A Blueprint for 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland was launched on 15 October 2016. It sets out our vision for an expansion that will almost double entitlement to free early learning and childcare ( ELC) to 1140 hours per year by 2020 for all 3 and 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds. That vision is underpinned by clear guiding principles:
Quality - the expansion will ensure a high quality experience for all children, which complements other early years and educational activity to close the attainment gap, and recognises the value of those we entrust to give our children the best start in life.
Flexibility - the expansion will support more parents and carers in work, training or study, through greater choice of provider and patterns of provision that are better aligned with working patterns whilst delivering this in a way that ensures a high quality experience for the child.
Accessibility - ELC capacity is sufficient and is as conveniently geographically located as possible - particularly in areas of higher deprivation and in rural communities - to support families and enable parents and carers to work, train and study, while also appropriately meeting the needs of children who require additional support and parents who request ELC through the medium of Gaelic.
Affordability - the expansion will increase access to affordable ELC which will help to reduce barriers to participating in the labour market which parents and carers face.
The consultation questions set out in the Blueprint sought views on our vision and high‑level principles for the expansion as well as the key policy choices that had to be made. It included questions on funding models, phasing, encouraging payment of the living wage, role of providers in the private and third sectors, ensuring equality of access, supporting learner transitions and the inspection and regulatory regime.
The consultation closed on 9 January 2017 and we received 336 written responses; 62% of which were from individuals and 38% from organisations. The Minister for Childcare and Early Years hosted a series of consultation events aimed primarily at parents and carers, so that we could balance the responses from providers within the ELC system itself with the users of that system, and ensure that we were listening to the very widest range of opinion.
Empowering teachers, parents and communities to achieve Excellence and Equity in Education - A Governance Review, which reviewed the way that ELC and school education is organised, ran alongside the Blueprint consultation, and closed on 6 January 2017. The Scottish Government is currently carefully considering the responses it received along with evidence from a wide range of sources. We will set out our response to the Governance Review in a Next Steps paper later in the year, and this will provide further clarity on the future approach to inspection and a governance structure that will support the expansion of ELC.
The consultation has helped to inform the development of the policy and delivery framework for the expansion. It is now imperative that we work in partnership with local authorities and other key partners to deliver this vision.
This Action Plan commits us to a series of actions in 2017-18 to ensure that the expansion of ELC is rooted in a high quality experience for our children and to support our delivery partners in building additional capacity.
This Action Plan sets out the policy framework that will underpin the expansion in order to:
- Ensure a high quality experience for the child; improving outcomes for all children, especially those who will benefit most;
- Support the vision of an education system which delivers both excellence and equity for all children in Scotland;
- Provide a key contribution to our wider work to close the attainment gap;
- Support our ambitions to reduce child poverty by contributing to the delivery of our ambitious statutory targets set out in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill;
- Support transitions through early years settings and into school to ensure continuity and progress through the learner journey;
- Offer parents an increased choice of settings where they can access their funded ELC entitlement;
- Enable a system that is provider neutral with the focus on the settings best placed to deliver quality outcomes for children;
- Increase the flexibility of how the funded entitlement is delivered in order to support more parents to work, train or study, especially those who need routes into sustainable employment and out of poverty;
- Provide the opportunity for an enhanced role for childminders in delivering the funded entitlement;
- Help support parents to improve and enrich the home learning environment by integrating ELC with the range of family support;
- Enable payment of the Living Wage and the promotion of Fair Work practices;
- Be underpinned by a funding model which ensures the long-term sustainability of the system;
- Provide substantial new employment opportunities across all of Scotland with a range of roles across different qualification levels, supporting local economies; and
- Reduce the costs that parents and carers face in paying for childcare, with total ELC entitlement providing an estimated annual saving of £4,500 per child per year.
There are two sections to this Action Plan. Section One focuses specifically on quality and sets out the conditions, support and investment that will drive quality experiences and ensure ELC plays a key role in addressing inequalities in child outcomes. Section Two sets out how we will ensure that we build the structures and capacity - both infrastructure and workforce - required to deliver 1140 hours in a way that is flexible, accessible and affordable. Quality of the child's experience is the single most important goal and it will be clear how this has driven all of the decisions that have been taken and the actions set out across this plan.
There is a full list of actions at the end of this document. Unless otherwise stated, actions are to be achieved by March 2018.
We intend to publish annual action plans and themed progress reports along the route to 2020; starting with a focus on quality in October 2017, with others on: workforce development and expansion; inclusion; infrastructure; and family engagement and nurture to follow between now and 2020.
Email: Euan Carmichael