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 4: Ensuring that our ambitions are underpinned by fair funding and outcomes frameworks, robust data and organisations that work together to support good outcomes for children and families

Fair funding, outcomes frameworks, and robust data

As we move beyond the first full year of implementation of 1140 hours of high quality ELC, and into a steadier state of embedding and improving services, it is important that this is underpinned by a sustainable, long-term approach to funding with local government and for providers. This should support the full implementation of 1140 across the sector, taking account of changes in demand, changing costs of delivery, and demographic changes since 2018. The number of ELC age children (children aged between two and five years) in Scotland is seven per cent lower in 2022 than was projected at the beginning of ELC expansion[34], and is expected to continue to fall over the next 10 years.[35]

Child Population

Line graph showing a decrease in the child population in Scotland between 2000 and 2021

Child Population (projections)

Line graph showing that there is projected to be a decrease in the child population in Scotland between 2022 and 2030.

The estimated number of children aged 0 to 5 has fallen each year since 2013, and the estimate for 2 to 5 year olds has fallen since 2014. Looking at the period up to 2030, the National Records of Scotland projects that we will see further falls in the child population. This trend would have implications for the number of children who are eligible for childcare services.

[Source: National Records of Scotland[36]]

The 2022 Resource Spending Review[37] confirms our intention to work with COSLA and SOLACE to agree a New Deal for local government in Scotland. This reflects a desire on both sides to reset the relationship between the Scottish Government and local government, to balance greater flexibility over local financial arrangements with clearer accountability for delivering national priorities. We will continue to work in close partnership with COSLA and local government colleagues to develop proposals for a long-term financial agreement that covers all funded ELC services and is focused on delivering shared priorities and outcomes.

Ahead of 2025 we are committed to working with our partners in the sector to develop an outcomes and measurement framework for funded ELC – jointly owned by Scottish Government and local government – which will provide evidence to support service delivery both nationally and locally, offer greater transparency and assurance, and help ensure value for money. In developing this framework we will build on existing work to develop a Children and Young People's Wellbeing Outcomes framework, and draw on the emerging evidence from our evaluation of the expansion of funded ELC.

Streamlining and simplifying the approach to the inspection of Early Learning and Childcare and school age childcare services

During the development of his report 'Putting Children at the Centre: A Vision for Scottish Education'[38], Professor Ken Muir regularly heard of the challenges faced by ELC providers as a result of the current approach to inspection, whereby some settings providing funded ELC hours are inspected by both Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) and the Care Inspectorate.

In response to concerns raised that this approach results in duplication of effort, complexity and unnecessary burdens on ELC providers, Professor Muir recommended that a shared inspection framework for ELC be developed between the Care Inspectorate and the new education inspectorate.

This has created an important opportunity for a wider debate about the role of inspection in supporting the delivery of high quality provision across all early learning and school age childcare services, and inspection of these services will form part of the national discussion on the future of education in Scotland and the vision that will follow. Our starting point is the holistic approach set out in 'Realising the Ambition: Being Me', acknowledging that agencies should be working together to support children's care, development and learning through play in the early years across their improvement and inspection work.

In response to Professor Muir's report we published a consultation on 11 July 2022 setting out our vision for the inspection of early learning and school age childcare services and the guiding principles that underpin our approach.

It seeks to gather views on specific proposals to streamline and improve the inspection of early learning and school age childcare services through the introduction of a shared inspection framework. We will publish the findings of the consultation by early 2023 and set out what steps we will take to ensure that a new national framework for inspection of early learning and school age childcare services is fit for purpose.

While the consultation takes place and proposals for improvement are developed and agreed, Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate are committed to collaborative working to ensure that arrangements for inspection are as joined up, clear and effective as possible. This includes undertaking shared inspections of settings over the next academic year, where that is appropriate.

Ensuring Early Learning and Childcare and school age childcare services are part of joint work to tackle child poverty within communities

We are working to ensure that investment in the development of a strengthened, integrated employment offer for parents and carers from the priority families identified in 'Best Start, Bright Futures' is responsive to individual needs and circumstances. As part of this policy we will provide access to dedicated keyworker support to parents and carers, and access to the training and skills they need to enter, sustain and progress in work. This will operate as part of a 'no-wrong door' approach that links families into ELC, school age childcare, transport, whole family wellbeing and financial advice services.

Closely aligned to this is our commitment to work with our partners, including local authorities, to develop and implement a new Parental Transition Fund to tackle the financial insecurity parents and carers face in entering the labour market.

Our Social Innovation Partnership will deliver a Flourishing Lives model of holistic support for people that improves their wellbeing, addresses their short-term needs, and supports their long-term goals, including access to employment and improved family relations. We will also seek to address barriers and work with partners to promote access to funded childcare options, flexible working options and wellbeing in the workplace.

We will test and learn through local pathfinders, working closely with local partners, and parents and carers, to design integrated support offers for families experiencing poverty. Initial programmes in both Dundee and Glasgow will draw on the experience of local partners and grassroots organisations to understand specific local needs and help create an approach built around lived experience.



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