Accessing school age childcare in rural and island areas: research

This report looks at the existing models of childcare in rural and island areas, the challenges parents face accessing childcare, and challenges providers face delivering childcare.

Executive Summary

What were we trying to find out?

The Scottish Government commissioned this research to explore the challenges of accessing and providing consistent and affordable school age childcare (for ages 4 to 14) in rural and island areas of Scotland. It builds on recent Scottish Government research and policy focused on childcare, employment, and economic development.

Our research explored the existing models of childcare in rural and island areas, the challenges parents face accessing childcare, and challenges providers face delivering childcare. This research also suggests opportunities to address these challenges.

What did we do?

The research comprised three main elements: desk research, surveys, and in-depth interviews. Surveys and interviews were conducted with parents and carers of school age children, and providers of school age childcare from six rural and island areas of Scotland - Argyll and Bute, Aberdeenshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Highland, Shetland Islands, and Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles).

What did we learn from parents?

  • Many parents felt there were gaps in available school age childcare offered in rural and island areas. Gaps in wraparound care, school holiday care, and specialist services for children with additional support needs can all negatively impact parents' existing and potential employment.
  • Many parents highlighted that opening times and booking requirements of some services did not align with their working hours and conditions. This creates challenges accessing childcare and maintaining employment.
  • Cost of childcare was a barrier to many parents, and some are financially worse off working due to the cost of childcare. This has caused some parents to give up work.
  • Limited transport options in rural and island areas were another barrier for many parents accessing childcare. This particularly affected those who work, those who have children with additional support needs, those who don't drive, and those who lack informal support networks.
  • Informal childcare, particularly from family, was key to many parents' childcare arrangements. Some also supplemented this with a patchwork of other informal care (such as clubs). These arrangements are often precarious, and cause many parents stress.

What did we learn from providers?

  • Many rural and island providers experience inconsistent levels of demand. This makes it hard to run financially viable services, and is leading some providers to adapt or limit their services to cope.
  • Many providers rely on additional sources of funding to keep services open, as fees alone do not cover their running costs. Accessing this funding is challenging, and what is available can be limited or unsuitable for their needs. Childminders face additional challenges as they are usually unable to access funding.
  • Support and community links are important to many providers, but several feel like this support is disappearing, especially from their local authority. This causes some providers to feel undervalued as important community services.
  • A lot of providers experience high staff turnover rates, and have operational and financial challenges recruiting and training new staff.
  • Several providers have operational and financial challenges around their facilities. Some struggle with the spaces available to them, while others are experiencing increases in rent and running costs.
  • Limited public transport in rural and island areas, combined with the high cost of private transport, often poor weather, and the large distances needed to provide for dispersed communities, are all barriers to providers offering transport.
  • Many providers feel unprepared and unsupported when providing care for children with additional support needs. Several also mentioned this has become more challenging due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

What do we recommend?

  • Assist providers to offer more flexible models of provision, including flexible hours, booking and payment models, as well as exploring pop-up or travelling provision. Support could come in the form of advice and guidance, as well as the following two recommendations of finance and collaboration.
  • Provide sustainable financial support for providers through subsidies from the local authority or subsidised arrangements with local businesses, and explore the expansion of funded places to include school age children and children under 3 years old.
  • • Encourage community collaboration through blended offer models, partnerships with other community services (such as employability services), and by increasing opportunities to share community learnings.



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