Access to Childcare Fund: phase 2 - evaluation report

It aimed to assess the extent to which the Fund’s projects contributed to expected outcomes for parents and children, and to synthesise learning and produce recommendations to inform the design of a system of school age childcare for Scotland

1. Introduction and methods

About the Access to Childcare Fund

The Access to Childcare Fund (referred to as ACF or the Fund) was established by the Scottish Government in July 2020 to run and test new models of School Age Childcare (SACC) and ran until February 2023. The Fund was managed by Children in Scotland and an expert advisory group. SACC is care provided to primary school-aged children outside of normal school hours. It includes both regulated childcare and organised children’s activities (such as sports clubs) provided by individuals or groups other than schools, and not registered by the Care Inspectorate. The £3 million Fund formed part of the Scottish Government’s ambition to build a system of SACC by the end of this Parliament.[1]

This ambition sits within the Scottish Government’s wider commitment to tackling child poverty. SACC can contribute to this aim by enabling parents/carers (from hereon in referred to as ‘parents’ for brevity) to secure employment or take on further work and/or training, among other benefits for parents and children[2]. The aim of the Fund was to make SACC more accessible, affordable and flexible for parents from low-income families or those at risk of experiencing child poverty (as identified in the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan[3]. The target groups were: lone parent families; families with a disabled adult or child; larger families (three or more children); minority ethnic families; families with a child under one year old; and families where the mother is under 25 years of age.

The first phase of the Fund enabled 15 organisations to run SACC projects. During the second phase of the Fund (April 2022 to February 2023), the focus of this evaluation, eight of the 15 organisations had their funding continued. Two further projects (The Scottish Childminding Association and Ayr United Football Academy) received funding as part of the second phase and were managed by the Scottish Government. The ten organisations funded in the second phase were: Ayr United Football Academy (AUFA); Clyde Gateway; Hame Fae Hame; Indigo; The Scottish Childminding Association (SCMA); Support, Help and Integration in Perthshire (SHIP); St Mirin’s Out of School Care (OSC); Stepping Stones for Families; SupERkids; and The Wee Childcare Company.

Evaluation aims and questions

The Scottish Government commissioned Ipsos to evaluate the second phase of the Fund. There were two main aims of the evaluation:

  • To assess the extent to which the projects contributed to the expected outcomes for the Fund:
    • improving parents’ employment, health and wellbeing
    • reducing family costs and increasing family income, and
    • improving children’s health, wellbeing and relationships
  • To synthesise learning from the projects and produce recommendations to inform the design of a system of school age childcare for Scotland.

The evaluation covered both process and outcomes, including consideration of how processes of setting up and implementing SACC models supported the outcomes achieved. (See Appendix One for more detailed objectives.)

More specifically, the evaluation aimed to answer the following research questions:

1. How have the Access to Child Fund projects been delivered in practice?

2. What has the impact of the projects been for parents, children, and families as a whole (especially those in the target groups)?

3. What are the key lessons from delivery of the projects for a future system of school age childcare across Scotland?

This evaluation follows on from the evaluation of the first phase of the Fund which was carried out by Children in Scotland.[4] The evaluation of Phase 1 focused on initial processes and early indications of outcomes and found that, although the projects were constrained in their operation by the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges, they delivered a number of benefits. These included positive impacts on health and wellbeing for families, parental employment opportunities, family finances and partnership working. This evaluation aims to build on these findings by exploring how positive outcomes like these have been achieved, and which processes and approaches work well (or less well) for delivering accessible SACC.


The evaluation was qualitative in nature. This was considered to be the most appropriate design to meet the objectives of the research as it provides an in-depth understanding of experiences of delivering and accessing provision through the Fund. The aim in qualitative research is to identify as much diversity of experience rather than attempting to achieve a sample that is statistically representative of the wider population. Estimates of prevalence based on qualitative data are therefore inappropriate and this report avoids quantifying language, such as ‘most’ or ‘a few’ when discussing findings from qualitative interviews.

The evaluation included four main elements:

  • one to one or paired in-depth interviews with each project lead(s)
  • one to one or paired in-depth interviews with stakeholders
  • one to one or paired in-depth interviews with parents and children and young people (from hereon in referred to as ‘children’ for brevity) who attended each project
  • review of project monitoring reports

Sampling and recruitment

Project leads

The research team interviewed project lead(s) from each organisation (ten interviews including 14 participants). Introductions between the research team and project leads were facilitated by the Scottish Government. Interviews were carried out in January and February 2023.


The research team then interviewed 11 stakeholders involved in planning, delivery, or referral (individual interviews for nine projects and a paired interview for one project). Stakeholders were suggested by project leads and contacted by Ipsos to invite them to take part and arrange an interview. The research team aimed to interview participants representing a range of organisations and roles. These included: headteachers; social worker; health visitor; local authority partners; childminder. This phase of the research also included an interview with a staff member from Children in Scotland who was involved in supporting the ACF delivery. Interviews were carried out between March and May 2023.


Parents[5] and children who attended each project were recruited with the help of project leads. Project leads were briefed by Ipsos via email and provided with written information (Appendix One) to share with parents, inviting them to take part and to contact the research team directly. The research team then checked eligibility and arranged a suitable time for an interview. Project leads were asked to identify a number of families with the aim of interviews being carried out with three families from each project. Interviews took place between March and May 2023.

Depending on the age, ability and preferences of children who had attended the project and the preferences of their parent, the research team either spoke to children on their own (one group discussion with three children); the parent on their own (13 interviews); or conducted a joint interview with both parent and children (17 interviews). In total Ipsos carried out 30 family interviews, covering the experiences of 40 children who had attended a project[6]. A group discussion with 15 children was carried out by Indigo staff members[7]. This group involved 12 girls and three boys, aged between six and 11 years old (included in Table 1.3, although ethnicity was unknown for these children).

Tables 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 show the profile of these participating families.

Table 1.1 Profile of families
Number of interviews
Total 30
Target group[8]
Lone parent families 19
Families with a disabled adult or child 15
Larger families (three or more children) 3
Minority ethnic families 3
Families with a child under one year old 0
Families where the mother was under 25 years of age when first child born[9] 3
Table 1.2 Profile of parents
Number of interviews
Total 30
Man 2
Woman 28
Under 25 0
26 - 35 8
36 - 45 15
46+ 7
Ethnic minority 2
Not ethnic minority 28
Table 1.3 Profile of children
Total 55
Boy 24
Girl 31
5 - 9 39
10 - 18 16
Ethnic minority 6
Not ethnic minority 32

Review of monitoring reports

Projects were asked to submit quarterly monitoring reports to the Scottish Government as part of their funding. The reports covered topics such as: activities undertaken to achieve project aims, number of families supported, and impact of SACC provision on families. The research team received two sets of documentation from the Scottish Government between November and January 2023. These documents were reviewed prior to fieldwork to inform interviews with project leads. The research team then received final reports from each project from the Scottish Government in April 2023. These reports were then analysed as discussed in the following section.

Data collection and analysis

Discussion guides were developed for each audience to ensure all relevant issues were covered in interviews (see Appendix Two). In-depth interviews/paired in-depth interviews were conducted either by telephone or video call (depending on participants’ preferences) between January and May 2023. Families were given £35 (as an online voucher or bank transfer) to thank them for their time. All interviews were facilitated by members of the research team and were recorded for subsequent analysis. The exception to this was the group discussion with children attending Indigo, which was facilitated by Indigo staff on site, with an Ipsos researcher observing virtually.

Data from interviews were summarised into thematic matrices (using Excel, with each column representing a theme and each row an individual interview so that the data could be sorted in different ways for further analysis). These were developed by the research team and drew on the research questions. These matrices were then reviewed to identify the full range of views and experiences under each theme.

This research was carried out in accordance with the requirements of the international quality standard for Market Research, ISO 20252.

Scope and limitations

It should be noted that several of the ACF-funded projects existed before the funding was available. Where possible, the evaluation focused on funded elements (which were different for each project) but, as it was not always possible to fully differentiate these from the overall operation of the project, the report generally refers to projects as a whole, especially when discussing families’ experiences.

It was also not possible to differentiate between regulated provision and organised children’s activities. This is due to there being only two projects offering organised activities and these two projects being both very different in nature and having other features differentiating them from the regulated projects. Furthermore, parents using the unregulated projects made no mention of this feature.

The evaluation focused on short term outcomes only and it was not possible to measure any medium or long term outcomes.

It was not possible to include families who would be eligible for ACF projects but did not take the offer up, although the views of project leads and stakeholders on barriers to engagement were covered. While this does not negatively affect the quality of the data, it should be kept in mind that there may be further barriers to participation that the evaluation could not identify.

Report structure and conventions

The remainder of this report is structured as follows:

Chapter 2: Overview of Access to Childcare Fund projects. This chapter outlines the key barriers to accessing childcare identified by projects, as well as providing a summary of each phase 2 funded project.

Chapter 3: Monitoring, reflection and change over time details the methods used across projects for monitoring and self-evaluation, including what worked well and any challenges faced.

Chapter 4: Participation and reach discusses the attendance among the target group and how services were communicated, including the minimisation of stigma.

Chapter 5: Accessibility considers how, and to what extent, the projects achieved the intended aim of making their services accessible for families.

Chapter 6: Flexibility considers how, and to what extent, the projects achieved the intended aim of making their services flexible for families.

Chapter 7: Affordability considers how, and to what extent, the projects achieved the intended aim of making their services affordable for families.

Chapter 8: Outcomes for parents assesses to what extent intended outcomes for parents were met, including what worked well or less well and why.

Chapter 9: Outcomes for children assesses to what extent intended outcomes for the children attending funded provision were met, including what worked well or less well and why.

Chapter 10: Key learning and conclusions.



Back to top