EDUCATION bosses in the Borders have finalised their plans to roll-out almost double the amount of free pre-school childcare in the region.

And early signs from a pilot in Selkirk shows that the increase from 600 hours to 1140 is already paying dividends.

Philiphaugh Primary was one of the first schools in Scotland to offer the extended early years care for all three- and four-year-olds, as well as eligible two-year-olds.

And following the first intake of primary one pupils who have enjoyed almost double the amount of time in nursery, teachers have reported an improvement in attainment levels.

Liz Wharton, quality improvement manager within Scottish Borders Council's education department, said: "Philiphaugh Nursery was one of the first early learning and childcare settings to pilot the 1140 hours expansion in the country and recent Primary 1 entry assessments, of children who experienced the full 1140 hours in the nursery, are very positive in evidencing higher levels of attainment in literacy.

"The headteacher has reported overall that the children’s attainment has benefitted from the extended hours."

The extended hours, currently delivered during term-time, was rolled out to Langlee, Burnfoot, Kirkhope, Greenlaw, Coldstream and Eyemouth in August.

And from next August, depending on funding agreements, it is hoped to begin offering parents in the initial phase catchment areas the opportunity of more flexibility by using both school nurseries and other funded care providers, including private nurseries and childminders.

A further roll-out across the rest of the Scottish Borders will begin during 2018/19 - to be delivered by the Scottish Government's cut off in 2020.

Education director Donna Manson presented the plans to this week's Executive committee.

She said: “This report is the culmination of a considerable amount of research, analysis and deliberation as we sought to develop a strategy that would enable us to deliver a blended early learning and childcare provision, based on parental choice, that will enable families and carers to select from a range of providers that includes local nurseries, partner providers and childminders in their local area.

“As part of that process, an extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders was carried out in August 2017.

"We are grateful to everyone who gave us feedback on key aspects of the expansion, including the sharing of ideas and concerns.

"What we are now putting before the Executive is based on the guiding principles of quality, flexibility, accessibility and affordability which aims to meet the needs of families and carers while delivering a high quality experience for our youngest learners.”

There are currently 46 school nurseries, 28 private nurseries and 39 registered childminders who will be able to offer the additional free childcare in the Borders, although the local authority is in discussions with other providers.

Councillor Carol Hamilton, Executive spokeswoman for children and young people, added: “This proposed expansion of funded early learning and childcare for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds is an opportunity for parents to go back to work, retrain or study, knowing their children are receiving quality care and learning in a parental choice of caring environments best suited to their and their children’s needs.”