FALLING birth rates and expected cuts in funding have forced council bosses into a review of early learning and childcare in North Ayrshire.

Data shows that there are fewer children eligible for funded early learning and childcare (ELC) from the Scottish Government.

North Ayrshire Council currently has 2,228 spaces for early learning and childcare, but only 1,852 spaces have been allocated - just 83 per cent of capacity.

As a result the Scottish Government's grant funding for the scheme, which promises 1,140 hours of early learning or childcare for eligible youngsters, has been cut from just over £14 million in 2021/22 to £12.579m in 2023/24.

Now the council's cabinet have agreed to "reshape" the authority's delivery of early years education to help better meet the needs of its young people and parents.

A council spokesperson said: "Like much of the rest of the country, falling birth rates in North Ayrshire mean there is likely to be less uptake of places in the coming years.

"That means changes are required to ensure children continue to get the best possible start in life at our early years centres.

"Parents and carers are being encouraged to take part in engagement which will shortly get under way on the proposed redesign of the service, which will take into account current rates of uptake and preferred models of provision."

Councillor Shaun Macaulay, cabinet member for education and young people, said: “All three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds can access 1,140 hours of free early learning and childcare children each year.

“Since the introduction of 1,140 hours in 2020, it has made an enormous difference to the lives of many families.

“While the uptake of 1,140 hours has been positive, data for the whole of Scotland shows that there are fewer children eligible for funded early learning and childcare.

“Declining birth rates will continue to impact the level of uptake so we have to look at the best way forward to ensure children continue to get the very best in early years education.

“It’s hugely important that parent and carers take part and share their thoughts as this will help play a critical role in shaping the future of our early learning and childcare.”

The aim of the review will be to redesign early years service provision to meet current and anticipated levels of demand and is likely to include new delivery models in line with current and projected demand.

It is anticipated that the redesigned models will be implemented from the new academic session in August 2024.