This article appears as part of the Lessons to Learn newsletter.

The price we pay for the cost of childcare

This week we’ve been reporting on the impact of childcare costs on families in Scotland, and some of the statistics are incredibly stark.

The most shocking is the fact that 40% of women who have had an abortion said that the cost of childcare was not just a factor, but the “primary reason” for their decision. While speaking to people for our coverage, the word that came up again and again was ‘heart-breaking’ – but if that’s how the statistic makes us feel, just imagine what it was like for the women involved.

Looking past that headline figure, the new research also found plenty more for us to be worried about:

  • 28% of parents reported having to choose between paying for childcare and household essentials
  • 42% of parents said that they spend more than a quarter of their household income on childcare – and for 15% it’s more than half.
  • 84% of mothers said that childcare costs are equal to, or exceed, their income.
  • 85% of parents said that childcare costs are a barrier to having more children.
  • 94% of parents do not believe that the Scottish Government is doing enough to support families with childcare.

But hold on a second – hasn’t Scotland just massively expanded free childcare?

Well yes, it certainly has. As the government pointed out in response to our coverage of this matter (and as we mentioned in the article itself) all three and four year olds, and some two year olds, are eligible for 1140 hours of fully-funded childcare per year in Scotland. That works out to about thirty hours per week during the school year, which of course is roughly the same amount of time that older children spend in primary or secondary school each week.

The huge increase in free early learning and childcare is, unequivocally, a good idea, but the actual implementation of the policy has been far from perfect. As is generally the case, the major issue right now is about money.

Put simply, funding for free childcare goes from the government to individual councils, who then decide how to distribute it. For approved providers taking part in the 1140 hours expansion, local authorities pay a specific amount per child, but the private and voluntary sector has been increasingly vocal in arguing that the mechanism behind this is unfair. Councils – not unreasonably – do not fund these independent providers to quite the same level as their own nurseries, and the payment rates vary significantly across the country.

The result, according to those advocating for the sector, is that increasing numbers of private and voluntary nurseries are having to increase prices in order to remain viable while coping with expenses like increased energy bills and improved pay rates for staff.

Maybe the sector should be fundamentally reformed or even nationalised, but the reality right now is that private nurseries represent a significant proportion of the childcare sector, so for parents who need more than 1140 hours, or who need to go back to work before their child turns three, those increased (and increasing) costs pose a serious problem – and it’s one that, as the stats show, also has an impact on society as a whole.

Is there a solution? Keep an eye out for more on this in the coming weeks.

Read more:

Childcare costs a ‘primary reason’ for 40% of abortions

The Herald:

Are some schools too big? The education secretary thinks so.

When I started teaching and was sent to the Isle of Arran I found myself working in a secondary school with just a couple of hundred pupils – and it was brilliant. Within a few weeks I knew every single young person in the school, regardless of whether or not they happened to be assigned to my English class.

For some, however, the situation is very different.

High-achieving kids will always get plenty of attention, and the ones who are really struggling, or whose behaviour is particularly challenging, tend to stand out too.

But what about those in the middle – the ones who don’t particularly excel, but aren’t at any sort of risk of failure, and who just get on with things without causing problems for their teachers? The bigger the school the more likely it becomes that these sorts of pupils sort of disappear, and that’s a serious problem.

As Jenny Gilruth herself has pointed out, we should also consider the impact of geography, especially in parts of Scotland where “lots of little towns and villages [are] coming together in a huge school”.

And as groups like the National Autistic Society have argued, we should also think about the impact of these massive schools on pupils with a range of additional support needs.

This is all part of a broader debate that Scotland should be having about the future of our schools. The worry, however, is that there is little prospect of a genuine discussion, and an even smaller chance of things actually changing for the better.

Read more:

Jenny Gilruth: Some high schools have outgrown student and staff needs

In Case You Missed It…

Earlier this week the government published its annual flurry of school stats, giving us information about things like teacher numbers, class sizes and additional support needs provision. We also got some new data about student teacher numbers which is, obviously, a fairly critical metric for an education system – especially when we already know that we’re struggling to hold on to those already in the profession!

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There are several stories to come out of all those spreadsheets but I also think it’s important to try to make the data in them as accessible as possible, even if the government doesn’t seem to agree. To that end, I’ve pulled together some of the key statistics to provide a bit of an insight into the state of the teaching profession in Scotland.

Some of it makes for rather uncomfortable reading.

Read more:

Teacher numbers: what does the latest data tell us?