The Scottish Government has pledged to increase the provision of free early learning and childcare provision to 1140 hours per year by 2020, for children who are 3 or 4 years old, as well for 2 year olds whose parents/carers are on qualifying benefits and are eligible for the 600 hours free entitlement through the Children & Young People’s Act 2014.
A brief history of early learning and childcare policy in Scotland.
- 2000 Standards in Scottish Schools Act places a duty on local authorities to secure a pre-school education place for all 3 and 4 year olds.
- 2002 Pre-school education introduced: 412.5 hours (2.5 hours/ day over 33 weeks/ year).
- 2007 Pre-school education increased to 475 hours (2.5 hours /day over 38 weeks).
- 2014 Pre-school education increased to 600 hours (five 3 hour 10 minute sessions per week over 38 weeks).
Current free early learning and child care provision.
Currently, free provision of early learning and child care is offered to all 3 and 4 year olds as well as vulnerable 2 year olds. As of August 2014, the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act increased this free provision to 600 hours per year. This equates to around 16 hours per week during school term time. This free provision is delivered by a mixture of local authority nurseries, nursery classes attached to schools, partnerships offered by private or non-profit nurseries, and some child-minders. The 16 hours provision per week can be taken in sessions of between 2.5 hours per day and up to a maximum of 8 hours.
Local authorities are required, under the Children and Young People Act, to consult with parents every 2 or 3 years on the delivery of these free hours, ensuring that there is a reasonable degree of choice and flexibility.
Proposed increase in free early learning and child care provision
In the One Scotland Programme for Government 2014-2015, the foreword by the First Minister states that:
“In the years ahead we want to build upon that [current provision of free hours] to almost double the number of free hours to 30 hours a week of free childcare by the end of the next Parliament, and we will begin to plan for this expansion immediately”
This proposed increase in provision will not only cover all 3 and 4 year old children but also 2 year olds whose parents/carers are on qualifying benefits.
Aims and objectives of the current research
Education Analytical Services conducted an exploratory, information gathering, online survey on the up take of the proposed increase in free child care hours to 1140 hours per year, and how parents plan to use this increase. The purpose of the following report is to detail the findings of this survey.
The aims and objectives of this exploratory survey is to determine the following:
- How parents intend to use the increased hours of free early learning and child care?
- To what extent the intended take up of the increased hours of early learning and child care is determined by demographic factors (socioeconomic, rural or urban location, single parent or 2 parent family).
- To what extent the intended take up of the increased hours of early learning and child care is determined by current use.
- What are the barriers to using the free entitlement of early learning and child care?
In addition to this online survey, qualitative focus group research was commissioned, to provide detailed contextual information on the factors that influence child care choices for parents of 3 or 4 year olds. This qualitative research also examined the parents preferences for, and perceived impacts of increasing the hours of free entitlement. The findings of the focus group research are used throughout this report to corroborate with, and contextualise, the survey findings.
Email: Orlando Heijmer-Mason