AMBITIOUS proposals to expand early learning and childcare across North Ayrshire have taken another major step forward.

North Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet has approved plans which will help deliver the rollout of expanded hours for children attending early years classes.

In May, Cabinet members approved a blueprint which will see improvement work carried out at dozens of early years centres over the next few years.

The redevelopment of the early years establishments is being carried out as part of the expansion of early learning and childcare

Now, in the latest stage of the programme, Cabinet has approved the latest range of proposals which will ensure all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds can access 1,140 hours of free early learning and childcare each year – that’s nearly double the current amount of 600 hours – by August 2020. The latest proposals approved will result in a number of enhancements to the Council’s provision of early learning and childcare (ELC):

* Ensuring all new referrals for babies aged birth to two years are directed to the Council’s Day Carer Service. These referrals usually involve children who have a vulnerability within their family. The Day Carer Service comprises childminders who have received specialist training to enable them meet the needs of these children and families.

* To introduce increased payments to private and voluntary partner providers. To reflect the greater demand from the increase in early years hours, the hourly rate to pr ivate providers will increase from the current £3.58 per hour to £5.31 by 2020/21.

* The Council will explore options to relocate early learning and childcare provision from Garnock Valley Early Years Centre to St Bridget’s Primary Early Years Class.

The current facilities at Garnock Valley EYC are not large enough to cope with the early years expansion and the proposal to transfer provision to nearby St Bridget’s primary early years class will enable children to enjoy a fit-for-purpose early learning setting.

Early engagement will be undertaken in the near future with key stakeholder groups.

Councillor John Bell, Cabinet Member for Education, said: “We are already well ahead of the curve in introducing expanded childcare provision as two of our centres have been delivering 1,140 hours since January this year.

“More early years centres will start delivering the expanded service from this August, well ahead of the full rollout in 2020.

“These latest proposals represent the next step for us as we seek to ensure the best possible outcomes for children in North Ayrshire. “Our vision is that we will lead the way in early learning and childcare by providing all children with excellent learning experiences in nurturing and inspiring environments.”