Making free childcare more flexible

Locations for first round of trials announced.

Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald, has announced Aberdeen, Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders will be the first three locations for Early Learning and Childcare expansion trials.

The trials, which form part of the Scottish Government’s drive to increase the flexibility, quality and quantity of provision, will commence in January 2017 and will test out a variety of models including:

  • Extended days and cover over the holiday period
  • ‘Stay and Play’ for two year olds where parents are reluctant to leave their children
  • Improved access to outdoor learning

Mr McDonald made the announcement during a visit to an outdoor learning session with Craigentinny Nursery today, he said:

“High quality early learning and childcare plays a vital role in narrowing the attainment gap that is why this Government has gone further than any other in our commitment to expanding free entitlement.

“But, the Scottish Government is not simply determined to increase the amount of early learning and childcare. We are also determined to deliver the flexibility that families need to make best use of high quality childcare.

“Right now, councils work hard to be flexible but we must all acknowledge that too often the system does not offer places where and when families need them. We are going to change that.

“We have already launched a major consultation looking at different options, including blending together ideas like funding following the child and Children in Scotland’s Childcare Commission proposal that parents can opt to receive funding in a childcare account.

“Today, we are launching a series of trials to test various models of delivery for the expansion to 1,140 hours.

“By trialling different delivery models we will be better able to understand what parents and children need and want. The three successful local authorities announced today put forward a diverse range of proposals and I look forward to seeing how these work in practice.”

“As highlighted in research from Heriot-Watt University published yesterday, quality childcare is a key contributor to reducing poverty and tackling inequality. Today marks the latest milestone in Scotland’s journey towards a high-quality, flexible childcare system that helps children, parents and families the length and breadth of the country.”

Councillor Cammy Day, Education Children and Families Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said:

“It’s important for children to experience a diverse education from an early age and the Forest Kindergarten trial project is a really innovative way of enriching their learning as research shows that education outdoors has a really beneficial impact on young people.

“Apart from the positive educational benefits the project will also give pupils from areas of social deprivation opportunities and experiences which may otherwise be limited to them.”

Aberdeen City Council’s Convener of Education and Children’s Services Committee Councillor Angela Taylor said:

“We are pleased that the Scottish Government has agreed to support the Council’s partnership with Early Years Scotland to deliver the ‘Me 2-Stay and Play Service’.

“This unique programme highlights our ambition to enhance parental engagement, which will offer parents greater opportunities with their children and ultimately achieve positive outcomes for children and their families.”

Scottish Borders Council’s Service Director Children and Young People, Donna Manson, said:

“We are delighted that Philiphaugh has been selected to take part in a trial of extended early learning and childcare hours.   “Not only will parents be able to experience the benefits of a full day’s provision, the trial will also provide us with an opportunity to assess how we can best deliver high quality learning experiences for children who are attending nursery for a longer period.

“This information will be invaluable in terms of our plans to enhance early learning and childcare provision across the Borders generally, where our aim is to develop a model that not only delivers the curriculum for our youngest learners, but is also flexible enough to meet the needs of parents and carers.”


The trials will commence in January 2017 and will be supported by over £138,000 Scottish Government funding.

The remaining trials programme will be announced in December.

Research produced by Heriot-Watt University for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (14 November) identified that “reinforcing and extending the improved provision for good quality, flexible, subsidised childcare across the working year” is one of the “most significant measures” at tackling poverty in the UK, and on some measures “would be the biggest single contributor to the reduction in poverty.”

Overview of Trials:


  • Will look to extend two nursery settings within Edinburgh through the establishment of outdoor nursery provision through a nature kindergarten.
  • Will be built on a blended approach where children access a half day within the nursery setting and are then transported to a woodland site to access the additional hours.
  • The trials will be targeted at nurseries in areas of high deprivation, with Craigentinny and Ferryhill nurseries identified as potential settings.
  • Around 10-12 children in each setting will receive the additional hours.
  • The Scottish Government will provide over £32,000 of investment towards the trial. 


  • Aberdeen City Council have put forward a proposal jointly with Early Years Scotland to trial a new and innovative approach to providing early learning and childcare for eligible two year olds.
  • The trial will be based on the existing model of Stay and Play delivered by Early Years Scotland. Focusing on parental engagement to achieve positive outcomes for children, especially for children and families experiencing disadvantage.
  • Unlike existing services for vulnerable two year olds where a general period of settling in is planned, the model offers parents the opportunity to stay and play.
  • The service will be offered 4 days per week, 50 weeks of the year.
  • The trial target group is 20 two year olds where parents have expressed a reluctance to leave their children. It will be located at Manor Park primary school located in a deprived area which currently has little two year old provision.
  • The Scottish Government will provide over £39,000 of investment towards the trial. 

Scottish Borders

  • The trial will offer additional hours to children accessing early learning and childcare in the Philiphaugh Community School campus in Selkirk.
  • It builds on existing provision where some wraparound exists but parents are required to pay. The trial will offer an increase in the number of hours of childcare provided Monday to Friday during term and additional provision will be offered during holiday periods to meet parent demand.
  • The trial will also explore how early learning and childcare can be delivered holistically and integrated with other services, including the out of school club and the Early Years Centre.
  • The Scottish Government will provide over £66,000 of investment towards the trial.


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