Increasing free early learning and childcare

Transformational offer to benefit families across the country.

Up to 130,000 children will be able to benefit from 1,140 hours of free early learning and childcare (ELC) each year from this month.

Available to all three and four-year-olds, as well as two-years-olds who need it most, the flagship commitment will save families childcare costs of around £4,900 per child each year.

Many children in funded ELC already access 1,140 hours. Legislation came into effect on 1 August to make the expanded offer available across Scotland.

The expansion from 600 to 1,140 hours of funded ELC was made possible by a close working partnership between the Scottish Government, local authorities and ELC providers across Scotland, underpinned by a landmark multi-year funding agreement.

Delivery of the 1,140 hours offer, which will bring Scottish Government funding for ELC in 2021-22 to over £1 billion, marks another commitment for the first 100 days of this Government.

The Scottish Government has also provided local authorities with £476 million of capital over the last four years, which has enabled them to refurbish, re-purpose and extend hundreds of existing nursery settings, as well as providing over 150 new facilities across Scotland.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement during a visit to Fallin Nursery, Stirling, where she met staff and children.

The First Minister said:

“All children deserve the best start in life. Providing access to free, high-quality early learning and childcare enriches children’s early years and provides them with skills and confidence for starting school and beyond. It also supports parents’ ability to work, train or study.

“I am delighted to announce that every local authority in Scotland has assured us they are ready to deliver the 1,140 hours offer by the start of the new term – a truly transformational offer that will benefit children and families all over the country. Getting to this point, especially given the challenges of the pandemic, has taken a mammoth effort and I’d like to thank local authorities and private and voluntary sector providers for helping to make it happen.”

COSLA Children and Young People’s Spokesperson Councillor Stephen McCabe said

“This announcement is good news for families across Scotland with children able to benefit from almost double the amount of funded childcare later this month. These additional hours will be transformative for families, ensuring children have more time to play and learn while parents and carers will have more opportunities to work, study or volunteer.

“The delivery of the 1,140 hours expansion of early learning and childcare is the result of hard work by councils and our partners, who have made huge efforts to deliver against the extremely challenging and ever-changing nature of the pandemic.” 

Early Years Scotland Chief Executive Jane Brumpton said:

“Children and families will now have access to more funded hours of early learning and childcare than ever before. We know that investing in the earliest years of a child’s life is crucial to a child’s positive development, and has long-lasting impacts on outcomes in health, education, and positive life chances. Early Years Scotland very much welcomes this duty coming into force, and will work closely with Scottish Government and our members to support the rollout of this important policy.”


Funded early learning and childcare (ELC) is available to all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds.

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (Modification) Order 2021 places a statutory duty on education authorities to make 1,140 hours of funded ELC available to eligible children. The Order came into effect on 1 August 2021.

The expansion of funded ELC, originally intended for August 2020, was paused in April 2020 to give local authorities the flexibility to focus on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to recognise the impact of lockdown on construction and recruitment work supporting the expansion.

Data returned by local authorities indicated that as of the end of April 2021:

  • 118,068 children were accessing funded ELC
  • Of these, 102,410 children (87%) were accessing more than the statutory entitlement of 600 hours, and 84,606 children (72%) were already accessing 1,140 hours funded ELC
  • The numbers of children accessing an expanded offer had increased since February 2021, with an additional 10,510 children reported to be accessing 1,140 hours funded ELC

The expanded ELC investment programme had delivered an additional 17,000 registered spaces across Scotland by August 2021. When completed, this investment programme will deliver an additional 22,000 registered spaces across Scotland, including some 3,000 additional outdoor registered spaces.

In 2016-17, when the expansion started, there were 9,576 full time equivalent (FTE) local authority ELC staff in post. By April 2021, this had increased by 7,178 and in August 2021, there are project to be approximately 17,756, an increase of 8,180 FTE  or an 85% increase from the pre-expansion local authority workforce.


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