Scottish Government agrees primary one defferals – despite East Renfrewshire Council refusing to act

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The Scottish Government has agreed to tackle an “unfair anomaly” in free nursery care for children – just weeks after East Renfrewshire Council refused to act.

Parents of children who are four at the start of the school year can defer entry into primary one until the following year, but funding for early years education depends on their birthday and local authorities.

If a child’s fifth birthday falls in January or February, they will continue to receive funded hours of early years education.

But for those born between August and December, their local council will decide if they can receive the free nursery provision.

The Give Them Time Scotland campaign has called on the Scottish Government to close the loophole and, during a Scottish Labour debate on the issue, Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd agreed to legislate so all parents have access to the funded hours.

However, at a recent East Renfrewshire Council meeting, a Conservative bid to ask the government for the extra funding was blocked.

Conservative councillors Stewart Miller and Jim Swift had put forward a motion, calling for an automatic grant of all applications to defer places for children whose birthday falls between the start of the school year and February.

They also asked East Renfrewshire Council to write to the Scottish Government to discuss funding for the extra one year’s nursery provision.

But an amendment put forward by Labour councillor Paul O’Kane, who claimed agreeing to all deferrals could cost over £1.5m, received nine votes to the motion’s eight.

The authority did agree to write to the government highlighting the work of the Give Them Time Campaign, set up by parents to fight for an extra year of funding for all children legally deferring P1 in Scotland.

A campaign spokesman said the government’s decision was a “huge victory”. “We will maintain pressure on the government to set out its timescale for the legal change and call on them to agree interim measures for all children who need to defer within the coming year,” he added.

Labour MSP Iain Gray said: “The task is not to better explain this unfair anomaly, it is to get rid of it so that all pre-school children have the right to continue in early years education.

“The task is not to count these children, it is to show that they do count, by allowing them to defer with access to the early years education that we all agree is so important.”

Responding for the Government, Ms Todd said: “The decision to defer your child is not one that parents will take easily.

“It is essential that this decision is based on the well-being of the individual child and not based on access to early learning childcare.

“For this reason, we do intend to bring forward legislation to entitle all children whose school start is deferred to access funded early learning and childcare in the deferred year.”