Aberdeenshire Council has outlined its plans for children returning to nursery next month.
From August, youngsters attending private childcare settings will have 900 hours of funded care, rising to the Scottish Government’s target of 1,140 in January.
Those who attend the council’s own nurseries will be have the statutory 600 hours, rising to 900 “where practicable, as soon as possible” between September and January.
Ministers at Holyrood have now delayed making 1,140 hours of funded care statutory by a year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Aberdeenshire Council’s education and children’s services committee chair, Cllr Gillian Owen, said: “I hope this announcement gives parents and carers of young children reassurance and clarity.
“There has been a lot of changes in a very short space of time, but I would like to reassure everyone that the council remains absolutely committed to delivering the required 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare for any eligible child in Aberdeenshire, albeit to a revised timescale.
“We are still in a crisis situation so our plans may change at short notice in line with Scottish Government advice. Please be assured we will update any amendments to our plans as soon as possible.”
Councillor Rosemary Bruce, committee vice-chair, added: “I would like to thank parents, carers and funded providers for their patience during these uncertain times and to thank all colleagues within the service who have worked tirelessly to agree this arrangement in very challenging circumstances.”
Aberdeen City Council said it was working to keep parents updated with the latest information.
Educational operational delivery convener John Wheeler said: “I appreciate that this has been a period of uncertainty for all parents and carers and I’d like to thank them for their patience and understanding.
“I would like to praise the hard work our central education team and individual schools over the last few months which means we are well placed to respond effectively to any of the scenarios for the new school term.”
In a letter to councils, children’s minister Maree Todd has now said the policy – which would also benefit some two-year-olds – will not be introduced in the 2020-21 school year.
She told local authority directors of education that a revised date for implementing the policy will be jointly agreed by the government and councils “taking full consideration of the factors impacting on delivery, including the disruption to capital programmes”.
The minister said: “Recognising the significant impact of the coronavirus and recovery, it will not be feasible to reinstate a universal 1,140 duty in the academic year 20/21, or while the coronavirus public health measures, which significantly impact on ELC (early learning and childcare) capacity, remain in place, if that is longer. “
She said councils will be given at least six months notice of the new start date.
The letter, from Ms Todd and children and young people’s spokesman at Cosla Stephen McCabe, said an “initial assessment of readiness” is to be carried out in December 2020.
This will consider the “progress in recovery” from the pandemic, as well as the operational and financial implications of making the change.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had announced the “transformational” plans to virtually double free early years care from 600 hours a year back in October 2017.
Ms Todd and Mr McCabe both stress in the letter they “remain absolutely committed to the benefits of the expansion, and the return to 1,140 as soon as it is reasonable to do so”.
But from August 11, the amount of free childcare families are entitled to will remain at 600 hours, with the legal obligation on councils to provide the extra hours having already been suspended because of coronavirus.
An Audit Scotland report at the start of the March found councils had made “steady progress” towards achieving the increased hours, but stressed then that extensive recruitment and building works was still required.