Patricia Anderson never planned to become a successful political activist. She certainly didn’t expect to be part of a campaign that would change the law, and the reality, for families up and down the country. She just wanted to do what was best for her children.

Her first, a son, had been born in January, and when the time came to think about schooling a few years later she had no problem deferring her boy’s entry to primary one. Waiting until he was five would, she felt, allow him time to develop and give him the best chance of being truly ready for school.

But when the time came to make a decision for her second child things became much more complicated, because her daughter was born in September, which meant that deferral funding wouldn’t be automatic. The application process involved meetings with nursery managers and headteachers, filling in an application form and even producing a “dossier of evidence”. In the end she was successful, but knew that something had to change.

Diane Delaney’s experience had been even worse. Her council failed to follow their own stated policies or even to ask her to submit the evidence that she had gathered in support of the application. Her attempts to defer her child’s school start were ultimately rejected – she was told to send her child to school and worried that refusal could led to legal action.

“I was threatened with social work and told that maybe I should get a lawyer,” she says.

The experience left her scared and anxious, and she tells me that she “cried for six months.”

And yet, like Patricia, she did have the right to defer – but both of them discovered this fact by chance while browsing a Facebook group. As a result, early plans for action focused on the lack of information available to parents.

Unfortunately, it soon became clear that awareness-raising wasn’t going to be enough.

The law said that parents could defer the school start of any child who had not turned five by the beginning of the school year, but the reality on the ground was very different. All over the country, councils had dreamed up different rules and regulations to control the circumstances in which deferral would be supported with funding for an additional year of nursery – an obviously critical factor in parents’ decision-making.


Some set different cut off dates, treating children born in November or December differently from those born in August or September, while others insisted that cases had to be reviewed by panels of professionals, adding an additional layer of considerable stress and anxiety for many parents. Some demanded educational psychologist assessments. In the worst cases, a few openly and incorrectly told parents that they simply could not defer the start of schooling.

Patricia and Diane used Freedom of Information to gather data on council policies and reveal the patchwork of provision across the country. Success rates for funding applications, for example, varied wildly – in some local authorities there seemed to be no problem gaining approval, but in others a large proportion of requests was routinely refused.

It was a classic postcode lottery, and one that they feared must be having a serious impact on families who found themselves on the wrong side of the draw.

Read more: 'We changed the law' - how a grassroots campaign broke down barriers for parents

From that point it was clear that the rules had to be changed, but actually achieving that was still a daunting prospect. Communication with local MSPs and council representatives brought gradual progress, but then everything changed.

Scottish Labour’s then education spokesperson Iain Gray decided to use the party’s parliamentary time to hold a debate on the Give Them Time campaign. During the course of the discussion members from across the chamber’s numerous political divides spoke out in favour of change.

With a cross-party consensus beginning to emerge, and pressure slowly but surely building, the Scottish Government – which had previously taken the position that reform was not necessary – decided to get on board and support a national policy that would provide the crucial extra year of funding for all deferred children. The campaigners had won.

The news shocked Patricia and Diane as much as anyone else. They were, naturally, elated – but they were also frustrated. The government hadn’t given them any indication that such a U-turn was coming, so they were not present in parliament to see it. Instead, they got the news while having lunch and watching Parliament TV. They also felt that they had been excluded from parts of the process.

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And the battle wasn’t over yet. Although they had been promised that the law would change, the delay before final implementation left plenty of time for things to go wrong. It also meant that many parents would continue to be affected by the postcode lottery of council policies around deferral. Despite having already won an enormous victory, Diane and Patricia were as busy as ever supporting parents who did not want their children to go to school at four years old.

In the end, though, they made it. As of August 2023, anyone deferring their child’s entry to primary one can also access a year of additional nursery funding. The postcode lottery is gone and the latest data speaks for itself.

Back in 2013, there were 3724 deferred entries to primary one, a figure which represented 13% of those eligible to have their school start delayed. In 2018, when the campaign began, deferral rates had increased slightly but still stood at just 17%.

But in 2023, 33% of eligible children had their entry to primary school deferred. In this year alone, several thousand four year olds got an extra year of nursery without their parents having to fight for it.

This data was shown to Patricia and Diane as they waited for the guests to arrive at their recent parliament reception, and even then, standing inside the walls of Holyrood, years on from the initial announcement of their victory, months on from the formal implementation of that policy change, and with the proof right there in black in white on a government spreadsheet, they still didn’t quite seem to believe what they had achieved: dismantling a postcode lottery to ensure that every one can exercise their rights without threats, intimidation or the need to overcome bureaucratic or financial hurdles.

So what happens next? According to SNP MSP Fulton Macgregor, who supported the campaign and hosted their celebratory reception in parliament (despite his admission that, at least at first, he “just didn’t get it”) the drive to Give Them Time has a “natural successor”: a discussion about Scotland’s school starting age and the possible value of establishing a national kindergarten system.

Patricia and Diane agree, and are quick to highlight the work of Upstart Scotland, which argues for raising the age at which children in Scotland begin formal schooling.

With a national approach to deferral funding now secured, a broader discussion about early years provision seems like the logical next step, and the Give Them Time campaigners have shown that grassroots change really is possible.