Aberdeenshire gears up for full roll-out of extended childcare hours
As part of the local authority’s 1140 hours expansion of early learning and childcare, Aberdeenshire Council is in the final stages of an extensive building and refurbishment programme including 70 projects across the area.
The 1140 hours provision for all families will be available in all of the local authority’s settings as well as funded providers from this month.
Aberdeenshire Council was one of the first local authorities to trial the extended hours in all funded provider settings – including private nurseries and playgroups – from April 2019. Although the pandemic caused a delay to the ongoing roll-out, it is now fully prepared to deliver the additional hours right across the board.
Buchanhaven School Nursery is one of those which has been extensively refurbished, with £412,000 spent on modernising facilities inside as well as creating a new, fully accessible outdoor play space in the school’s courtyard.
Early Years senior practitioner Lisa Summers said: “The renovations made to our setting supports children to reach their full potential, where they have access to a safe, stimulating and calming environment which helps towards closing poverty-related outcomes for children.
“Being open during the holidays is extremely beneficial for families too as this can help reduce the cost of childcare, support children with additional needs by maintaining routine and structure, support transitions and offer reassurance to families who know there is someone available if they need advice and guidance.”
Early Years Service manager James Martin believes the expansion of early learning and childcare is making a huge difference to working families.
He said: “Many families are now enjoying ‘blended’ placements, where they can choose to use their funded hours across more than one setting. Options include funded providers such as childminders, private nurseries and playgroups as well as local authority nurseries.”
Parent Stacey Ward feels the new nursery’s open plan layout is great for the kids who can see everything that’s going on.
"My daughter has loved it this past year and loves the quiet room as well,” she said. “My son starts after the summer and loved his visit, he will love the fact he can come and go inside and outside into a safe, secure area that is private and closed off. Everything is fit for purpose for the children to enhance their learning, the open kitchen area is great to help with their independence and learning in the kitchen.
“Opening through the holidays has been a great help to my family. The days my daughter has been into nursery and me and my husband are working it has helped with childcare. The days I am not working and she is in nursery it has given me quality time to spend with my son to have one-on-one attention from me on those days.”
The flexibility which has been built into the system is having a positive impact on childcare providers as well as families. Working in partnership with funded providers remains a fundamental aspect of delivering early years provision in Aberdeenshire. Around one third of provision is delivered by partner providers who benefit from the guidance and support of council officers.
Councillor Gillian Owen, chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee said: “A huge amount of project work goes in from design to completion of these extensive projects, including international benchmarking, to create exemplary facilities for children across Aberdeenshire to enjoy. Well done to all of those who have been and continue to be involved.
“To all of our wonderful early years colleagues, both in council-run settings and our funded partners, who have achieved a tremendous amount during a difficult time in preparing for the full roll-out of 1140 – thank you. I know many families are already benefiting from the increased flexibility this brings and appreciate all of your hard work.”
New building projects undertaken as part of the programme include Dales Park School Nursery which will open later during this academic year. Refurbishments have also been carried out at places including Strichen, New Deer and Clerkhill.
Councillor Rosemary Bruce, committee vice chair, said: “It’s great to see children benefiting from our ambitious building and refurbishment programme. Learning areas feel more spacious, bright and inviting, and this has a direct impact on the safe, calm, rich, interesting and stimulating play and learning environments staff work hard to deliver. We look forward to welcoming many new families to enjoy our new facilities from August.”
More information about early learning and childcare is available on the council’s website at www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk.