A blueprint for 2020: the expansion of early learning and childcare in Scotland – consultation analysis report

An independent analysis of responses to the Scottish Government education consultation held from 15 October 2016 until 9 January 2017.

4. Flexibility

A wider range of choice and options for parents and carers

Improving access to affordable ELC helps reduce barriers to participating in the labour market which parents and carers face. Building on existing and current flexible models of provision the expansion will support parents and carers in work, training or study. This will require patterns of provision that are better aligned with working patterns and diverse family needs.

Question 8: What factors must be considered in delivering flexible ELC provision, while continuing to ensure a high quality service? To what extent could funded ELC support parents and carers with non-standard working hours, such as working shifts and weekends?

4.1 291 respondents (87%) answered this question.

4.2 The predominant view was that the needs of the child should be at the centre when considering the delivery of flexible ELC provision. Whilst there was much support for enabling parents and carers to work or study, facilitated by more flexible ELC arrangements, the overarching view was that this should be balanced by ensuring that children are not disadvantaged through spending long hours in ELC settings. A few respondents considered that greater flexiblity of provision correlated with lower quality of ELC; some questioned whether increasing ELC flexibility to suit working parents and carers would contribute to giving children the best start in life:

"The premise of this question puts the provision of childcare ahead of the needs of children" (Union).

4.3 Respondents generally associated flexible ELC with longer hours in ELC settings for children, and expressed concerns including:

  • Children need stability in the ELC workforce to form attachments, but personnel will change due to shift changes over extended hours.
  • Routines will be fragmented over longer hours, with children and workforce coming and going.
  • By evening, children will be too tired to learn; quality of learning experience will be diminished.
  • Long hours in ELC settings risks institutionalising children.
  • Children are better off in their own homes in the evening, with childcare delivered there.

4.4 Several organisations suggested that expanding to 1140 hours comprises sufficient challenge without also trying to provide greater flexibility of take-up of hours. One private nursery commented that attempting this was akin to "running before you can walk".

4.5 A small number of respondents, both organisations and individuals, considered that the aims of increased and greater flexibility of hours should be looked at alongside the ethos of giving children the best start in life, in a strategic fashion. They suggested questions should be asked such as, what is the overall aim?; how will increased and flexible hours achieve this?; will both learning and childcare functions be met?; and what will the ELC workforce look like to deliver what is required?

4.6 Several respondents requested that national limits are set on the number of hours and the level of flexibility which can be offered to parents, in order to safeguard the child and also to promote consistency across local authority areas.

Views on factors to be considered in delivering flexible ELC provision

4.7 In addition to concerns over children's wellbeing, offering flexible ELC was envisaged as potentially impacting on the ELC workforce in the following ways:

  • Reducing work-life balance due to having to work hours no longer suited to their own family life.
  • Undermining Fair Work practices.
  • Reducing opportunities for group training.
  • Lowering staff morale.
  • Increasing staff turnover.
  • Lowering the status of the job with focus shifting away from early learning to caring.

4.8 Many respondents envisaged challenges for ELC settings:

  • Administratively: managing different shifts; anti-social hours cover; different pay rates for routine and premium hours; changing requests of parents working different weekly patterns.
  • Some ELC providers rent space in buildings used for other purposes and will be unable to increase hours and flexibility.
  • Parents' expectations of ELC flexibility may need managing as every family cannot have individually tailored provision.
  • Staffing will need to increase to cover all hours offered and longer shifts.
  • Provision will need to focus more on care in terms of quality sleeping and eating areas and nutritional meal content. More toileting facilities may be needed.
  • Increasing flexibility for parents will impact negatively on the flexibility which can be offered to ELC staff.
  • Greater flexibility over drop-off and collection times is disruptive and will be expensive and difficult to manage.
  • Hard to find economies of scale and savings in the context of offering more flexibility of provision.
  • Staff need to have safe and reliable transport to get to and from the ELC setting outwith usual daily hours and this could prove difficult using public transport.

4.9 Other challenges were identified with the most frequently mentioned being:

  • Rural areas, where respondents stated that it was challenging to procure providers for standard hours, never mind increased and flexible hours. Communities are scattered; transport sometimes limited; and parents have longer travel to work time.
  • Where children have specific needs, these will need to be catered for within the flexibility package, with Gaelic-medium provision and ASN both identified in this regard.
  • Patterns of childcare and parent/carer working, set up using increased and flexible provision, will be disrupted when the child goes to school.
  • Parents will have to be charged higher rates for some hours; they may end up committing to and paying for hours they then do not need if their working pattern changes, for example if they are on variable hour contracts.

Views on how funded ELC could support parents and carers with non-standard working hours

4.10 Despite much concern over the perceived challenges to the proposal, many respondents provided views on how best to make it work. The following suggestions were most common:

Blended package at local level

4.11 Most of those who commented envisaged more flexible ELC combining group and individual setting provision within a local community, with childminders mentioned frequently as having the experience and flexibility to contribute to the overall package. Nannies and family members such as grandparents were also identified as potentially contributing, in a paid capacity.

4.12 This model was viewed as providing consistency and stability at group setting level (benefitting the child and the ELC provider) whilst injecting individually tailored flexibility through childminding services (benefiting the child and the parents).

Employers/Colleges to be more flexible

4.13 There was some support for employers to be more responsible for promoting family-friendly policies so as to reduce the need for parents/carers to require such flexibility in ELC. Standard working patterns with good notice of change and standard hour contracts were suggested as helping parents plan their requirements. Greater provision of distance and e-learning by FE/ HE establishments was envisaged as helping to reduce need for flexible ELC.

4.14 A few respondents suggested that large employers, such as NHS hospitals, should consider workplace ELC provision tailored around the needs of their workforce.

Increased Scottish Government funding

4.15 A common view was that increasing ELC flexibility will require increased funding for this sector from the Scottish Government to cover: higher rates of pay for unsocial hours; more staff; adaptations to premises, e.g. for more bathrooms, eating areas; more meal provision; inefficiencies inherent in such provision, such as over-staffing at times.

Review pay and conditions frameworks for ELC workforce

4.16 Many respondents considered that pay and conditions will need reviewed in order to accommodate more regular requirements for different shift patterns including non-standard hours, weekends and school holiday periods.

4.17 Some respondents identified teacher and janitorial staff as also potentially affected should school premises be deployed for flexible hour provision, with the need for their terms and conditions to be reviewed accordingly.

Nature of staffing

4.18 A few respondents suggested that the profile of staff required to work within the context of more flexible ELC provision may change to reflect more mature and experienced personnel, and increasing ratios of experienced staff to less experienced. It was also suggested that longer and more flexible hours may put more focus on outdoor learning and also attract more men into the profession, due to the higher and more stable wage on offer.

Learn from others

4.19 Respondents considered that lessons could be learned from current private and third sector providers who already operate flexibly; from research and experience in other countries; and from listening to parents and finding out from them what their needs are and barriers to accessing provision.

Help with administration from Scottish Government

4.20 Suggestions were made that the Scottish Government could develop electronic management systems purpose-made for logging workforce hours and invoicing.

Views relating to Question 8 emerging from consultative events

4.21 There was much agreement that currently parents are not offered much flexibility from ELC settings, particularly from local authority providers, to meet their needs around work and study. One impact of this is children receiving ELC across different settings within one day, which was not perceived as beneficial for child or parent. Support for more flexible ELC provision was notably higher in the consultation events where attendees were predominantly parents.

4.22 Some participants welcomed more flexible provision in their local area, such as school breakfast clubs, which had enabled them to have earlier work start times.

Question 9: How can we ensure fair and sustainable funding for all providers offering the ELC entitlement?

4.23 239 respondents (71%) answered this question.

4.24 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 costs associated with this, such as adaptations.

4.25 Most of those who commented considered that levels of funding for individual establishments should reflect local and provider circumstances, including extra costs of rural settings; providing for ASN; deprivation; different levels of rental rates; and so on. A recurring comment was, "No one size fits all".

4.26 A repeated view, particularly amongst local government respondents, was that funding for partner providers should depend on their commitment to paying the Living Wage to their workforce. Some respondents suggested building in other requirements to the provision of funding to partner providers, such as developing outdoor space, or providing Gaelic-medium.

4.27 There was some concern over the accountability of local authorities in passing on funding to partner providers with suggestions for: ring fencing this allocation; implementing a national standard sum (perhaps re-introducing the previous Advisory Floor) to be paid to all providers; and making local authorities more accountable for how they have used the funds for ELC.

4.28 An emerging theme amongst private and third sector providers and individuals was for funds to "follow the child" and be given directly to parents, possible in voucher form, for purchase of ELC provision.

4.29 A small number of respondents, largely private sector providers, suggested that funds for ELC provision come directly from Scottish Government to providers.

4.30 There was some appetite, largely amongst individual respondents, for national pay scales across all providers.

4.31 Several respondents, including unions, considered that fair and sustainable funding for providers offering the ELC entitlement would be more likely if there was a universal service of provision, state run, in the not-for-profit sector.

4.32 A few respondents considered that guidance would be helpful on procuring ELC services; others suggested learning from other jurisdictions or closer to home, from the recent national Care Home contract.

4.33 A few respondents, largely private sector providers, re-iterated their proposal for reduced VAT and business rates in order to free up funding for Fair Wages.

Views relating to Question 9 emerging from consultative events

4.34 Very little discussion related directly to this question. There was some concern in one group, however, that local authorities are not passing on adequate funding to partner providers from their allocation for ELC.

Potential for an enhanced role for Childminders

There are around 5,600 childminders in Scotland, caring for over 31,000 children. The Scottish Government considers that childminders have a potential key role in expanded funded provision, especially for younger children.

This could be through, for example, increased use of "blended models of ELC" which involve children spending time in both a nursery setting and with a childminder.

As part of the Scottish Government's work to strengthen the role of childminders, they are working with partners to develop and publish, in autumn 2017, a new learning and development pathway for childminders to ensure best practice in the profession.

Question 10: What more can we do to promote and support the involvement of childminders in the entitlement to ELC? What are the barriers, if any, to becoming a childminder? How can we ensure quality while preserving the unique value of home-based care?

4.35 237 respondents (70%) answered this question.

Views on what can be done to promote and support the involvement of childminders in the entitlement to ELC

4.36 There was much cross-sector support for childminders being involved in the entitlement to ELC.

4.37 In terms of promotion of childminders, many considered that parents, in particular, needed to be educated on the benefits of childminders and that this mode of delivery of ELC is an option. A small number of respondents suggested that local authorities may also need educating on this.

4.38 A national recruitment and publicity campaign focusing on childminders was recommended by several individuals and a few local government respondents. Information distributed locally on childminders and the services they provide was suggested by a small number of individuals.

4.39 It was envisaged that the SCMA and the Care Inspectorate could both play a part in promoting childminders within the context of the entitlement to ELC.

4.40 To support the involvement of childminders the most common view across a range of sectors, was that they should be part of a blended model of ELC provision, linked to local early years' establishments, and benefiting from joint training opportunities and support from both local authority and partner provider organisations.

4.41 A few individual respondents suggested that under a "funding following the child" model of funding, parents may be more likely to deploy childminders when choosing a package of ELC for their children.

4.42 To further support childminders, local government respondents in particular were in favour of the creation of support networks, such as peer group childminding networks, and the introduction of childminder support officers within local authorities.

Views on the barriers to becoming a childminder

4.43 The most frequently mentioned barrier was too much paperwork and bureaucracy.

4.44 Other common barriers identified were:

  • Costs of adaptations to home environment/start-up costs/registration costs.
  • Low pay; fluctuations in pay; late payers.
  • Scrutiny process (although this was mentioned by local government more than childminders themselves).

4.45 Other barriers less frequently mentioned were: accessing training; poor status in society; isolation; loss of space in family home; and poor transport in rural areas.

Views on how to ensure quality

4.46 Views revolved around ensuring quality by:

  • Inspection regimes.
  • Registration and accreditation.
  • Training opportunities and qualifications.

Inspection regimes

4.47 A common view was that childminders should be subject to the same rigorous and regular inspection regimes as other providers of ELC. The Care Inspectorate was mentioned as appropriate in this regard, with respondents from a range of sectors envisaging standards and performance indicators being applied to childminders, just as they are to others.

4.48 A national inspection and improvement body made reference to "How good is our early learning and childcare? [4] " framework for self-improvement, with a local authority emphasising the need to promote self-evaluation materials amongst childminders.

Registration and accreditation

4.49 A common view across sectors was that childminders should be required to register with the SSSC.

4.50 It was noted by national inspection and improvement bodies that Education Scotland is working with stakeholder organisations, including the Care Inspectorate and SCMA, to develop a quality assurance model for childminder settings where children's entitlement to ELC is being delivered.

4.51 One individual, who identified as being a childminder, requested a structure of accreditation which could demonstrate learning and experience, to help differentiate between the expertise of different childminders.

Training opportunities and qualifications

4.52 A recurring theme focused around creating more opportunities for childminders to train and learn. Accessibility, affordability and provision of relevant courses were all raised as challenges. Both formal and informal learning mechanisms were identified as important, from mandatory training modules, to sharing best practice across networks.

4.53 An example was provided of Ayrshire College which, with support from North Ayrshire Council, was delivering twilight classes for childminders.

4.54 A common view to emerge across several sectors was that childminders should be expected to have gained an appropriate qualification, but agreement was needed on the level of this. One third sector and voluntary organisation respondent remarked that childminders will be more likely to stay in the sector once they have invested in achieving a qualification.

Views relating to Question 10 emerging from consultative events

4.55 Various challenges for childminders were identified such as too much paperwork; onerous regulatory regimes; inconsistent income; set up and running costs; access to training; complex and time-consuming procedures, such as initial PVG clearance.

4.56 It was felt that childminders should be subject to the same regulations and standards as other ELC practitioners.

4.57 Many benefits of childminders were identified for the ELC sector, such as: provision of continuity for children; provision of wraparound care; suitable for blended models of provision; and expertise in providing ELC for two year olds.


Email: Jeff Maguire

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