We know the early years are a crucial time in every child's life, and evidence shows that access to high quality early learning and childcare is crucial to improving children's outcomes. By giving Scotland's young people the best possible start in life we can ensure they develop the skills and confidence they need to reach their full potential.
We have already substantially increased the offer of free early learning and childcare ( ELC) entitlement in Scotland.
In 2007 we increased this offer from 412.5 hours to 475 hours per year.
Through the Children & Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (the Act) we further increased the annual entitlement to free ELC to 600 hours for all three and four year olds, and eligible two year olds.
We also, through the Act, made it a legal requirement for local authorities to consult parents in order to increase flexibility and choice over how funded hours are accessed.
This was a significant milestone - it marked the first time the right to more flexible options for childcare had been put on a statutory footing in Scotland.
We know that there is potential for the ELC system to do more to support our ambitions to close attainment and inequality gaps, and help to transform children's lives.
That is why we will almost double entitlement to free ELC to 1140 hours per year by 2020 for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds.
The expansion provides an historic opportunity. No other policy has such potential to transform the lives of children and their families while improving the prospects of Scotland's economy in the short and long term.
Our vision is for this expansion to deliver high quality, flexible ELC which is affordable and accessible for all.
Achieving this vision and reshaping how we care for our children will not happen overnight. It will require substantial increases in the workforce and investment in infrastructure, as well as new, innovative and flexible models of delivery.
We are at a pivotal moment in developing the policy approach which will shape how this vision is delivered.
We published the Financial review of early learning and childcare in Scotland: the current landscape on 27th September. As a result we have a better understanding of what is working well with regard to existing provision, and where we need to think more carefully about how we take forward the expansion.
As part of Empowering teachers, parents and communities to achieve Excellence and Equity in Education - A Governance Review we are reviewing the system of early learning and childcare and school education.
Alongside the Governance Review we are now using this Blueprint for 2020 consultation to seek views on the range of policy choices that we face as we take forward this commitment.
These choices will ultimately shape the future direction and structure of the ELC sector, and we want to hear a diverse range of views on these choices - from providers, delivery partners, stakeholders, and, importantly, from families.
It is no exaggeration to say that the expansion of ELC in Scotland is a transformative policy development.
I look forward to hearing your views as we shape the key policy decisions around this transformative project which will give all of our children the best possible start in life.
Minister for Childcare and Early Years
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