Best Start - strategic early learning and school age childcare plan 2022 to 2026

The plan sets out how we will embed the benefits of our transformational investment in 1140 hours of high quality funded early learning and childcare. It also explains our approach to expanding our childcare offer over the next four years.


High quality childcare that is flexible, accessible and affordable plays a critical role in our society. It is vital to giving children the best possible start in life, to supporting families to thrive, and to ensuring that parents and carers can work, train or study.

We want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up in. Since 2014 we have therefore undertaken one of the most significant reforms to public services in a generation by almost doubling the entitlement to high quality, funded Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) from 600 to 1140 hours per year, for all eligible children.[1] This means families can access up to 30 hours of funded ELC each week in term time, or around 22 hours a week spread across the calendar year. Scotland is the only part of the UK to offer the equivalent of 1140 hours of funded ELC to all eligible children regardless of their parents' or carers' working status, putting children first.

The expansion of funded ELC has been a significant achievement, particularly in the face of a global pandemic. It could not have happened without the hard work and dedication of staff and our partners in the public, private, third and childminding sectors. The Scottish Government is very grateful to these partners for the role they have played in delivering this transformational change and for the support staff have provided to Scotland's children and families during an incredibly difficult time. Brexit and now the costs crisis are also placing significant pressures on providers, and we are committed to continuing to invest in the profession and support the sector in Scotland through this challenging time.[2]

Reflecting the importance of high quality childcare for children, parents, carers and families, as well as to Scotland's society and economy, we are committed to going further. In this plan, we set out how we will work to embed the benefits of the 1140 hours programme. This document also explains how we will start to build a system of school age childcare and an early learning and childcare offer for one and two year olds, starting with those who need it most[3].

Delivering our vision of a high quality, affordable and accessible system of childcare is crucial to our national mission to tackle child poverty, to promote family wellbeing, drive greater gender equality and to #Keep The Promise to our care experienced children. This will also make a real difference to households, businesses and service providers across the country who are facing a costs crisis.

We recognise that an effective childcare system will look different in different communities across Scotland and we are committed to supporting the development of innovative solutions that put children and families at the heart of our services.

We also recognise that the childcare landscape can be complex to navigate for families and we are committed to working with partners to simplify and stream-line this further, where it is within our powers to do so. The Scottish Government has an important role to play in setting the strategic direction and outlining the outcomes[4] we expect to see from our investment in early learning and school age childcare. It is our role to shape policy for the offers that we fund, put in place the right legislative and regulatory approaches, and develop clear policy and guidance to support delivery. Under existing legislation and guidance, local authorities have a number of important responsibilities relating to childcare and we will continue to work closely with local government to support delivery of our shared objectives.

We do not have powers over important components of the childcare system, including the Tax Free Childcare Scheme or the childcare component of Universal Credit. However, we will continue to engage with and seek to influence the UK Government to deliver better outcomes for children and families through childcare policy, as we have on data sharing to support implementation of our two year old offer.

This plan sets out our vision for early learning and school age childcare over the rest of this Parliament, the three outcomes we expect all our policies to deliver, our strategic priorities, and the principles that will guide our approach to working with our partners in the sector, and what families can expect from services.

It is not intended to be a list of everything that we will do over the next four years or a detailed delivery plan for each of our policies. Alongside this document we are publishing a strategy setting out how we will evaluate the impact of the expanded entitlement to 1140 hours of high quality funded ELC. We will also publish a delivery framework for school age childcare in Scotland and a strategic framework for Scotland's childcare profession later in 2022.



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