1. Executive Summary
1.1 The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 provided for 600 hours of annual entitlement to free early learning and childcare ( ELC) for all three and four year olds, and eligible two year olds. The Scottish Government considers that there is potential for the ELC system to do even more to support the ambitions towards closing attainment and inequality gaps and intends to increase the annual entitlement to free ELC to 1140 hours by 2020.
1.2 The Scottish Government published a consultation document, Blueprint for 2020, to seek views on the policy choices to be made in taking forward the ambition for expanded free ELC hours. The document was published on 15 October 2016 with views invited by 9 January 2017. In addition, a series of consultative events was held across Scotland to raise awareness of the consultation and to seek views of parents directly.
1.3 336 responses to the consultation were received, 208 from individuals and 128 from organisations. The largest body of response amongst organisations came from private nurseries. A summary of the key views provided in the responses follows.
Quality of ELC provision
Support at transitions
1.4 To ensure children are fully supported at the transition stages throughout their early-learner journey, respondents emphasised the need for clear transition plans. Parents/carers were identified as playing key roles in supporting children at the transition stages; effective partnership working between ELC and school settings was also identified as crucial. Child-centred approaches were advocated with allied professionals such as health visitors, and speech and language specialists, identified as having valuable contributions to make to smooth transitions.
1.5 A common view was that sufficient capacity is required within ELC settings to release staff to support transitions, in order to allow them to access appropriate training, and liaise with partner providers over transition issues.
Delivering high quality provision to two year olds
1.6 There was much agreement that the skillset for delivering provision for two year olds requires training and experience and is different to that required for older children. A common view was that the ELC workforce will need to refresh their learning to deliver high quality provision to this age group. Greater play-based learning was suggested along with more outdoor play opportunities.
1.7 Many respondents identified the need for higher staff to child ratios in ELC settings for two year olds, with greater need for input from health visitors, and speech and language specialists.
Making the ELC sector an attractive career choice
1.8 A common theme was that the ELC sector requires signficant overhaul to present it as an attractive, long-term career choice. Perceived inconsistencies across Scotland in pay and conditions, qualifications, opportunities for career progression, and promotion in schools and colleges were amongst the factors identified as creating instability and uncertainty in the workforce.
1.9 Many agreed that the sector had the image of "last resort" and was not highly valued. A recurring view was that the qualifications associated with the ELC sector were confusing and should be modernised and simplified.
Gender balance and diversity in the ELC workforce
1.10 A recurring view was that negative attitudes towards men in the ELC profession hampered efforts to achieve a gender balance in the workforce. Many ideas were put forward to address this, including large-scale marketing campaigns showcasing male role models, and case studies of men already working in the ELC profession. A dominant theme was that schools and colleges could do much to promote the ELC sector as a legitimate career choice.
1.11 An overarching view was that improving pay and conditions will have the biggest impact on increasing diversity of the ELC workforce by attracting men into the sector.
Encouragement of the Living Wage and wider Fair Work practices
1.12 Implementing payment of the Living Wage and wider Fair Work practices across the ELC sector received much support as contributing to improving the profile and value of the profession.
1.13 A prevailing view was that more funding will be needed to support higher wage costs and the costs associated with Fair Work practices.
1.14 Key approaches to ensuring comprehensive implementation of the Living Wage and Fair Work practices were identified as: introducing a national pay and conditions framework; and making Living Wage and Fair Work practices essential requirements of the procurement of partner provision by local authorities.
Actions to support increased access to outdoor learning, exercise and play
1.15 There was much support for increased access to outdoor learning, exercise and play with the proposal for a minimum of one hour per week considered low in ambition. Many respondents suggested that a "free flow" model be promoted with children having easy and constant access to outdoor play.
1.16 Some resistance to outdoor learning amongst parents and staff was identified, with a common view that this should be addressed to make outdoor learning the norm rather than an add-on.
1.17 Structural challenges to greater outdoor learning were identified such as old settings with limited outdoor space. New national guidance on design for outdoor learning was welcomed with suggestions that risk assessment protocol be reviewed and simplified, and funding be made available for adaptations to facilitate more outdoor access.
1.18 Many suggestions were made for local, collobarative approaches to support increased outdoor learning such as linking with local sports and physical activity providers and engaging with local active school co-ordinators. It was suggested that greater focus on outdoor activities may make the sector more appealing to men.
Improving accountability arrangements for ELC
1.19 A common view was that the sector is tightly regulated with the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland being the two key regulators, and other national and local regulatory frameworks also applying. A dominant theme was the need to ensure accountability arrangements across these bodies are streamlined, with consistent standards and indicators applying. There was much support for combining the two main regulatory regimes into one.
1.20 Praise was given for the the current focus on outcomes in inspections, with this seen as contributing to systematic and robust inspection. A recurring view, however, was that lack of continuity between inspectors created inconsistency across inspections.
1.21 A theme emerged around the benefits of local and continuous regulation, involving local hub models of inspection; inter-agency partnership scrutiny models; self-evaluation and reflective local models. Local scrutiny frameworks were perceived to have the benefit of local knowledge whilst benefiting from national tools such as "How Good is our ELC"  .
Factors to consider in delivering flexible ELC provision whilst maintaining quality
1.22 The predominant view was that the needs of the child should be central when considering the delivery of flexible ELC provision. Whilst support was expressed for parents being enabled to work or study more flexibly, there was concern over children being placed in ELC settings for long hours.
1.23 Some respondents felt that expanding to 1140 hours was challenging enough without also trying to extend flexibility of provision.
1.24 Many respondents cautioned that increasing flexiblity of provision could impact negatively on the ELC workforce who have their own work-life balance to achieve. Greater flexibility was also seen as presenting administrative challenges to ELC settings who, it was envisaged, will need to manage shift patterns, anti-social hours cover, different pay rates and constant requests from parents to change hours of provision. Some respondents felt that parents expectations may also need to be managed.
1.25 Other challenges were identified, particularly for rural areas and where specific needs have to be catered for, such as additional support needs ( ASN), or Gaelic-medium.
1.26 Suggestions to make greater flexibility work were put forward and included: blending packages at local level and involving local childminders within the package; encouraging employers and colleges to be more flexible with family-friendly policies; and increased funding from Scottish Government to cover higher rates of pay for unsocial hours and more ELC staff. Support for more flexible ELC provision was notably higher in the consultation events where attendees were predominantly parents.
Ensuring fair and sustainable funding for all providers
1.27 A common view was that fair funding involved increasing the current funding provision from the Scottish Government to a level sufficient to fund the expansion of ELC and associated costs.
1.28 Some concern was expressed over the accountability of local authorities in passing on funding to partner providers, with suggestions made for: ring fencing the allocation; implementing a national standard sum to be paid to all providers; making local authorities more accountable for how they have used the funds.
Promoting and supporting the involvement of childminders in the entitlement to ELC
1.29 There was much support for childminders being part of the entitlement to ELC, perhaps within blended models of provision. Many respondents considered that parents should be educated on the benefits of childminders and that this mode of delivery of free ELC is an option.
1.30 A national recruitment and publicity campaign focusing on childminders was recommended, with the Scottish Childminding Association ( SCMA) and the Care Inspectorate both identified as important in promoting childminders as providers of the ELC entitlement.
1.31 The most frequently mentioned barrier to becoming a childminder was too much paperwork and bureaucracy. Other barriers included: cost of adaptations to home environments; low pay; fluctuating pay; and scrutiny processes. Respondents considered that childminders should be subject to the same rigorous and regular inspection regimes as other providers of ELC.
1.32 A recurring theme 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.
Ensuring that the voice of children and their families is heard
1.33 There was widespread agreement that the views of children and their families should be heard and taken into account throughout the planning of the expansion. Some respondents emphasised that the views of future users of ELC services should also be sought, and also efforts should be made to ensure the voices are heard of people with disability; minority ethnic communities; those in rural areas; and those on low incomes.
1.34 A key theme was that running alongside consultation should be a programme of education to promote the expansion of free ELC provision. Both national and local promotion initiatives were envisaged.
1.35 On-going consultation rather than one-off initiatives were called for. There was general recognition that extra measures may need to be taken in the case of ensuring children's voices are heard, such as using specialists to gather their views, to ensure they are able to contribute effectively.
Ensuring equality of access for all children
1.36 There were mixed views on whether children with severe disabilities and ASN should be included in mainstream ELC, with the majority view in favour of inclusion, supported by additional, specialist help in dedicated settings.
1.37 Barriers in accessing ELC for children with disabilities and ASN were identified and included: unsuitable physical infrastructure; inadequate staffing levels; lack of awareness of families of their child's needs and the help available; and delayed identification of the child's needs.
1.38 Actions were identified to address such barriers. These included: additional funding for extra ELC staff, their training, and adaptations to the physical structures; greater access to specialist staff; review of current ELC setting infrastructure to ensure this is fit for purpose; consideration of transport issues alongside future planning of expansion of ELC hours.
Supporting higher take-up rates amongst eligible two year olds
1.39 A common view was that entitlement for eligible two year olds should be promoted via many different channels. Health visitors were identified most frequently in this regard, with GPs and social workers also mentioned often.
1.40 Some respondents considered that health visitors, Department of Work and Pensions, and inter-agency working, could all contribute to identifying those to whom the entitlement applies.
Encouraging more social enterprises and third sector providers to enter the ELC sector
1.41 A recurring view was that entering the ELC sector could be challenging for social enterprises and third sector providers, in terms of resourcing, fluctuations in the need for ELC, attracting volunteers, ensuring suitable premises, and ensuring legislative requirements are fulfilled.
1.42 A common response was that sustainable and appropriate levels of funding will be needed to encourage more social enterprises and third sector providers into the sector. This was viewed as enabling longer-term planning, and supporting growth and quality provision.
1.43 Respondents considered that social enterprises and third sector providers could be supported with guidance on protocols, dedicated local authority officers, free training, business advice and by simplifying procedures such as the tendering model. Sharing resources and buildings was also identified as potentially helpful.
Governance arrangements supporting more community-led ELC provision
1.44 There was general agreement that the regulatory regime is demanding for community volunteers who may not have appropriate training, but are nonetheless required to meet rigorous regulations with associated responsibilities.
1.45 Common suggestions were for national and regional bodies to provide support and professional guidance to community-led ELC providers in order to facilitate their working within the current governance arrangements.
1.46 Amendments to current regulations were suggested to accommodate this sector, including Care Inspectorate, Scottish Social Services Council ( SSSC) and health and safety requirements.
Improving the broader system for promoting, accessing and registering for a place in an ELC setting
1.47 There was agreement that systems for accessing and registering for a place need to be made simpler, more streamlined and less confusing. Consistency in approach across and within local authorities was called for.
1.48 Health visitors, in particular, were identified as playing a key role as providers of information, in addition to GPs, local and national television and printed and social media.
1.49 Whilst the benefits of accessing entitlement and registering for a place online were acknowledged, many felt that other routes to registration should be offered to accommodate those without digital access.
1.50 A repeated view was that the current Nursery Administration Management System ( NAMS) should be developed to make it fit for purpose for the demands of the expanded hours entitlement.
Barriers to accessing support with the costs of ELC provision and ensuring additional hours are affordable
1.51 A common view was that the tax and social security systems, which could provide help to those facing financial barriers, are complex and difficult to understand. Many considered that awareness raising, and help with understanding the financial assistance on offer, would support parents in accessing ELC provision beyond funded entitlement.
1.52 Three key ways to ensure additional hours are affordable were put forward: Scottish Government to subsidise costs by providing greater funding to ELC providers; making it easier for parents to pay by permitting flexible payment models including payment directly from salary/benefits; and subsidising some of the hidden costs such as free transport and lunches.
Encouraging private and third sector providers to extend capacity
1.53 A recurring view was that quality of provision should not be compromised in efforts to expand quantity of provision.
1.54 The most common view, expressed across a wide range of sectors, was that to encourage private and third sector providers to extend their capacity, more funding will be required for these providers, e.g. for increased staffing, paying Living Wages, training, capital investment in adaptations to premises.
1.55 Another significant theme was for such providers to work in partnership in clusters, to plan future needs and provision strategically, making best use of available local resources and facilities, such as under-used school facilities outwith school terms.
Financing and delivering the expansion
Funding model options
1.56 Amongst those respondents who provided a clear view, most supported a demand-led model of funding, whereby funding follows the child, parents and carers choose the provider and the funding follows, whilst still being administered by local authorities.
1.57 This model of funding was identified as the best approach to supporting the vision for high quality and flexible ELC, which is accessible and affordable for all. Other key advantages identified included providing parents with real choice over ELC provision, and avoiding local authorities using allocated ELC funding elsewhere. The main drawbacks envisaged were that too much flexibility could result in parents changing their needs frequently, leading to uncertainty of take-up and fragility of settings, particularly in rural areas.
1.58 Some respondents favoured a model of funding dependent on delivery, with funds routed through the local government block grant. Key advantages identified were ensuring a co-ordinated and sustainable approach; the model is already well understood; able to cope with changes in demand. Drawbacks were also envisaged, such as limiting parental choice; bureaucratic; and uncertainty over how much funding will be allocated.
1.59 Early learning and childcare accounts received some support as a potential funding option with benefits including giving parents choice and reducing bureaucracy. Drawbacks included lack of certainty for private providers and local authorities; and risk of parents using funds for other things.
Phasing of the expanded hours
1.60 A common view was that the expansion will require detailed planning to ensure the necessary physical and workforce infrastructures are in place to support additional hours.
1.61 Many respondents emphasised the need for early information on funding for the expansion to help long-term planning.
1.62 Regarding approaches to phasing in the expanded hours, most support was expressed for local targeting of expanded provision, depending on local circumstances. Priorities for early expanded entitlement were identified as: deprived areas; expansion across a variety of settings, including childminders; working parents; and by age of child (either oldest to youngest or vice versa).
Email: Jeff Maguire