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.

Priority 2: Progressing the expansion of our childcare offer, including building a future system of school age childcare and a new early learning and childcare offer for one and two year olds

Since the 2021 Programme for Government[17] we have committed to:

  • expanding free early learning and childcare to one and two year olds, starting in this Parliament with children who will benefit most; and
  • building a system of school age childcare by the end of this Parliament, providing care before and after school, all year round, supporting parents and carers – particularly on low incomes – to have secure and stable employment. Those on the lowest incomes will pay nothing.

During the previous Parliament we worked to engage children and families, build the evidence, and create a clear vision for a future childcare offer for school age children. Work on expanding funded early learning and childcare to one and two year olds is at an earlier stage of development.

Over the next four years we will work with our partners to begin to realise these commitments in a way which meets the needs of children, parents, carers, and families. Although we may take a different approach to delivery we will consider carefully how new services align with and build on existing models of provision, and take account of the lessons we have learned from the successful implementation of the 1140 expansion to date.

As we set out in the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, we will also be undertaking an eligibility review that will set out the best approach to expanding access to funded childcare for more of the child poverty priority families over the course of this Parliament. The process will take into account the views and experiences of partners in the public, private, third and childminding sectors. As part of this process we will consider consistent approaches to eligibility for all our childcare offers that will ensure a simple, joined up approach for families, and maximise the opportunities to support children and families out of poverty.

Developing a new offer of early learning and childcare for one and two year olds

The first phase of this programme commenced in 2022-23 and focuses on research, insights, and engagement. We will work collaboratively with families to understand what they want and need from an offer for younger children, particularly those in the most disadvantaged communities. Our approach will build on the learning from the school age childcare programme about how to apply the Scottish Approach to Service Design[18].

We will map current provision for one and two year olds (both in terms of different service models and geographical coverage) across Scotland, and work with experts, local authorities and service providers to build our evidence base and learn from existing provision across the UK and other countries. We recognise and value the unique insights and experience that professionals in the public, private, third and childminding sectors can bring to the programme, many of whom already care for younger children, as well as what we can learn from local authorities who currently offer targeted support.

The importance of preventative and supportive investment in families has been clearly established through the work of the Independent Care Review[19] and articulated throughout the narrative in The Promise. We will develop our evidence base around the three outcomes set out above, and recognise the particular importance of assessing how family wellbeing (as an outcome) and family support (as a delivery model) can be supported through an expanded one and two year old programme. In 2022-23 we will be working with some of our partners in the sector to identify innovative ways of delivering services that will help support the objectives of the Whole Family Wellbeing Fund.

From 2023-24 onwards, we will publish the findings from the first phase of the programme and start to develop, trial and evaluate models of provision. We will also take the opportunity to learn from the community early adopter work that will be undertaken to design a system of school age childcare, which is set out in more detail below.

Building a system of school age childcare

Following the Scottish Approach to Service Design, we will ensure we take a person-centred approach, empowering and supporting people to become involved in the design of school age childcare services in their communities.

We will work collaboratively with families, childcare providers, and the wider public sector to build a system that meets individual needs. We will ensure that future services are accessible and affordable for families, and that they are funded for those from the lowest income households.

We will also take a place-based approach, recognising that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to providing childcare within communities. Once we understand families' needs, we will ensure that we fully utilise existing services and infrastructure and only develop new services and infrastructure where that is needed. We will also integrate food and childcare provision, wherever possible, understanding the importance of access to healthy and nutritious food as part of any childcare offer.

We have worked closely with the regulated school age childcare and wider activities sector to develop a good understanding of the existing system of school age childcare in Scotland. We have also engaged children and young people, parents, and carers to understand the challenges they face in accessing childcare for their school age children. This was reported in our Draft Framework for Out of School Care[20] and our Progress Report[21].

We have begun to test the change needed to develop and deliver future services through our Access to Childcare Fund projects and pilots, and our Summer 2022 programme. This work has been focused on those families most at risk of poverty. The Access to Childcare Fund supported 18 pilot projects worth £3 million across 2020-2022 and is continuing to financially support 10 projects this year. In addition, we have invested £10 million across all 32 local authorities to deliver summer holiday food, activities, and childcare. The learning from both the Access to Childcare and Summer 22 programmes will be crucial in the design of a year-round school age childcare offer for low income families. The Access to Childcare Fund 2020-2022 evaluation has now been published[22], while a full evaluation into the Summer 22 programme will be published early in 2023.

Our initial work will begin by identifying and supporting targeted early adopter communities across Scotland where we can test what a local system of school age childcare might look like. This will involve partnership working with a range of existing and new services, and co-designing with the children and families living in those communities. We know that funding childcare alone won't enable families to improve their situations and so we will work to ensure that childcare provision is aligned, wherever that is possible, with wider support for families most at risk of poverty. That includes through local plans to tackle poverty, employability support, fair work practices, accessible transport, and wider family support.

We are developing a delivery framework for school age childcare which will set out the approach and principles that we will apply to designing a future system of school age childcare, as well as timescales for progressing this work, later this year.



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