect practice.

Our campaign started because we wanted to ensure fair funding for all children legally deferring primary one, without barriers including socio-economic status. We wanted parents to be given consistent, accurate and transparent information and support to defer. Parents who choose to defer do not make this decision lightly: it is based on what we know about our child, our individual circumstances and factors affecting our lives and, of course, this is different for every family.

In March 2020, everyone’s lives changed because of the pandemic. Families were affected by the virus, becoming ill and/or losing loved ones. Many became isolated, scared and unable to connect with family and friends. Some lost their jobs, their relationships, their homes. Children lost opportunities such as groups, childcare, nursery and socialising with friends.

Covid-19 and the subsequent restrictions have had a direct impact on parents’ decisions to defer. Research in Scotland and the UK reflects the negative impact of such restrictions on children’s development. Children have not been able to attend early learning and childcare (ELC), or settings that allow parents and their children to come together to play and to socialise. Families have been unable to get support from health professionals such as occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and so on. This is not about blame or for debate: it’s simply fact.

We are asking local authorities and the Scottish Government to work together to give children time, as requested by their parents. This is to promote health, wellbeing, and learning and development in the environment that best meets the needs of four-year-olds, as decided by their parents, who have the legal right to defer, but perhaps not the finance to fund a further year of nursery. This can only be done with fair funding for all. All local authorities must fund deferrals now as children cannot wait until 2023.