INVERCLYDE childminders are among the first in the country to be awarded a new qualification enabling them to provide government-funded early years care.

Local parents who have children aged three to five will now have a number of choices when the childcare hours double in 2020.

The pioneering Inverclyde Childminding Network has been ahead of the game since the announcement was made four years ago.

Susannah Knox, Michelle O'Rourke and Kay Finke are among those childminders who will now deliver a 'blended' model of care for parents.

Susannah, who has been a childminder for 12 years, said: "This will allow local parents to choose a childminder and a nursery for their children - it means they can get the best of both worlds.

"They get the social aspect of the larger group at nursery and then there is also the benefit childminders offer as well.

"It also help get childminding the recognition it deserves

" It is not a babysitting service.

"We deliver on the curriculum and we also have the flexibility to react to individual needs.

"If a child asks us to do something like go to a park we are able to respond."

The Scottish Government announced plans back in 2015 to increase early years childcare for three to five year olds to 1,140 hours.

It will be introduced next year.

Susannah said: "We recognised straight away this was going to be a huge change for childminders.

"We have proactively engaged with the council and they have been really engaged with us."

There are another seven childminders in Inverclyde taking part in the vocational training with others also holding suitable qualifications.

Susannah added: "We worked really hard to complete our qualification in around six months."

Inverclyde Childminding Network has been praised by inspectors and others in the education sector for its groundbreaking work.

They deliver training and run an advice page for parents as well as organising community events.