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Education and Training in Scotland National Dossier 2005


CHAPTER 3 - Pre-School Education

Compulsory Descriptors
Pre-school Education

There is a growing appreciation that education and care in the pre-school setting are interlinked. As a result, services that have traditionally been thought of as providers of care are now recognised as also playing a role in educating young children. Furthermore, through the development of Childcare Partnerships, the role played by local authority, private and voluntary pre-school centres in providing pre-school education has also changed. The Scottish Executive encourages local authorities to commission pre-school places from private and voluntary centres wherever this helps meet parents' and children's' needs and offers value for money . All local authorities are now contracting with partners. This chapter therefore covers both local authority and other provision.

Local authority provision

Local authorities provide pre-school education through their education departments in a range of settings such as nursery classes within primary schools, nursery schools and children's centres. Pre-school education provision in a primary school will usually have places for up to 20 children at one time. It is possible for a large primary school to have more than one pre-school education class. Most pre-school education centres outwith primary schools have places for 40-60 children at any one time, although in some parts of Scotland there are larger units. The number of children provided for is increased by having children attend for only part of a day. Practice varies from authority to authority but it is common for most children to attend either in the morning or the afternoon. Children with priority needs, however, may well attend for the whole day. In some authorities children attend only on certain days in the week. A large number of private providers also contribute, in partnership with local authorities, towards securing free, part time pre-school education for 3 and 4-year-olds. All providers of statutory pre-school education are required to base their provision on the guidelines in A Curriculum Framework for Children 3 to 5.

Occasionally, in special cases, children may attend local authority pre-school classes beyond the statutory school age. Whether younger children or those deferring entry to primary school are accepted into a pre-school establishment may depend on a number of factors, such as family circumstances, the aims of the establishment and the availability of a place. Priority may be given to children who are referred by the social work department, psychological service or the health services.

The Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 requires local authorities to promote social welfare and enables them to provide, through their social work departments, accommodation, material resources and finance in the form of grants or loans for work with the under-5s. By this Act, the local authority social work departments are empowered to set up day nurseries. These cater for children across the whole pre-school age group but provide pre-school education for the older children. Priority for admission may be given to the children of single parents, especially if the parent is required to go to work, children who have been neglected or abused and children from families whose difficulties may be eased by the day nursery placement. This is often an all-day provision.

Voluntary and private sector provision

The voluntary sector also plays an important role in providing pre-school education. For example, in the Western Isles, voluntary groups are the main providers.

Many local authorities also encourage pre-school playgroups and provide support for them, often in conjunction with the Scottish Pre-school Play Association ( SPPA) or Highland Pre-school Services ( HPS). These playgroups are run by parents, who will in many cases pay a trained play leader to take charge of the group, although sometimes groups are run by volunteers from the community. Playgroups belonging to the SPPA and HPS have an agreed code of practice and training is provided by the organisation for those who work with pre-school children and wish to have it. Pre-school playgroups normally operate on the basis of a two-and-a-half hour session either daily or on certain days of the week. The maximum number of children permitted in any one playgroup is 24. It is very common for children to attend a pre-school playgroup for a year before attending a pre-school education centre, and children who spend only part of a day or week in a pre-school education centre quite often continue to attend a playgroup when they are not at the pre-school education centre.

The private sector also offers all-day care and education, often to working parents. There are also a number of pre-school education centres attached to independent (private) schools. Some industrial and commercial firms, as well as major national and local government offices, offer day-care facilities for the children of employees.

3.1 Historical Overview

Compulsory Descriptors
Historical Perspective

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)


Educational Reform

Nursery education, as such, was slow to be established in Scotland. Before 1872 it was not uncommon to find children under the age of 5 in school, but until the Act of that year, which set school age at 5, these younger children at school were few in number. The first nursery, run on lines developed by Margaret McMillan in London, was opened in Edinburgh in 1906. By 1932 there were only 19 nursery schools and 5 nursery classes in other schools, with a total roll of about 700. The Education (Scotland) Act 1945 made it the duty of education authorities to establish nursery schools if there was sufficient demand from parents. The number of nurseries rose to just over 80 in a short period, almost all in the four major cities and catering mainly for children in deprived social circumstances.

These state-supported nurseries were supplemented by a few independent nurseries, also in the major cities, which catered for children whose parents could afford to pay for nursery education. However, other pressures in education meant that there was little further expansion until the 1970s. This decade brought a major report on nursery education, Before Five, and an expansion of nursery education through the establishment of nursery classes in primary schools and the introduction of part-time nursery education, with some children attending in the morning and others in the afternoon.

In recent years, increased recognition of the importance of pre-school education has led to a commitment to secure free, part time pre-school education for all 3 and 4 year olds whose parents wish it.

3.2 Ongoing Debates

Compulsory Descriptors
Reform Proposal

Most authorities currently use a transition record that summarises children's progress and achievements in the various aspects outlined in the Curriculum Framework. Over the next few years, transition records will be incorporated into Personal Learning Plans, which will provide a continuous record of the child's progress from pre-school through to the end of compulsory education, and clear feedback and information for parents and children.

From 31 July 2003 local authorities were no longer be required to have a trained teacher in their nursery schools or classes. Instead, teachers can be employed where they are most needed. The Guidance on Teacher Involvement published by the Executive in January 2002 describes how this could be done to best effect. Over the next few years each member of the social work workforce will be required to register with the Scottish Social Services Council. Registration of the early years and childcare workforce is expected to take place from2006. In order to register, individuals will be required to hold, or be working towards, a recognised qualification.

3.3 Specific Legislative Framework

Compulsory Descriptors
Educational Legislation

The Scottish Parliament passed the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Scotland Act 2000, which gives local authorities a duty to ensure pre-school provision for eligible children in their area. This legislation came into effect in April 2002.

The Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care (the Care Commission) and the Scottish Social Services Council were set up under the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 to regulate, respectively, care services and the social care workforce. The Care Commission, which became operational on 1 April 2002, is regulating a wide range of care services, including childminding, day care of children and childcare agencies whether provided by local authorities or the independent sector. It inspects them against legislative requirements and national care standards. Inspection of centres providing pre-school education, previously conducted by HMIE alone, is now undertaken jointly with the Care Commission. These inspections apply to all kinds of centres offering pre-school education, including nursery schools and classes.

The Social Services Council was established on 1 October 2001 to regulate the social services workforce in line with the White Paper Aiming for Excellence: Modernising Social Work Services in Scotland (March 1999). The registration of nursery nurses and the remainder of the 28,000 early years and childcare workforce (who are in the second group of staff to be registered) will start in 2006.

3.4 General Objectives

Compulsory Descriptors
Aims of Education, Teaching Objective

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)

Equal Opportunity


Child Development

The aims of pre-school education, as set out in the 1994 report: Education of Children under 5 in Scotland and subsequently in the Curriculum Framework for Children 3 to 5 are:

  • to provide a safe and stimulating environment in which children can feel happy and secure;
  • to encourage the emotional, social, physical, creative and intellectual development of children;
  • to promote the welfare of children;
  • to encourage positive attitudes to self and others and develop confidence and self-esteem
  • to create opportunities for play;
  • to encourage children to explore the world;
  • to provide opportunities to stimulate interest and imagination; and
  • to extend children's abilities to communicate ideas and feelings in a variety of ways.
3.5 Geographical Accessibility

Compulsory Descriptors
School Distribution

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)


School Transport


Rural School

Recent measures have meant that previous geographical accessibility problems with regard to pre-school education have been largely overcome. Funding has enabled local authorities, including those in the more remote areas of Scotland, to fulfil their obligation to secure free, part time pre-school education for 3 and 4 year olds whose parents wish it. (From 1 st April 2002 funding for pre-school education of £137 million was re-integrated into the local government settlement. This figure included a rural weighting of £6.4 million.) As part of Spending Review 2004, Childcare strategy funding to local authorities within Grant-Aided Expenditure ( GAE) will rise to £43m in 2005-06 to support local authorities' role in the implementation of the Scottish Childcare Strategy. This includes a rural weighting and it is anticipated that this funding will help local authorities in rural areas, working with their Childcare Partnerships to make further progress in expanding the availability of childcare.

Furthermore, local authorities can choose to facilitate transport provision so that access to pre-school education and childcare places is not compromised in rural areas. Under Section 37 of the 2000 Act they have the power to provide transport, free of charge, to and from places which provide pre-school education, although they do not have a duty to do so.

3.6 Admission Requirements and Choice of Institution/Centre

Compulsory Descriptors
Admission Requirements, Choice of School

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)


Pre-school Age

All children aged 3 and 4 years are entitled to pre-school education. Local authorities are required to secure pre-school provision for children from the start of the school term following their third birthday until the end of the school term before they are eligible to start primary school. There are cut off dates associated with enrolment in each term (Autumn term - born between 1 March and 31 August; Spring term - born between 1 September and 31 December; Summer term - born between 1 January and 28 February).

If parents of children with birthdays in January or February choose to defer their child's entry to primary school, local authorities are under a duty to provide an additional year of free pre-school education for these children. Children with September to December birthdays can have an extra year only at the discretion of their authorities.

Choice of pre-school establishment is open to parents but depends on the local availability of the different types of establishment (See also section 3.3).

3.7 Financial Support for Pupils' Families

Compulsory Descriptors
Grant, Family Allowance

The legislation (see section 3.3) requires local authorities to provide free part time pre-school education for all 3 and 4 year olds whose parents wish it.

Furthermore, the 2000 Act specifically empowers local authorities to secure pre-school education beyond the terms of their statutory duty for those who require it. An example of this is the provision of pre-school education with additional "wraparound" care for children aged 3-5 for whom such extended service is judged beneficial.

The Big Lottery Fund, through its childcare programmes, has supported a significant increase in the development and expansion of childcare provision, and BLF's current New Opportunities for Quality Childcare programme aims to improve the quality and sustainability of childcare for families across the country. Working Tax Credits are available to people in low or moderately paid employment, and the childcare element can help towards the cost of formal childcare.

3.8 Age Levels and Grouping of Children

Compulsory Descriptors
Class Composition, Grouping

All 3 and 4 year olds are entitled to pre-school education. The range of types of provision is indicated in the opening paragraphs of section 3 above.

The size of groups in pre-school education is controlled by the Care Standards of the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care (the Care Commission). In essence, group size is dependent on the number of adults available. For children aged 3-5, the required ratio for a half-day session is 1 adult to 10 children, with the proviso that there are always 2 adults with the group. If the children attend for a longer period (beyond 4 hours), the ratio changes to 1-8, to allow for supervision over lunch and breaks.

3.9 Organisation of Time

Compulsory Descriptors
Arrangement of School Time

Eligible children are entitled to 412 _ hours of funded pre-school education over the school year. This equates to 12 _ hours per week over the year (33 weeks).

3.9.1 Organisation of the Year

Compulsory Descriptors
School Year

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)

Holiday Regulation

Most local authority pre-school establishments open at the same time as schools in their area.

3.9.2 Weekly and Daily Timetable

Compulsory Descriptors
Out of School Provision, School Week, School Day, Time-table

Nursery schools and classes usually operate on the basis of two 2.5 hour sessions per day, Monday to Friday, starting at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm, usually with different children in each session. In some areas children attend only on certain days of the week. Playgroups normally have a 2-hour session either every day or on a number of days per week. Other day care establishments tend to have longer hours, opening earlier in the morning and not closing until the early evening to suit parents' hours of work.

3.10 Curriculum, Types of Activity, Number of Hours

Compulsory Descriptors
Reform Proposal

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)


Curriculum Development


Curriculum Subject

A Curriculum Framework for Children 3-5 was published in 1999 by SCCC (now LTS). It deals with key aspects of children's development and learning and offers guidance on effective learning, staff interaction with children, partnership with parents, appropriate provision for children with additional support needs, equal opportunities and effective transition to the primary school. Currently, in pre-school education centres, there are many opportunities for children to listen and talk explain their ideas and clarify their thinking, acquire new knowledge and learn to relate to others. Role play and activities involving art and music develop their expressive skills. Physical play on large equipment, energetic games and activities manipulating smaller tools and materials enable them to develop the skills of movement and body control. Their observation of natural objects and investigating their environment helps to build their understanding of the world. Mixing with other children with whom they have to learn to co-operate during play helps them to develop a sense of responsibility and establish new relationships.

During every half-day session it is expected that all children will take part in a balanced range of play activities.

3.11 Teaching Methods and Materials

Compulsory Descriptors
Teaching Method, Teaching Aid

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)


Information Technology



Most pre-school education centres are well-resourced, interesting and colourful places. Large items of equipment (chute, climbing apparatus, wooden bricks, sand and water trays, painting easels, a playhouse, etc) and a wide range of small items (paints, clays, props for imaginative play, table-top games, coloured blocks, books and musical instruments) are common features of the pre-school playroom. Equipment is usually located in specific areas of the space which is available so that the children can move from one area to another for a variety of learning experiences. Pre-school playgroups have similar resources but are unlikely to have the purpose-built accommodation.

The local environment is also an important resource for pre-school education, allowing excursions to be undertaken, for example to local shops, the park or the fire station.

The starting point for learning through play is staff planning effectively for the provision of a range of suitable learning contexts (areas and activities), with a clear set of objectives which meet the needs of all children. In the course of enabling the children to participate meaningfully in the various activities, staff observe the reactions of individual children, allow them to take initiatives or pursue particular interests. They intervene only when necessary to demonstrate their sharing of the children's enthusiasm or to help them extend or develop their skills.

3.12 Evaluation of Children

Compulsory Descriptors
Evaluation, Pupil

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)

Achievement Gain

School Psychologist

The progress which children make is continuously assessed, discussed with parents and used in planning the next steps in their learning and development. Increasingly, children's progress is also discussed and written reports are shared with the primary school to which they transfer at the end of the pre-school year. An exemplar transition record has been provided for education authorities and establishments to use or adapt to local circumstances. Many authorities have developed their own model of transition records.

3.13 Support Facilities

Compulsory Descriptors
Remedial Teaching

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)

Psychological Service

Health Service

The phrase "remedial teaching" is not used in pre-school, primary or secondary education in Scotland.

Some children are identified as being in need of additional support even before they reach the pre-school education stage. Evaluation of the needs of pre-school children takes place at two quite different levels. Within the community some children are identified by social work departments, by health visitors and district nurses in the health service and by educational psychologists as having additional support needs or as coming from families which require special support. Children in this category are given priority in the allocation of pre-school education places. They will be admitted early and, in some cases, if it is thought that they would benefit, they remain in the pre-school education centre beyond the age of 5.

The health services, the psychological service and the social work department are the main support agencies for pre-school education establishments, especially local authority pre-school education centres. They continue to support children whom they have referred to them. Where there is appropriate support and training, the pre-school education centres themselves give careful attention to pupils who need additional support. In the best practice they are the responsibility of one adult, who has the task of devising special programmes and overseeing their implementation. Detailed records of progress are usually kept in such cases.

3.14 Private Sector Provision

Compulsory Descriptors
Private Education, Financing

The role of private pre-school establishments, which often work in partnership with local authorities, is indicated in the description of the various types of establishment in the opening paragraph of section 3 above.

3.15 Organisational Variations and Alternative Structures

Compulsory Descriptors
Alternative School

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)


Mobile Educational Services

International School

Given the demographic and geographical issues that arise in rural areas, a number of innovative forms of provision have been developed in order to expand the availability of pre-school education. These include the use of mobile pre-school centres and peripatetic teaching services. These alternative structures, in addition to the rural weightings provided in funding, have enabled all local authorities to fulfil their duty of providing free part time pre-school education to all those 3 and 4 year olds whose parents wish it.

3.16 Statistics

Compulsory Descriptors
Statistical Data

Additional Descriptors (x to left denotes that additional descriptor is covered below)


Number of Pupils

Pupil-teacher Ratio


Educational Institution



Non-teaching Staff


Schooling Rate

In Publicly Funded and Independent ( i.e. Private) Schools

Numbers in pre-school and school education at January 2004 and September 2003 respectively.

Pre-school education

Number of local authority nursery classes attached to primary schools


Number of local authority nursery centres


Number of other providers (in partnership with local authorities)


Number of children attending


Percentage of 4-year-olds attending


Percentage of 3-year-olds attending