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.

5. Accessibility

The Scottish Government considers that ELC provision must be delivered in a way that ensures equality of access and accounts 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 ASN, is from an ethnic minority background, or lives in a deprived area.

Question 11: How do we ensure that the voice of children and their families is heard as we plan this expansion?

5.1 291 respondents (87%) answered this question.

General views

5.2 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. A recurring view was that the views of future users of ELC services should also be sought; one respondent emphasised that the ELC workforce should also be encouraged to provide views.

5.3 Many respondents across several sectors highlighted what they saw as the need for special efforts to be made to ensure the voices are heard of those with communication difficulties; people with physical disabilities; minority ethnic communities; those living in rural areas; people on low income; and not the usual suspects, nor only those who shout loudest.

5.4 A key theme was that running alongside consultation should be a programme of education and information, so that parents, current and future, are informed about the expansion and its implications and relevance for them. Promotion via national TV and radio, media (including social media), Baby Boxes, campaigns, publications including leaflets; posters; and allied professionals such as health visitors, were identified as having potential to inform and educate.

5.5 Whilst some respondents clearly envisaged national programmes of consultation and communication, others foresaw local consultative initiatives taking place, with local views sought on local needs and provision. Accordingly, some respondents considered that the Scottish Government would take the lead in seeking views; others perceived local authorities or regulators would have this responsibility; and many respondents clearly envisaged consultation taking place within settings, undertaken by providers or visiting professionals.

5.6 A few respondents identified current frameworks and guidance within which the voices of children and families should be heard. Several commented that there is a legal requirement for local authorities to consult parents in order to increase flexibility and choice over how funded hours are accessed; one national inspection and improvement body highlighted community empowerment legislation and standards as underpinning community consultation; a third Sector and voluntary organisation respondent suggested that the Scottish Government should add a core activity to its 1140 expansion programme - national, on-going and independent engagement with children and their families.

5.7 A clear expectation emerged of continuous consultation with children and families rather than one-off exercises. Frameworks to facilitate this were identified: partnership working across ELC settings between providers and families; opportunities for open dialogue between parents/carers and providers; close working between allied professionals such as health visitors, social workers, and providers; and frequent visits to settings by regulatory and inspector bodies.

Suggestions for consultative mechanisms

5.8 Numerous suggestions were made for ways to seek views of families. The most commonly mentioned were:

  • "Consultation".
  • Ongoing, informal dialogue within ELC settings between parents/carers and providers; face-to-face communication.
  • Questionnaires/surveys.
  • Using social media (Twitter; Facebook; Survey Monkey; online surveys; online forums).
  • Focus groups.
  • Local parent panels; workshops; meetings; information sessions; local childminder forums.
  • Through feedback from trials of different delivery models (such as the current trials).
  • A user-friendly version of consultations like this one.
  • Allied professionals such as health visitors to serve as conduits to providing information and collecting information.
  • Officials to spend time in ELC settings, observing and communicating with children and families.
  • Community-led events involving third sector organisations; Local Health and Social Care Partnerships.

Views on how best to hear children's voices

5.9 There was general recognition that whilst children's voices should be heard in planning the expansion, extra measures may need to be taken to ensure they are able to provide views effectively.

5.10 A few respondents suggested topics on which children's views are particularly helpful: planning and use of outdoor space; mealtimes; play time; boundaries and relationships with other children.

5.11 A small number of respondents remarked that childminders are adept at hearing children's voices, regularly seeking their input and acting on this. Others suggested a variety of approaches to ensuring the voice of children is heard:

  • Mosaic approach (established multi-method approach) to listening to young children
  • Using specialists to gather the information required
  • Get advice from organisations such as "Investors in Children"
  • Using and analysing video footage
  • Games and puppets
  • Mind maps
  • Deploying trusted people such as key workers to listen to children and record views
  • Leave it to the inspectors

Views relating to Question 11 emerging from consultative events

5.12 This topic was not covered in depth in consultative events. Only one group identified a need for early engagement with parents, perhaps through health visitors.

Question 12: How can we ensure equality of access for all children? What barriers do children with disabilities and ASN currently face in accessing ELC? What further action is required to address these barriers?

5.13 261 respondents (78%) answered this question.

5.14 Views focused largely around barriers faced in accessing ELC and action required to address these. Overall, respondents associated greater barriers and the need for further action with partner providers rather than amongst local authority providers.

5.15 There were mixed views on whether children with severe disabilities and ASN should be included in mainstream ELC. The majority view was in favour of inclusion, although there was also support for blended models of provision, whereby children have additional specialist help in dedicated settings, perhaps with regular visits to mainstream ELC settings.

Views on barriers children with disabilities and ASN face in accessing ELC

5.16 Many respondents, across a wide range of sectors, identified what they perceived to be current barriers:

Barriers relating to infrastructure/physical environment

  • Inadequate physical accessibility (e.g. steps down to poorly lit basement).
  • Geographical access/poor transport .

Barriers relating to staffing

  • Ratios of staff to children inadequate.
  • Declining numbers of specialist staff, e.g. speech therapists.
  • Lack of knowledge amongst staff.
  • Lack of availability of appropriate training.
  • Lack of funding for upskilling staff.

Barriers relating to knowledge

  • Lack of awareness in families of their child's needs and the help available.
  • Lack of detail available on future funding models for local authorities.

Barriers relating to administration

  • Delayed identification of child's needs.
  • Inadequate cross-border communication and working.
  • Lack of continuity from pre-school to primary school settings.
  • Time needed to put the required measures in place.


  • Conflict of interest with commercial decision-making process.
  • Additional costs for parents in finding the appropriate specialist care.
  • Additional issues if parents also have disabilities.
  • Additional issues if English is not the parents'/child's first language.

Views on further action required to address the barriers

5.17 Four actions were identifed most frequently:

Additional funding

5.18 The most frequently identified action to address the barriers envisaged was extra funding for greater levels of staffing; adaptations to physical structures; specialist equipment; and staff training.

Additional staffing

5.19 Respondents identified the need for much higher staff to child ratios, and one-to-one provision in some circumstances, in order to support the needs of children with disabilities and ASN.

5.20 Specialist staffing was also viewed as crucial, with speech therapists mentioned most frequently, but also physiotherapists, educational psychologists and personnel skilled in working in this field.

Specialist training for staff

5.21 A common theme was that the ELC workforce will require specialist training in order to provide support for children with disabilities and ASN.

5.22 Topics for training were suggested and included: how to identify ASN and disability; inclusion and anti-discriminatory practices; attachment; medication; dietary requirements and nutrition; coping with seizures; British Sign Lanuage; dealing with cathetors; and autism.

5.23 A few respondents from different sectors considered that staff who attend courses and gain experience in this field should be recognised with some form of accreditation to distinguish them and incentivise their progress.

Changes to ELC setting infrastructure

5.24 There were repeated calls for the infrastructure of ELC settings to be reviewed to ensure they are fit for the purpose of admitting children with disabilities and ASN. Many respondents suggested that changes will be needed such as the installation of ramps for wheelchairs and wider doorways.

5.25 Local Government respondents in particular identified the need to consider transport access within future planning. Several respondents considered that specifications for provision for children with disabilities and ASN should be integral to the design for all new build provision.

5.26 Actions identified less frequently were:

  • Positive action and outreach work to raise awareness of entitlement to free ELC hours amongst families with children with disability and ASN. GPs, Health Visitors, charities and support groups were all mentioned as possible avenues.
  • Strengthen multi-disciplinary working between local authorities, partner providers, parents and support professions such as health, social work, education.
  • Streamlining the identification of needs; making the process more efficient and timely.
  • Establishing equipment "banks" from which specialist equipment can be borrowed by providers then returned when no longer needed.

5.27 Actions mentioned by only a few respondents included:

  • Make disability and ASN provision by partner providers part of the commissioning and registration process.
  • Make use of valuable projects, initiatives and guidance such as " ENABLE U"; and the Enquire website provided by Children in Scotland.
  • Consider hub provision across a local area with clusters of providers sharing specialist help.
  • Change the mindsets of the ELC workforce to one of inclusion and mainstreaming.
  • Consider developing specialist childminders to be part of blended models of provision for children with disabilities and ASN.

Views relating to Question 12 emerging from consultative events

5.28 Participants considered that children with disabilities and ASN and their families may need more support from ELC staff which will require more investment to ensure higher ratios of staffing to children. Greater investment was also identified for specialised adaptations and equipment.

Question 13: How can we support higher take-up rates amongst eligible two year olds and other groups less likely to access entitlement?

5.29 266 respondents (79%) answered this question.

Views on the promotion of the entitlement

5.30 The most common response was that the entitlement should be promoted widely using many different channels. Health visitors were identified by over a quarter of respondents who addressed the question as key to informing families about the entitlement and how to access it. Both social workers and GPs were also identified frequently as having important roles in promoting the entitlement. Other possible avenues mentioned by at least four respondents were: social media; voluntary and other related organisations; Department for Work and Pensions; allied professionals such as the health servivce; information in Baby Boxes; in testimonials from those who have taken up the entitlement successfully; and in leaflets handed out to parents/carers at schools.

5.31 A recurring theme was for the production and distribution of simple guidance on the entitlement, in plain English, with reassurance about issues which may concern potential users, such as whether they will lose other benefits if they take-up the entitlement.

5.32 A few respondents across several different categories suggested that consultation with parents/carers should be undertaken to identify potential barriers to take-up.

Views on identifying those to whom the entitlement applies

5.33 Some respondents addressed the issue of how parents/carers within scope for the entitlement could be identified. The following suggestions were made in order from most to least mentioned:

  • Health Visitors to identify.
  • Department of Work and Pensions to identify and share data.
  • Through inter-agency working, including across local authority boundaries.

Views on ensuring a holistic approach is achieved

5.34 Many respondents supported the concept of provision of holistic delivery models, which support families as a whole in family learning and childcare. Family Learning Centre models were welcomed as providing the opportunity to co-locate ELC with other support services such as community learning, adult education, and parenting classes.

5.35 A repeated theme was that for children of such young age, greater flexibility over encouraging parents/carers to "stay and play" should be promoted, with drop-in days involving entire families and other family-oriented initiatives supported.

5.36 Practical ideas for encouraging families to take up the entitlement were suggested with the most frequently mentioned being: greater flexibility over hours of provision; help with application form filling; help with transport to centres (particularly if they are centralised in hubs); and provision of free meals.

Views on promoting equity of provision

5.37 One theme emerging largely from individuals and third sector organisations was that the entitlement should be universal, rather than targeted at vulnerable two year olds. The word "vulnerable" was suggested as possibly stigmatising, with some requesting that the entitlement be re-branded to avoid this.

5.38 A recurring theme was that with greater funding from Scottish Government, a universal entitlement could be promoted across all providers, not just local authorities.

Views opposing the proposal

5.39 A small but significant number of respondents stated their opposition to the proposal on the grounds that children of this age would be better supported at home or in very small groups.

5.40 Some respondents, including a mix of individuals and organisations, suggested that childminders could be explored as viable options for delivering the entitlement, particularly in rural areas where they may offer more local solutions. Others considered that parent and toddler groups, and blended home and small group settings, may be more appropriate for vulnerable two year olds than larger, institutional settings.

Views relating to Question 13 emerging from consultative events

5.41 Some concern was expressed over the appropriateness of two year olds spending long hours in ELC settings.

5.42 Questions were raised over rules of eligibility and suggestions made that parents/carers may find it difficult to understand whether their child is eligible, particuarly if they are illiterate and/or are not in contact with a health visitor. It was considered that the eligibility criteria may need to be reviewed to meet needs more appropriately.

5.43 One parent already receiving the entitlement described the stigma attached to taking up the provision.

Question 14: How can more social enterprises and third sector providers be encouraged to enter the ELC sector?

5.44 182 respondents (54%) answered this question.

5.45 A recurring view, particularly amongst local government respondents, was that entering the ELC sector could be challenging for these bodies, in particular in terms of resourcing; fluctuations in the population and in the personnel required; attracting volunteers; ensuring suitable premises; and ensuring legislative requirements are fulfilled. It was expected that the same standards of quality and staff qualifications would be required as of any other sector.

5.46 By far the most common response was that sustainable and appropriate levels of funding for social enterprises and third sector providers will be needed in order to encourage them to enter the ELC sector. Revenue and capital funding were identified as needed for start-up adaptations to premises and longer term running costs. Sustainable funding was viewed as enabling longer-term planning and supporting growth and quality provision.

5.47 A few respondents suggested "incentives" with a few specifying tax incentives as a means of encouragement.

5.48 Whilst a some respondents recommended that broad "support" is required to encourage more social enterprises and third sector providers into the ELC sector, others were more specific about the support needed:

  • Clear guidance on protocols such as how to register; regulations; and so on, with bodies such as the National Day Nurseries Association providing information and support.
  • Local authorities to support through dedicated officers who provide guidance.
  • Training support, perhaps free, perhaps in conjunction with other providers.
  • Business support, with advice on business models; setting up; accountability; plans.
  • Reduction in bureaucracy; simplifying procedures such as the tendering model.

5.49 Another theme was that by promoting the value of ELC provision and the potential for social enterprises and third sector providers within this sector, this would serve as a carrot to encourage these bodies into the ELC sector. Local government and individual respondents in particular suggested much more awareness raising, using evidence from existing examples and pilots, supported by publicity and sharing of good practice.

5.50 Greater strategic and joined-up planning and operation were suggested by several respondents across a range of sectors. Many suggestions were made for sharing resources across providers; co-locating social enterprise and third sector provision with schools; integrating planning of provision by these sectors within overall Community Planning.

5.51 Opposition to expansion of ELC using social enterprises and third sector providers came from unions and further and higher education establishments in particular, who considered that local authorities may be better placed to deliver expanded hours whilst ensuring quality of provision.

Views relating to Question 14 emerging from consultative events

5.52 Participants envisaged an increased role for the third sector in entering the ELC sector. Access to training was identified as a challenge with one group suggesting Intermediate Labour Market projects as relevant, which support and mentor people into careers in the ELC sector.

Question 15: How can the governance arrangements support more community-led ELC provision particularly in remote and rural areas?

5.53 167 respondents (50%) answered this question.

5.54 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. An example was provided of management group meetings for community-led providers gradually shifting in emphasis from fundraising to concentrating increasingly on regulations and employment issues.

5.55 Two key themes emerged: providing professional support to community-led enterprises; and relaxing governance arrangements to accommodate this sector.

Views on providing professional support

5.56 Many respondents envisaged models of provision whereby national and regional bodies provide support and professional guidance to community-led ELC providers to facilitate their working within the current governance arrangements.

5.57 Suggestions focused around dedicated officers, perhaps based within local authorities and/or umbrella organisations, providing tailored advice and support to local groups. The Care and Learning Alliance was mentioned in this respect, as was One Parent Families Scotland and Early Years Scotland. The possibility of more established providers supporting several inexperienced, local, community-led providers was put forward.

5.58 Areas in which support could be of significant benefit were identified as: employing and managing staff; accounting; leading and contributing personnel at management group meetings. Committee meetings were mentioned frequently as challenging in terms of ensuring the continuing presence of suitably experienced and knowledgeable members, due to parent volunteers moving on as their children get older, and lack of expertise.

5.59 The potential for use of peripatetic professional managers was raised by a few respondents, as was enlisting the involvement of local business and enterprise bodies.

Views on relaxing governance arrangements

5.60 Many suggestions were made for amendments to current regulations in order to facilitate the establishment and sustainability of community-led ELC provision. Respondents requested the following be reviewed:

  • The period of operation before organisations can apply for partner-provider status.
  • Regulations on minimum number of children eligible for funded ELC.
  • Number of funded places local authorities can offer.
  • Categories of care service (suggested that these no longer represent modern ways of providing ELC).
  • Care Inspectorate requirements.
  • SSSC requirements.
  • Health and safety requirements.

5.61 A local authority suggested that external inspectors will need to gain understanding of the wide variety of provider models in local communities; an individual emphasised their view that inspections should be proportionate to the size of the service.

Other relevant views

5.62 A few respondents (unions and local government) opposed the emphasis on community-led ELC provision within the context of expansion of ELC entitlement.

5.63 A small number of respondents, across a range of sectors, envisaged a wide variety of provision emerging, including mobile delivery of ELC, greater use of childminders working independently or in clusters, and forest nurseries, with governance needing to keep abreast of such developments, in terms of relevance and flexibility.

Question 16: How can the broader system for promoting, accessing, and registering for a place in an ELC setting be improved? Please give examples of any innovative and accessible systems currently in place.

5.64 179 respondents (53%) answered this question.

5.65 There was a wide variety of view reflecting varied levels of understanding of current systems and practices. Overall, however, there was agreement that systems needed to be made simpler, more streamlined, and less confusing for parents/carers. A few organisations called for greater consistency in approach across and within local authorities.

5.66 Views on how best to promote ELC provision overlapped considerably with those given in response to question 13. In particular, health visitors were identified repeatedly as potential providers of information, in addition to GPs, local and national television and printed and social media. The notion of a comprehensive, online source of information on providers (a "one stop shop" concept) was suggested by a few respondents. The websites of the National Childcare Information Service and SCMA, in addition to Education Scotland's Parentzone Scotland website, were identified as useful for promotional purposes.

5.67 There were mixed views on the appropriateness of accessing entitlement and registering for a place online (suggested in the consultation document). Whilst benefits were envisaged for some parents, many respondents felt uneasy about relying on this without offering other avenues such as face-to-face and hard copy forms for those without digital access. A recurring view was that some parents will need direct help with form filling, with health visitors and social workers identified as assisting in this task.

5.68 A few respondents across several sectors suggested that multiple pathways to registering should be offered, using different settings and modes. Several local authorities, whilst welcoming this approach, emphasised that this should be supported by a centralised system of allocating entitlement, for monitoring purposes and to keep track of uptake and trends.

5.69 A repeated view was that NAMS should be developed to make it fit for purpose for the demands of expanded hours entitlement. Several respondents identified the need for national systems of both data storing and automatic triggering of alerts, to highlight families coming within scope of the entitlement. For this to happen, it was envisaged that data-sharing protocols should be addressed to enable key data such as dates of birth and contact details to be shared across relevant bodies. A few respondents proposed that special requests, such as the need for Gaelic-medium provision, could be attached to databases, to be included in automatic alerts.

5.70 The theme of family-centred, as opposed to service-centred approaches, emerged amongst private sector providers and third sector and voluntary organisations in particular:

"The system should be parent/family centred, not service centred. Currently local authorities generally make an offer with their own provision and use partner provider settings to meet any shortfalls expecting parents to fit in with the offer, rather than parents designing the ELC package that meets their child and family needs." (Third Sector and Voluntary Organisation)

5.71 The notion of " ELC brokerage officers" was put forward by a few respondents, envisaging brokers matching families and places on an individual basis to meet needs. Alerting and placing children by age and stage rather than by fixed entry dates in ELC settings was proposed as another measure centred around the child. A few respondents expressed their support for a move towards ELC accounts which they considered would be transformational for parents, giving them real choice and control over their child's ELC provision, simplifying the registration process and reducing administration costs for all.

5.72 Various practical measures were suggested for improving the current systems. These included all-year entry and registration to avoid peaks in form-filling activity at set times of the year; wider and more accessible provision of registration forms at places frequented by families, such as GP surgeries, parent and toddler groups; open days at ELC settings in which families with children coming up to eligibility can access face-to-face help with filling in hard copy forms; greater involvement of local support organisations, to provide clear information to families. The Glasgow Family Information Service was identified as a good example in this regard.

5.73 There was support from across several sectors for ensuring linkages between relevant electronic systems. In particular, it was suggested that the system for applying for ELC entitlement should be linked with the school place application system; ELC accounts should link with broader social security processes; and NAMS could usefully link with broader invoicing systems.

Views relating to Question 16 emerging from consultative events

5.74 Very little comment was made relating to this question. One group suggested that local authorities should stop capping places in their own settings and ensure funding is passed on to partner providers so that they can offer provision. Participants considered that parents need more choice in accessing provision in locations to suit their requirements.


Email: Jeff Maguire

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