Scottish councils’ policies on nursery funding for deferred P1 are arbitrary and inconsistent.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” Dickens wrote about the French Revolution, but only because he didn’t live to see the inequalities between Glasgow and Edinburgh’s approaches to P1 deferral….
Edinburgh and Glasgow held their 2019 primary school registrations in the same week in November but the similarities in process end there.
First there are the timelines: Glasgow parents can apply for discretionary funding as early as November and some find out in December that it has been granted. Conversely, Edinburgh parents won’t know the outcome till April or May, leaving only a few months for the appeals process.
Then there’s the cost: parents denied deferral funding face paying thousands in nursery fees to follow through on their belief about their child’s needs. In Edinburgh, council nurseries do not currently accept payments for places – another obstacle for parents.
Anyone still feeling up for a bureaucratic fight can enjoy the processes illustrated below:
The Cost to Councils
At best these varied approaches reflect dogmatic differences; at worst CEC (City of Edinburgh Council) and other councils across Scotland are operating under the pretence of a child-centred decision-making process to obscure the reality that decisions are actually cost-driven.
The Give Them Time campaign has discovered, through Freedom of Information requests to every council, that in recent years parents in Edinburgh have had a 55% chance of getting deferral funding, while along the M8 parents have had an 87% chance.
Glasgow spent the third highest amount of all local authorities in the country at £6449 per pre-school child in 2017-2018 whereas Edinburgh, the third lowest cost of all 32 Scottish local authorities, spent £3237.
If a council refuses to fund another year of nursery, it still has to pay for a year of primary school for the same child from its budget. A year of primary costs £4974 on average in Scotland – £511 more than the average cost of a year in nursery. A Glasgow primary year costs £4711 and in Edinburgh it’s £4485 – the third cheapest in the whole country. On average, councils would actually be saving money in the short term by funding a further nursery year as the “extra” cost would not be applied till the child stayed on for sixth year at high school, some thirteen years later.
SA different approach is possible though. 21 miles from Glasgow, 23 miles from our historic city of Enlightenment, is Falkirk, whose policy changed in 2018 to allow all children with a legal right to a deferral a further year of free nursery at their parents’ request. This is despite Falkirk having the cheapest cost of a primary year across the country and spending almost £1000 more per child than the national average on a year in nursery.
This isn’t just a tale of two cities; there are disparities across the whole country. There is no halfway house when it comes to a child’s best interests. However, until automatic funding becomes a Scotland-wide reality, at least Falkirk in the middle of our two great cities is lighting the way.
Patricia Anderson is the spokesperson for the Give Them Timecampaign.
A motion has been lodged in the Scottish parliament in support of the campaign’s aims and will shortly be debated by MSPs at Holyrood. Around 50 have given their backing already.
See also: Why give them time now?