Campaigners are demanding urgent funding for all families seeking to defer a child’s entry to P1 amid concerns some have essentially been “forced” to send youngsters to school at the age of only 4.
Currently, the youngest children - those with a January or February birth date - are eligible for an additional year of funded early learning and childcare (ELC) when a parent has exercised the statutory right to delay enrolment.
Local authorities then decide if others qualify.
However, from August 2023 that decision will no longer be taken by councils and all children who have not reached the age of five by the start of the school session will be given the same automatic entitlement to a further year of funded ELC.
It is aimed at ensuring the needs of youngsters, rather than financial considerations, are at the heart of decisions on accessing childcare.
In addition, five councils have been selected to take part in a pilot of automatic funding for P1 deferrals in 2021/22.
Members of the campaign group Give Them Time (GTT) have welcomed the planned change.
But they also stressed it would come too late for many, adding that parents had already faced discrimination and inequality due to factors such as income, place of residence and the month of their child’s birth.
Maree Todd, Children’s Minister, yesterday told MSPs that local authorities could not be expected to bring in new arrangements for deferrals at the same time as preparing for roll-out of the policy on providing 1,140 hours of funded ELC to all three and four-year-olds, and eligible two-year-olds.
She said the existing timetable was “realistic”.
But GTT leaders have urged the Government to come forward with bespoke funding to assist all parents who want to defer entry to P1 before the new system comes into force in 2023.
The group said the current situation amounted to “forcing” some to send children to school at the age of just 4.
It also noted that a number of individuals had later tried to remove youngsters once they had seen the serious impact on their wellbeing.
“When parents are forced to face a financial penalty or to fork out to provide that extra year [of ELC], some can afford to do it and others can’t,” said Patricia Anderson, GTT spokesperson and co-founder.
“That’s what the new law is going to resolve but not until 2023 - and until then it’s going to be a postcode lottery.
“We would visualise some sort of Scottish Government funding for parents of the August to Decemberborn cohort, should they be refused funded ELC by a council.”
She also asked why authorities with a “100% rate of granting all requests in the last two years” had been chosen for the pilot scheme.
Her concerns have been echoed by Iain Gray, education spokesman for Scottish Labour.
“The fact of the matter is that we’re correcting a legal anomaly here... surely the thing about a legal anomaly is, it is an anomaly, it needs to be reversed and it needs to be reversed quickly and immediately,” he said during yesterday’s meeting of Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee.
Mr Gray added: “The delay until 2023 means that many, perhaps hundreds, of families will continue not to be able to avail themselves of this right.”
Ms Todd said: “We have set a realistic timetable for the implementation of extended eligibility for all deferrals to ensure that the roll-out of 1140 hours of funded ELC to all eligible children isn’t put at risk.
“It’s just not possible for us to expect all local authorities to implement the new commitment at the same time as rolling out the 1,140 hours against the continued backdrop of the challenges imposed by the Covid-19 response."