EDUCATION officials have warned opening up extended childcare to two-year-olds from poorer families in the Borders would lead to children being stigmatised.

And they fear that any deviation from their phasing-in plans to introduce 1140 hours of free childcare by August 2020, would lead to further calls for change.

Scottish Borders Council's education department began its phasing-in of extended childcare provision - from the current 600 hours - in August 2018 using findings from the Child Poverty Index.

All three- and four-year-olds, as well as eligible two-year-olds, living in the catchment areas of 12 primary schools were first to benefit.

The initial roll-out included Langlee Primary in Galashiels, Philiphaugh Primary in Selkirk, Walkerburn Primary, Kirkhope Primary, and both Burnfoot and Trinity primaries in Hawick.

Pre-school children at St Margaret's and the Burgh primaries in Galashiels became eligible from the start of 2019.

And from this August a further 27 catchment areas will be included in the extended childcare scheme - including Kingsland Primary in Peebles, as well as St Ronan's in Innerleithen and both Broughton and Newlands.

But Priorsford parents are having to wait an additional 12 months until August 2020 along with those in 15 other primary catchments.

Claiming the 12-months difference between Kingsland and Priorsford as 'discrimination' parents submitted a petition to Scottish Borders Council.

And during the Audit and Scrutiny Committee meeting on March 11 when the petition was considered, councillors Heather Anderson and Kris Chapman won enough support from fellow members for further investigation into making the additional hours available for all eligible two-year-olds across the entire Borders from this August.

Members of the ruling executive will consider a report from the education department on Tuesday.

But they are warned that changing the current phasing programme will be problematic.

Margot Black, early years strategy officer, said: "If expanded hours were to be offered to all eligible two year olds from August 2019, there may not be sufficient places available for them.

"Deviating from the agreed plan and making exceptions has the potential for more families to ask to be included in the phasing in of expanded hours, which has the potential to become unmanageable in terms of time and resources.

"The council is confident that the methodology used for determining the expansion plan is robust and transparent.

"Deviation from this would risk challenges from other families, particularly when the eligible two year olds became three, if the decision was taken to permit them to continue with expanded hours as a three year old.

"Additionally, this may stigmatise children and families."

It is estimated that around 25 percent of all two-year-olds are eligible for free childcare due to their families being in receipt of Universal Credit or similar benefits.

And a change in the phasing policy could see dozens more youngsters given the additional 540 hours of free childcare from this summer.

Ms Black believes any change will be costly for Scottish Borders Council.

She added: "The Scottish Government is providing additional funding for local authorities for the expansion, but this is based on the plans submitted and therefore there is no funding for a deviation to the

plan, which would incur additional costs."

Members of the ruling Executive will consider the request for admitting all eligible two-year-olds to the extended hours from August when they meet on Tuesday morning.