Ambitious plans to expand early learning and childcare provision are taking shape.

North Ayrshire Council has drawn up proposals to provide high quality, flexible and accessible early learning and childcare for its youngest residents to deliver the Scottish Government’s expansion programme.

Across Scotland, entitlement to fully-funded Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) is due to increase from 600 hours to 1140 hours by 2020.

That means that all three and four-year old children and eligible two-year-olds will be entitled to almost double their current provision.

These changes mean that North Ayrshire Council – in common with all other local authorities across the country – is drawing up proposals to ensure it is ready to meet the demands posed by the large increase in hours in early learning and childcare.

At Cabinet last week, members agreed to take forward plans which will allow the expansion to be implemented as smoothly as possible.

The Fullarton community in Irvine is one of a handful of areas across Scotland which has been piloting the 1140 hours programme and this has helped shape the proposed model for North Ayrshire.

Also, an extensive consultation exercise with parents and carers of children who attend early learning and childcare provision in North Ayrshire helped understand their views on different aspects of the expansion programme.

The results showed:

83 per cent of survey respondents indicated that they would take some or all of the hours that would be made available to them and 64 per cent of respondents recorded that they would take 900 or more hours.

19 per cent of respondents said they would require to purchase additional early learning and childcare hours (on top of the 1140 funded entitlement) in order to continue or take up employment.

71 per cent of respondents said they would need childcare in the mornings (8am 12pm) and 64 per cent of respondents selected afternoons (12pm 4pm).

Councillor John Bell, Cabinet Member for Education, said: “We want to place families at the very heart of the expanded provision in North Ayrshire.

“The expansion of early learning and childcare means that we have explored a variety of ways in which the service can be delivered in future and what kind of impact they will have on the lives of parents and children.

“Our over-riding priority has been to ensure we continue to provide high-quality provision for children as well as giving flexibility to families to help parents get back into work, training or education.”

The proposed delivery model will see early learning and childcare provision in North Ayrshire being available from 8am until 6pm over 50 weeks of the year.

It is expected that the proposed model would provide a consistent delivery over 50 weeks, instead of the current 38 weeks. It is also expected that the service would offer greater flexibility to parents and carers while also improving affordability across all NAC early learning establishments.

The proposed delivery model also highlights the requirement to create a new early learning centre, which could accommodate 40 three to four-year-old children and 20 two-year-old children.

North Ayrshire Council’s proposed model will now be submitted to the Government.