Section 1: Securing A High Quality Experience For All Children
A high quality experience for all children is the driving force of the expansion of ELC entitlement to 1140 hours. We know, from a range of research, that high quality ELC provision promotes longer-term benefits for children and young people, offering them the best possible start in life. A recently published report from the Study of Early Education and Development provides the following useful summary of the evidence:
"There has been a substantial amount of research on the quality of early years provision and the potential benefits of attending a high quality provider for child development. A number of studies have shown that accessing early childhood education and care, in good quality provision in particular, can have a positive effect on the educational, cognitive, behavioural and social outcomes of children, both in the short and long term. Some evidence suggests that the positive impact is greatest on children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. This suggests that early childhood education and care has the potential to make a key contribution to narrowing the gap in development between groups of children." 
Developing a Quality Action Plan
The development of policy on ELC and the planning for expansion to 1140 hours has already been driven by a clear focus on quality. To ensure that this remains at the heart of our agenda as we build to 2020, we will produce a Quality Action Plan in close consultation with key stakeholders who best understand, not only what drives quality, but also what more needs to be done to strengthen this. The next few months will be an opportunity to take stock of that and think systematically about the key drivers of quality in ELC and how they link to child outcomes, to make sure we have a comprehensive policy framework for improving quality. This will include consideration of the drivers of structural quality (how the system is designed and organised) as well as process quality (practice within ELC settings).
As well as considering the provision of formal ELC, the Quality Action Plan will consider how we can support parents to improve and enrich the home learning environment by integrating ELC with the range of family support available. Research shows that when parents and carers support their children's learning, and when children live in a stimulating home learning environment, it improves children's attainment and achievement. Family learning encourages family members to learn together, fostering positive attitudes to lifelong learning.
- We will produce a Quality Action Plan, by the end of October 2017, that sets out what more needs to be done to strengthen quality in ELC, and will use this as a driver for improving children's outcomes.
Developing the ELC workforce
We know that the most important driver of quality in ELC is a dedicated, highly skilled and well-qualified workforce, whose initial and continued training enables them to fulfil their own potential and equip our young children to do the same. We will ensure that leadership development opportunities feature prominently in our Quality Action Plan, supporting professionals as they continue in or move into leadership roles.
Through implementation of the Quality Action Plan and Skills Investment Plan for ELC, we will ensure that there are high quality and flexible learning opportunities available to the ELC workforce at all levels, including access to distance and virtual learning opportunities, part-time and out-of-hours college provision and work-based learning.
Access to graduate-level early years educators
The EU's Key Principles of a Quality Framework  underlines the importance of well-qualified staff in pursuing quality in ELC. The Education Scotland report Making the Difference: The impact of staff qualifications on children's learning in early years found that the graduate-level qualifications (specifically, the BA Childhood Practice Award) were having a positive impact on children's learning in the early years:
"Staff have a clearer understanding of child development and feel more confident and motivated in delivering the curriculum. We know that staff are using their new knowledge and skills to improve learning for children, for example outdoor learning. They are delivering more child-led learning which promotes deeper and challenging learning experiences." 
Our plans for expansion of ELC need to recognise that the graduate workforce is changing. The introduction of the BA Childhood Practice in 2009 has increased the number of non‑teacher graduates who have specialist early years expertise and knowledge. The course completion figures indicate that around 1,200 have now graduated with this degree and the Scottish Social Services Council ( SSSC) estimate that around 280 people complete graduate‑level courses each year. The introduction of the M.Ed Early Years (offered by the University of Strathclyde and the University of Aberdeen) in 2009-10 has also enhanced skills at post-graduate level with an annual intake of around 30-40 students each year.
We will continue to invest in graduate and post-graduate level training specifically to promote early years education, including consideration of whether new direct entry undergraduate courses are required to support development of the workforce. As part of our work to develop the Quality Action Plan, we will work with professional bodies to consider how we can further strengthen the role of teachers in delivering learning in ELC settings.
Curriculum for Excellence has provided a coherent curriculum from 3-18 years which supports continuity and progression. It has supported a shift in how children are engaged in learning by introducing a broader curriculum, more hands-on learning and play-based opportunities. This is supplemented by Building the Ambition, published by Scottish Government in 2014, which contains guidance for ELC practitioners who work with children from 0-5 years old; and, sets out how high quality interactions and experiences can be delivered within caring and nurturing environments.
We will continue to ensure that pedagogy is adequately reflected in the training of our ELC workforce, particularly for graduate-level practitioners, and that undergraduate courses offer a balance between child development, pedagogy and management.
- We will increase support for the M.Ed Early Years Pedagogue courses at Aberdeen and Strathclyde Universities from the 2018-19 academic year.
- We will improve the quality of data available on the graduate workforce, by supplementing the data on teachers with information on the number of staff with a relevant graduate level qualification working within the sector.
Robust quality standards and inspection
We will continue to ensure that the ELC entitlement is underpinned by national quality standards which focus on delivering positive experiences for children and are directed at achieving positive outcomes. The Scottish Government's new statutory National Care Standards, due for publication in 2017, will strengthen this further by setting out child-centred and outcome-focused expectations of quality across all care and health provision, including ELC.
- As part of our response to the Education Governance Review, we will ensure we have the right inspection arrangements in place for fair, transparent and consistent assessment of quality in ELC. In particular, we will consider how we can build on the excellent work the inspectorates have undertaken in recent years to create a more streamlined and holistic system supporting quality improvement in ELC.
Securing a role for childminders
Childminders will have a key role in delivering the expanded funded entitlement. A recurring theme in the consultation was that childminders should have more opportunities to access training using both formal and informal learning mechanisms, from mandatory courses, to sharing best practice across networks.
We are committed to delivering a new standard of best practice for childminders. As part of this we have provided additional funding to the Care Inspectorate to take forward the development of a Learning and Development Pathway for all childminders. We have extended this funding into 2017-18.
- We will work with the Care Inspectorate and other partners to launch a new Learning and Development Pathway for childminders in September 2017.
A number of respondents to the Blueprint consultation highlighted that, under the current system, childminders who provide the funded entitlement are not subject to the same qualification requirements as other ELC workers. We know that childminders are already delivering high quality provision: childminders are more likely than most other childcare services to achieve Care Inspectorate grades of very good and excellent.  However, the skills base of the sector is often overlooked or not understood by parents, carers and other professionals working in the sector.
We believe that a minimum qualification could provide reassurance, in respect of quality of provision, for parents who are facing choices over the best option for childcare. However, we know that we would need to ensure that the necessary infrastructure, including flexible training options and financial support arrangements, is in place before this could be implemented. We would need to support the profession in moving towards qualification requirements over time.
- We will work with the Scottish Childminding Association ( SCMA), the Care Inspectorate, the SSSC and other key delivery partners to consider, as part of the best practice standard for childminders, the potential for a requirement for those childminders delivering the funded ELC entitlement to be qualified to the same level as an ELC practitioner.
Effective partnership working to support transitions into, through, and out of, ELC
Children face a number of transitions throughout their learner journey: from the home to early learning and childcare, across different ELC settings, within those settings, and into school. The system must ensure that these transitions support continuity, coherence and progression. Consultation responses emphasised the need for clear transition plans to support children through their early-learner journey. They highlighted the need for effective partnership at transition stages, with allied professionals and specialists identified as having valuable contributions to make to smooth transitions. The need to share relevant information about children was a common theme.
Working across organisational boundaries and putting children and their families at the heart of decision making, is a central feature of Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) - the Government's national approach that aims to improve outcomes for all children and young people in Scotland. Our approach underpins all of our work with children and young people and plays a fundamental part in realising the Scottish Government's goal of giving all our children and young people the best possible start in life. Our approach is about everyone working together to support every child and young person's wellbeing - by spotting and dealing with issues as early as possible, and working with parents and services rather than waiting until they escalate into potential crisis.
- As set out in the National Improvement Framework and Improvement Plan  we will provide clarity on how appropriate data on children's progress is shared between professionals working with children from the early years onwards. This should help to support transitions.
The Attainment Scotland Fund, including the Pupil Equity Fund, can be used to support transitions, which can include the transition from ELC to primary. The Scottish Attainment Challenge funds are already being used in this way in Dundee, where funding has been used to employ (in partnership with the NHS) speech and language therapists for all nurseries attached to attainment challenge schools. Early years staff are also working in partnership with families to develop early vocabulary and early literacy skills in children from 2 years old, using well-evidenced programmes. These examples have been shared on the National Improvement Hub as good practice examples of 'Interventions for Equity'.
- We will identify and share examples of how the Attainment Scotland Fund and the Pupil Equity Fund are being used to support transitions from ELC to primary school.
Closing the attainment gap
We know that the socio-economic gap in cognitive development opens up well before children start primary school. Narrowing this gap in the pre-school years must be part of our strategy to promote equity and excellence.
We also know from the Growing Up in Scotland Study that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are no less likely - compared to those from more advantaged backgrounds - to attend pre-school settings of the highest quality.  This means that ELC can play a key role in closing the attainment gap.
The Children and Young People Act (Scotland) 2014 extended entitlement to funded ELC to around a quarter of 2 year olds whose parents are in receipt of certain benefits, ensuring those who will benefit most from funded ELC are able to take advantage from age 2. Improving uptake of funded ELC by families of eligible 2 years olds could make a significant contribution to closing the attainment gap before children begin primary school. We will continue to work with local authorities, and others, to promote and increase the flexibility and uptake of the expanded provision as we move towards the expansion to 1140 hours. We recently published research on the drivers and barriers to uptake amongst 2 year olds,  which will underpin our policy development and the Children and Young People Improvement Collaborative is testing approaches to improving the up-take of funded ELC for eligible 2 year olds.
- We will continue to explore options through UK legislation to enable the sharing of data by DWP and HMRC to allow local authorities to identify eligible families.
- We will provide dedicated support to local authorities to help improve uptake amongst eligible 2 year olds.
We have started work to implement our commitment to provide an additional graduate in nurseries in Scotland's most deprived areas by August 2018. An extra 435 graduates working directly with children will be in place by 2018, with every local authority area set to increase graduate numbers. We are providing funding of £1.5 million to the Scottish Funding Council to increase teacher training and other ELC‑related graduate places in the 2017-18 academic year.
- We will continue to work with local authorities to produce guidance on implementation of the additional graduate commitment. Local authorities will be asked to submit action plans to show how they intend to deploy their additional graduates.
As part of the expansion, and in order to improve health and wellbeing at this crucial stage in a child's development, we will provide free lunches for all children receiving their 1140 hours of entitlement, whether provided by the local authority or providers in the private and third sector delivering the funded entitlement. Our good design guidance, due to be published in June 2017, will include guidance on appropriate catering facilities.
ELC provision must ensure equality of access for, and account for the varying needs of, all children. These needs can vary depending on a number of factors, including whether a child is disabled or has additional support needs ( ASN), is from an ethnic minority background, lives in a deprived area or has challenging family circumstances.
We will continue to support implementation of the Additional Support for Learning Act 2004 (as amended), to ensure children's ASN are identified and provided for. That includes those who are identified from birth as having a disability and are brought to the attention of the education authority as needing additional support. We already have plans to revise and improve the statutory guidance on the Additional Support for Learning Act 2004 Act, in particular by clarifying responsibilities.
Accessibility will be promoted in the design principles for new ELC infrastructure, recognising the impact of good design principles on children with ASN and disabilities, with good examples of sensory rooms and space to create relaxed, calm environments for children to be highlighted within the section about use of space.
- We will create a fund that enables staff to support children with ASN or disabilities. This could cover funding for specialist training for ELC staff as well as funding for equipment for adaptations, providing sensory areas, or establishing equipment banks in local areas.
- We will improve the data collected on children with ASN to enhance our understanding of additional support needs of this age group, and the support plans in place for them.
Access to outdoor learning, exercise and play
We know the benefits of outdoor learning, exercise and play for young children in terms of their health and wellbeing, physical and cognitive development. ELC settings have embraced Curriculum for Excellence's emphasis on a broader learning experience, including active learning and learning outdoors.
In 2016, the Care Inspectorate published guidance called My World Outdoors, which aims to act as a catalyst to encourage further development of high quality outdoor play. It highlights that the quality of children's experience is generally very positive. As well as the specialist outdoor-based provision, mainstream building-based services have improved children's outdoor play experience using both their own outdoor play areas and the natural environment locally.
Our good design guidance for all ELC settings, due to be published in June 2017, will promote well-designed outdoor space in all new-built and refurbished or extended ELC settings created as part of this expansion. We will build on the commitment to a minimum of one hour per week outdoors by encouraging all providers to have access to a stimulating outdoor play area for children, including daily opportunities to spend time outdoors and, for full-time children, part of their day should be spent outdoors.
Some of our delivery model trials focus on outdoor learning and play. One, in Edinburgh, is exploring the establishment of outdoor nursery provision through a nature kindergarten and another in Angus, involves the conversion of a small nursery to focus on outdoor learning. The potential to further develop outdoor ELC provision across the country is being considered as a key theme emerging from the trials programme.
We will also encourage early learning providers to organise a 'Daily Mile' run or age-appropriate equivalent activity for all children.
- We will publish guidance on delivering the Daily Mile in ELC by autumn 2017.
Email: Euan Carmichael