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.

Our approach to policy design and delivery

The expansion to 1140 hours of funded ELC has provided the Scottish Government and our partners with a wealth of learning about delivering a national programme of this scale at pace. The principles we set out in 2016 – quality, flexibility, accessibility, and affordability – still describe what we want to see from funded ELC services in future years.

Although, as with any programme of this size, there have been challenges to work through and work is in hand to fully realise the benefits of the 1140 expansion programme, it has demonstrated how much can be achieved through collective working. The culture and values adopted through a collaborative approach, a clear benefits framework and joint governance by national and local government – drawing on independent assurance and robust delivery data – have all helped to ensure the successful delivery of the expanded hours from August 2021.

Based on this learning, we will be taking the time to get policy design and engagement on our future childcare offers right, recognising that they must be appropriate to parents', carers' and families' needs and that these will differ depending on children's ages and stages, and families' circumstances. We will also work closely with providers in the public, private, third and childminding sectors throughout our design process.

For children and families in remote and rural parts of Scotland, that means working innovatively to take advantage of the unique opportunities – and to address the specific challenges – for communities living in these areas. For example, it will be important to think creatively about how we fund and deliver services for children of different ages together, take advantage of existing community assets, and consider service models that work across large geographical areas.

In designing new policy, we must always bear in mind the fundamental importance of children's rights and voices, and we remain committed to consulting children on matters which affect them.

Our design principles capture our commitment to evidence-based, people-centred policy design, working with families, stakeholders, services and professionals across the whole sector between now and 2026 as we build capacity for our future childcare commitments:

  • Co-design: we will design our future childcare offers with people and their communities.
  • Innovation: we will not be constrained by existing delivery models but will focus on designing systems that make sense to people and their communities, and which build on assets that already exist across the early learning and school age childcare sectors.
  • Partnership: we will work across the wider public sector and provider landscape to design systems which join up services and solve whole problems for them.

We will ensure that our policy design takes account of the Family Support Advisory Group's[39] key principles of holistic family support that can be applied to any service or interaction that is supporting families. Such services should: be non-stigmatising; address the family as a whole; be needs-based; be assets- and community-based; be timely and sustainable; be promoted; take account of families' voices; be collaborative and seamless; have a skilled and supported workforce; and be underpinned by children's rights. We will ensure that the needs of care experienced children are at the heart of our policy design work, contributing to our overall commitment to #Keep The Promise.

Our delivery principles set out what parents, carers and children can expect from services:

  • Quality: this is fundamental to children's outcomes and the provision of funded services.
  • Flexibility: services need to reflect the way that people live their lives, acknowledging that families have different needs.
  • Accessibility: people across different parts of the country need to access services that reflect the needs and characteristics of their own lives, and that are rooted in their communities.
  • Affordability: we want the widest range of people possible to be able to access our services, so cost must reflect ability to pay and recognise the wider economic benefits of access to early learning and school-age childcare.

We will also develop and refine these over the course of this Parliament as new evidence comes to light, and as we engage with partners and service users.



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