Work is continuing within Orkney Islands Council to ensure families in Orkney have access to childcare, including the provision of increased free childcare hours in most nursery settings from this month (August).
A global pandemic, the closure of Peedie Breeks Nursery, a decline in registered childminders and the Scottish Government’s instruction to Local Authorities to increase the number of free hours from 600 to 1,140 has seen the OIC face an unparalleled set of challenging circumstances.
A marathon piece of work has been ongoing behind the scenes to try and secure a way forward for parents/carers and their children throughout the county during these difficult times.
Orkney Islands Council’s Executive Director of Education, Leisure and Housing, James Wylie, said: “Now that the Scottish Government has changed the Early Learning and Childcare guidance to allow larger group sizes, we are moving to offer 1,140 in most of our settings from August. One or two settings will move to 1,140 when additional practitioners have been appointed, and Papdale will move to 1,140 when the building works are completed. Individual settings and managers will let parents know what the nursery is offering before the term starts.”
He continued: “A new early learning and childcare facility is to be built but at this early stage we cannot go into the detail until a capital project has been developed. In the meantime, a temporary provision to provide a childcare service for 0-5 year olds, and if required, an out of school service, will be put in place as soon as possible, dependent on recruiting staff and we will update parents as soon as we can.
“Given the exceptional circumstances we all find ourselves in, this really is an ongoing effort by all involved and we must thank parents and carers for their patience as we strive to deliver on early learning and childcare.”
OIC chair of the Education, Leisure and Housing Committee, Councillor Gwenda Shearer was a driving force behind what she felt was the need for Local Authority action on “much-needed” childcare provision within Orkney.
She said: “Our children and young families are the future and without much-needed childcare provision the ramifications for Orkney would have been felt far and wide.
“The importance of the safety, well-being and happiness of babies and children cannot be underestimated. Parents have to be able to go to work knowing that their child is being looked after in the best possible environment.
“In this day and age, the financial demands on young families with mortgages and the high cost of living often requires both parents to work to make ends meet – the challenges have been heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m sure many would welcome the luxury of one parent being able to stay at home to look after children but it doesn’t work that way anymore. This makes the availability of good quality childcare essential.”
She continued: “We will now work on how best to develop the most suitable new facility for families, providing a quality early learning and childcare service as cost effectively as possible to the public purse also. I’m confident we can provide a facility which will benefit many in Orkney. We have compiled a list of questions and answers which we feel will be helpful for you as parents as we move forward – where we cannot provide a detailed answer at this stage, we have tried to explain why.”
FAQs can be accessed here: www.orkney.gov.uk/CV-EL-FAQ