Publication - Research and analysis

Scottish Study of Early Learning and Childcare - ELC leavers: phase 2 report

Published: 27 Aug 2020

Findings from the second phase of the Scottish Study of Early Learning and Childcare (SSELC), a research project established to evaluate the expansion of early learning and childcare (ELC) in Scotland.

108 page PDF

1.1 MB

108 page PDF

1.1 MB

Contents
Scottish Study of Early Learning and Childcare - ELC leavers: phase 2 report
Introduction

108 page PDF

1.1 MB

Introduction

Background

This report outlines findings from the surveys and observations conducted as part of the second phase of the Scottish Study of Early Learning and Childcare (SSELC), the research project established to evaluate the expansion of early learning and childcare (ELC) in Scotland.

The ELC Expansion Programme

The current expansion programme follows a commitment from Scottish Government to almost double the hours of funded ELC for all three- and four-year-olds, and eligible two-year-olds, to 1140 per year.[3] This increase follows a number of smaller expansions in the past decade. Parents and carers in Scotland have had the opportunity to use funded ELC since 2002: initially 412.5 hours per year which was then increased to 475 hours in 2007. In 2014 the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 increased funded ELC to 600 hours per year for all three- and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds who are looked after, the subject of a kinship care order or a guardianship order, or whose parents are in receipt of one or more qualifying benefits[4].

The expansion to 1140 hours of government-funded ELC provision is intended to support children across Scotland, particularly the most disadvantaged. This change seeks to achieve three principal outcomes:

1. Children's development improves and the attainment gap narrows;
2. Parents' opportunities to take up work, training or study increase; and
3. Family wellbeing improves through enhanced nurture and support.

Local authorities are responsible for implementation and delivery of funded ELC to their local communities. They have flexibility to determine the most appropriate way to phase in the expanded entitlement in their local area as they build capacity.

The Scottish Study of Early Learning and Childcare

The SSELC has been designed to evaluate whether the ELC expansion programme has achieved the above objectives by measuring outcomes for children and parents receiving the existing entitlement and comparing them to those who receive the increased entitlement. The overarching evaluation questions are based on the Theory of Change set out in the Evaluability Assessment published by NHS Health Scotland in 2017[5]. This Theory of Change is based on the principles of Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC). Existing sources of information and reporting processes – for example National Statistics publications such as the ELC Census and Scottish Household Survey, and Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland inspection data and thematic inspection focus areas – will be used alongside the SSELC to consider the contribution and effectiveness of the ELC programme.

Specifically, the SSELC has the following overarching aims:

  • To assess the extent to which the expansion from 600 hours to 1140 hours has improved outcomes for children, particularly those at risk of disadvantage, between the ages of two and five.
  • To assess the extent to which the expansion from 600 hours to 1140 hours has closed the gap in child development outcomes between children who are most and least advantaged between the ages of two and five.
  • To assess the extent to which the expansion from 600 hours to 1140 hours has improved outcomes for parents, particularly parents of children at risk of disadvantage.
  • To assess the extent to which the expansion from 600 hours to 1140 hours has increased family wellbeing, particularly for families in disadvantaged circumstances[6].

To evaluate the impact of the expansion programme, the study has been designed to collect data across the six phases outlined below, with full findings being published after the conclusion of Phase 6. Phases 1, 2 and 3 have collected baseline data on the outcomes of children accessing 600 hours of funded ELC and their parents and were completed before the Covid-19 pandemic:

  • Phase 1 – November 2018
    • Data collected on eligible two-year-olds as they begin ELC
  • Phase 2 – May/June 2019
    • Data collected on four- and five-year-olds as they leave ELC to begin Primary 1
  • Phase 3 – November 2019
    • Follow-up with the same group of eligible two-year-olds after one year in ELC
    • Data collected on three-year-olds as they begin ELC

Phases 4, 5 and 6 will collect data on the outcomes of children accessing 1140 hours of funded ELC and their parents. These phases will be rescheduled in line with the new timetable for the expansion to 1140 hours

  • Phase 4 – Date to be confirmed
    • Data collected on eligible two-year-olds as they begin ELC
  • Phase 5 – Date to be confirmed
    • Data collected on four- and five-year-olds as they leave ELC to begin Primary 1
  • Phase 6 – Date to be confirmed
    • Follow-up with the same group of eligible two-year-olds after one year in ELC
    • Data collected on three-year-olds as they begin ELC

Findings from Phase 1 were published in August 2019[7]. The focus of the second phase being reported here (Phase 2) was on children in their final term of ELC provision before starting Primary 1 (P1). Data were gathered on four- and five-year-old children who had received 600 hours of funded ELC provision in their last year at the setting.

The aims of Phase 2 were:

  • To gather robust baseline data on child outcomes for a nationally representative sample of four- and five-year-olds in both deprived and non-deprived areas who were receiving 600 hours of funded ELC provision.
  • To gather robust baseline data on parent outcomes linked to the above sample of four- and five-year-olds.
  • To gather data and evidence on the characteristics of a sample of ELC settings linked to the above sample of four- and five-year-olds.

The results from Phase 2 will contribute to a baseline for assessing the impact of expanded ELC provision that will be covered in later phases of the evaluation. In particular, the study design will enable an assessment of whether the gap in child development outcomes has decreased following the expansion in hours. Consequently, this report's focus is mainly descriptive, providing a general summary of findings from the data collected and identifying some basic relationships between variables. The report is not intended to provide a detailed consideration of the relationship between use of funded ELC and child or parent outcomes.

The data used in this report cover a wide range of parental and child outcomes. The specific outcomes of interest were:

  • Child
    • Social, emotional and behavioural development
    • Cognitive and language development
    • Physical and mental health and wellbeing
    • Home learning activities
  • Parent and family
    • Uptake of employment, training or study
    • Physical and mental health, and health behaviours
    • Parenting self-efficacy and home environment
    • Engagement in their child's learning and development

With regards to information about the child, developmental outcomes are presented using data from ELC keyworker observations which utilised the Ages and Stages (ASQ)[8] and Strengths and Difficulties (SDQ)Error! Bookmark not defined. Questionnaires. These are age-relevant versions of questionnaires which are used throughout Scotland by Health Visitors to capture information on parental concerns about their young children in relation to development. Parent-report information was also collected on the presence of developmental risk factors – such as sleep patterns and breastfeeding – and on the child's general health and long-term illnesses.

The report also provides baseline data on the characteristics of the ELC provision experienced by the child, using observational data on the quality of the ELC setting. Finally, it explores how parents use their ELC provision, presenting information about funding and perceived accessibility as well as details on their use of other forms of childcare.

By providing the necessary baseline figures for the evaluation of the ELC expansion programme in Scotland, this report is an integral component of the overall research project. Although the results presented here are primarily descriptive, with detailed analysis beyond the scope of the report, these baseline figures will be vital for determining later whether this significant policy programme has delivered the outcomes as intended.

Methods

Sampling

The sample consisted of children aged between 4 years 3 months and 5 years 6 months[9] who would be starting P1 in August 2019 and who were receiving up to 600 hours of government-funded or local-authority-funded ELC provision, and the parents of those children. Participants were recruited via ELC settings in 30 local authority areas.

Within those local authorities still offering 600 hours of funded ELC and able to participate, a two-stage, 'cluster' sampling approach was then taken in order to identify the sample: the first stage involved the selection of settings and the second stage involved the selection of children within settings. Up to 10 children were selected within each sampled setting. To ensure data was collected from a large enough sample of children living in deprived areas, settings in the 20% most deprived areas (based on SIMD score) were deliberately oversampled. More details of the sampling process are provided in Appendix B.

Data collection

Data were gathered on children in the cohort via three methods: a survey of parents / carers; a survey of the children's ELC keyworkers (primarily to measure child development) and observations of ELC settings attended by sampled children carried out by Care Inspectorate inspectors[10].

Parents were recruited by ELC staff and provided with information about the study before being asked to complete a paper self-administered questionnaire that collected a wide range of information about themselves, their child and their household. Parents were also asked for their permission for the child's keyworker to complete a questionnaire about the child's development. This largely consisted of the Ages and Stages (ASQ)[11] and Strengths and Difficulties (SDQ)[11] questionnaires but also collected information about the number of hours the child attended the ELC setting in the previous week.

Fieldwork was conducted in May and June 2019. Response rates to the surveys are not easy to estimate because information about the eligibility of every setting was not available. Questionnaires were sent to 345 ELC settings and at least one questionnaire was returned from 223 of these. Many of the other 122 reported that they were not eligible for inclusion in the sample. A total of 1,382 questionnaires were received from parents / carers and 1,846 from keyworkers. This gave a total of 1,318 paired questionnaires, 666 from settings in deprived areas and 652 from settings in non-deprived areas, exceeding the target of 600 in each. Nearly all participating settings had 10 or more eligible children, so response rate among keyworkers in these settings was around 83%, while for parents / carers it was around 62%.

Nearly all the parent / carer questionnaires (93%) were completed by the child's mother or a female carer within the household, so where the terms "parent" or "parent / carer" are used throughout this report, they refer mostly to the mother or main female carer within the household.

Observations were conducted of 150 participating ELC settings using the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS-3). This is a widely recognised and highly regarded instrument designed for use in settings where most children are aged between three and five. It provides an observational measure of the quality of ELC settings for pre-school children across six domains: space and furnishings, personal care routines, language and literacy, learning activities, interaction and programme structure, as well as other observations around numbers of children and staff and access to outdoor space.

Observations were conducted by Care Inspectorate staff seconded to the study and involved a single visit lasting between 2 and 3 hours. It was emphasised to ELC setting managers and staff before and during these observations that they were not formal inspections of the kind routinely undertaken by the Care Inspectorate.

Data analysis

One of the primary purposes of the ELC expansion programme in Scotland is to improve child developmental outcomes and to provide more parents with the opportunity to take up work, study or training if they wish to. These are desired outcomes for all parents and children, but especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Where there are identifiable and interesting relationships between variables such as area deprivation and child or parental outcomes these are outlined as far as possible in the report. Any discussion of area deprivation within the report findings is based on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) ranking of the child's home address. Note that this is not necessarily the same as the SIMD ranking of the ELC setting, which was used in drawing the sample and producing survey weights. Additional analysis of subgroups is included in the separate annex tables. More details of the data analysis conducted and the weighting of survey data are included in Appendix B.

Reporting conventions and statistical significance

Percentages are reported to the nearest whole number. However, as this is a sample survey, these figures are an estimate of the true figures, and so should not be interpreted as being totally precise. A test for statistical significance allows us to tell whether two percentages we wish to compare are actually different in the population, given the amount of uncertainty we are prepared to accept in our sample. All comparisons reported in the text have been tested for statistical significance, although levels of statistical significance are not reported. Where a difference is noted in the text, this difference is statistically significant at the 5% level – that is, we can be at least 95% confident that the difference really exists and is in the direction, if not exactly the magnitude, stated. Differences which are not statistically significant are generally not reported in the text unless it is considered noteworthy that no difference can be identified in the data between the groups of concern.

In the tables a dash (-) signifies no cases fall into the particular category, whereas a zero (0) signifies at least one case falls into that category, but less than 0.5% of all cases.


Contact

Email: socialresearch@scotland.gov.scot