Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Early Years Lottery


Reform Scotland, the independent think tank, has called for an end to institutionalised age discrimination on pre-school education entitlement in its response to a Scottish Government consultation. Whilst commending the government’s commitment to early years education expansion, the think tank highlights continuing birthday discrimination which means some children are entitled to almost a year’s less early years education than others.

The call forms part of a series of recommendations submitted by Reform Scotland to the Scottish Government’s consultation entitled “A blueprint for 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland”, which closes this week. The Reform Scotland response is contained within their report “The Early Years Lottery” issued today. The report also welcomes the Scottish Government’s consideration of Reform Scotland’s proposal of a virtual voucher for early years provision.

Currently, the legal entitlement to government-funded nursery provision starts the term after a child turns three, meaning that, for example:

  • a child born in August receives a full two years, or 1,200 hours of government-funded provision before starting school;

  • However a child born in September will receive only 18 months, or 1,000 hours and a child born in January will receive only 15 months, or 800 hours.

  • the financial disadvantage for families using partnership nurseries means that a child born between September and December loses out by £700 while children born in January and February lose out by £1,400 per annum, or £2,800 over two years.

  • The scale of the unfairness is set to climb further as the government makes further progress towards its aim of doubling the entitlement from 600 hours to 1200 hours per annum..

Reform Scotland is calling for the Scottish Government to end this system of institutionalised discrimination and for all children to be given a basic legal entitlement of two full years pre-school provision, starting in the august two years before the child is due to start school, irrespective of their age at the time. This would harmonise early years education provision with the primary school system, where each child is entitled to seven years of education irrespective of their age at starting school.

Commenting, Reform Scotland’s Research Director Alison Payne said:

“With early years education playing such a vital role in a child’s educational development, it is unacceptable and unfair that there is such a wide variation in entitlement.  The Scottish Government has set a goal of closing the attainment gap.  However, many children start school already at a disadvantage and playing catch up simply because they have not been given the same access to pre-school education. While many factors contribute towards the attainment gap, it is unacceptable that one of those is as a result of the Scottish Government’s birthday discrimination which could be so easily resolved.

“The Government’s commitment to quality child care and improving educational outcomes is clearly expressed, but significantly undermined by this unfairness based on nothing more significant than the month in which a child was born.

“Reform Scotland’s view is that every child should have the same basic entitlement to pre-school provision – just as they do to primary school. This is why we think that pre-school education provision should start at a fixed point in the year, just as it does for school. It’s unfair that only half of children receive the full amount of the entitlement promised by government, and that unfairness is amplified for those vulnerable children entitled to nursery from the age of two.

”Reform Scotland accepts that removing this anomaly would increase the number of children entitled to early years provision.  However, the Scottish Government is seeking to expand provision anyway and the consultation asks how this expansion could be managed.  Reform Scotland believes that addressing this discrimination should be the first step.”

“In addition to addressing birthday discrimination the Reform Scotland report, entitled “The Early Years Lottery” (available here) makes two further recommendations for changes in government early years education policy:

●     Starting School: Reform Scotland calls on the Scottish Government to review the deferrals system, especially looking at what can be done so that it is seen in a more neutral light, as opposed to “holding someone back”.  Currently only children born in January and February have an automatic right to defer their child’s entry to school by a year, whilst retaining a guarantee of an additional year of pre-school funding. Reform Scotland thinks that the right to defer starting school should be extended to all children who are due to start school at the age of four, ensuring parents are able to make a decision that is in the best interests of their child.

●     Virtual Voucher: The Scottish Government is consulting upon the use of virtual vouchers for nursery education, as first proposed by Reform Scotland. The think tank enthusiastically backs that vouchers option which will give parents the right to access their child’s government-funded entitlement in any early-years environment which meets the standards set by both Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate.  This enables parents to not just find the childcare that is best for their child, but that is able to fit round work or other commitments.


Early Years Lottery