Call over nursery 'birthday discrimination'
A think tank has called for all nursery children in Scotland to be given a full two years of pre-school education.
Scottish children are entitled to receive government-funded nursery education from the age of three until they start primary school.
But Reform Scotland said this resulted in some children receiving the full two years, while others get only 15 months.
This "birthday discrimination" leads to a gap in learning for the child, it argued.
The think tank pointed out that government funding for nursery provision begins only in the term after a child turns three, so any child who begins school at the age of four receives less than two years of government-funded provision.
This means that a child can be entitled to up to nine months less nursery provision at a local government nursery, or a family using a partnership provider could receive about £1,000 per child less in funding than others, purely as a result of the date of birth of their children.
Reform Scotland called for a system where all children are offered a full two years of government-funded nursery provision irrespective of their age at the commencement date.
To achieve this, provision should commence at a fixed point in the year - probably August - two years before the child is due to start school.
It has calculated that the policy change would result in about 27,000 additional registrations, which could potentially be covered by the spare capacity in the system currently, although it acknowledged there would be some additional costs such as staffing.
Alison Payne, Reform Scotland's Research Director, said it was a "question of equality".
She added: "It cannot be deemed to be fair that children and hard-pressed families are offered such widely divergent periods of funded nursery provision purely because of when the child's birthday falls.
"A child born in October of any given year will start school at the same time as one born in July, yet the October child is entitled only to 18 months of government-funded provision as opposed to the two years offered to the July child.
"A new year baby, born in January of the following year but starting school with the July and October children, will be entitled to even less - only 15 months.
"Not only does the system discriminate against younger school-entrants in terms of the gap in learning with their older counterparts, for families using partnership nurseries it can cost them over £1,000."
She welcomed the Scottish government's commitment to extend the current government-funded provision from 475 hours to 600 hours in the Children and Young People Bill, but said unless the birthday anomaly was addressed it would widen the entitlement gap.
Ms Payne added: "We want the government to use the bill to end this inequality and ensure that all children are entitled to two years of 600 hours of government-funded nursery provision. The existing age discrimination is indefensible and we hope the government will now recognise this.
"The government provides seven years of primary education irrespective of a child's date of birth. It should do the same for nursery provision. Two years must mean two years."
A Scottish government spokesman said: "Our Children and Young People Bill aims to provide more high quality early learning and childcare for children than ever before, providing children in Scotland with the best start in life.
"The Bill also aims to provide greater flexibility of provision to meet the needs of children and their parents.
"We are aware of this particular issue and it is part of our wider considerations around the forthcoming Bill."