Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie today questioned the First Minister after a new report on the uptake of free early learning and childcare for two-year-olds living in poverty showed that, five years into the policy, only a third of eligible families are taking up a place – less than half the rate in England.
Yet the First Minister didn’t seem to know how far her government was behind the rest of the country.
Save the Children expressed concern that thousands of young children living in poverty are missing out on “the significant benefits that early learning and childcare can provide”. The charity also warned that the “lack of progress in this area will jeopardise the Scottish Government’s overarching ambition to close the poverty-related attainment gap”.
In 2014, the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Save the Children succeeded in persuading Alex Salmond to offer free early years provision for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Speaking after FMQs, Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie said:
“In 2014, after months of refusal, Alex Salmond eventually agreed to introduce free nursery education for all 2-year-olds in poverty. Five years later, only one third of those children are getting this foundation. This First Minister is failing these children.
“Save the Children are not impressed. In page after page of evidence they show that children are missing out and that this could jeopardise closing the poverty-related attainment gap. It’s meant to be the First Minister’s top priority but it was evident today that she doesn’t know just how far behind this critical policy is.
“In England, over 70% of 2-year-olds in poverty are receiving free nursery education. That’s double the rate in Scotland.
“The First Minister needs to now read this report and take the urgent action necessary to increase uptake.”