The Scottish Government's aim is to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up, and to give all of our children the best possible start in life.
It is widely acknowledged that the provision of universally accessible and high quality ELC enriches children with skills and confidence to carry into, and multiply, throughout their schooling, and is a cornerstone for closing attainment and inequality gaps.
That is why we will deliver a transformative change in the ELC provision by almost doubling the free entitlement to 1140 hours per year by 2020.
Through this Blueprint for 2020 consultation we have set out the Scottish Government's high level vision for the expansion in ELC provision in Scotland. A vision underpinned by the principles of Quality, Flexibility, Accessibility and Affordability.
We are at a pivotal moment in developing the policy approach which will shape how this vision is delivered. As part of Empowering teachers, parents and communities to achieve Excellence and Equity in Education - A Governance Review, which was published on 13th September 2016, we are reviewing the way ELC and school education is organised  . That is predicated upon a strong and shared commitment to the vision of excellence and equity for all children and young people across Scottish education.
Alongside the Governance Review we are now using the Blueprint for 2020 consultation to seek views on the range of policy choices that we face as we take forward this commitment.
We want to hear a diverse range of views on these choice - from providers, delivery partners, stakeholders, and, importantly, families.
Giving All of Our Children the Best Possible Start in Life
We know that poverty and inequality act to limit the opportunities for some children in Scotland.
Disadvantages experienced from birth onwards can impact adversely on the life chances of our children, and result in poor health, employment, educational and social outcomes. For example, estimates suggest that by age 5, children in more advantaged circumstances are between 11-18 months ahead in their vocabulary skills and between 6-13 months ahead in their problem solving ability  .
We are determined to close this attainment gap, and to open the doors of opportunity to all our young people no matter their family background.
This is why we are focussed on supporting children and families.
Box 1: Getting It Right For Every Child
GIRFEC is the Government's national approach that aims to improve outcomes for all children and young people in Scotland. Our approach underpins all our work with children and young people and means working across organisational boundaries and putting children and their families at the heart of decision making. It 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 before they escalate into potential crisis.
A key part of this approach is the Named Person service. This will be a point of contact available to parents, children and young people to make getting help and advice more straightforward. Delivered by health and education services, the Named Person service is an entitlement which will support children and families. A Named Person does not replace, change or undermine the role of a parent and nothing in the Named Person provisions in the Act changes the rights and responsibilities of parents to raise their children and provide for their wellbeing needs.
This support begins at pre-birth, with appropriate pre-natal care and advice for mothers, including, from 2017, the delivery of a baby box offering essential items for a child's first weeks to the families of all newborn babies in Scotland, and continues throughout the child's journey. Health visitors also play a pivotal role in early intervention, promoting social inclusion, reducing health inequalities and supporting the ability of families to parent within local communities through the provision of universal services. The Scottish Government is continuing to invest in delivering 500 additional Health Visitors and will also provide continuing professional development to the existing Health Visitor workforce.
We recognise that parents are the primary caregivers and influence in a child's life, and that a high quality home learning environment is important for the child.
This range of support can help support parents and primary caregivers to deliver an enriched home learning environment, and to ensure a successful transition for children into ELC.
Where this is then supported by high quality ELC, it has the potential to enhance a child's all-round development and have a long lasting impact on their attainment.
The delivery of an overall system of ELC that is built upon ensuring high quality and providing provision that is flexible, accessible and affordable will provide a key contribution to our ambition to eradicate child poverty, as will be set out in a new Child Poverty Bill.
Expanding entitlement to ELC is also one of the most important tools to support long-term inclusive growth in Scotland's economy (see Box 2).
Parents and carers benefit from a high quality, flexible system as it helps to support people into work, training or further study which may not have previously been accessible.
Box 2: Economic Impact of the
There will be a range of economic impacts associated with the expansion in ELC entitlement, in particular on the labour market, which will help support inclusive growth.
The expansion, with an increased focus on flexibility, will help to provide more opportunities for some parents to move into employment, increase their hours of work, or to study. An increase in the supply of labour is a key driver of long-term economic growth performance.
By helping to close the attainment gap and contributing to our preventative actions to reduce Child Poverty, the expansion has the potential to generate longer-term benefits to the public finances.
In order to deliver the expanded entitlement there will need to be a considerable scaling up of the workforce in the ELC sector.
These employment opportunities will be spread across all local authority areas, and within many of our most disadvantaged communities, with a range of roles across different qualification levels. This presents a considerable opportunity to further support our ambitions around inclusive growth.
The creation of these new opportunities may help to support, and potentially create, wider employment opportunities across local economies in other sectors (e.g. some of the increased income levels amongst new ELC workers would be expected to be spent within the local economy).
The expansion will also be underpinned by a substantial programme of infrastructure development, which will help to support employment across the construction sector.
Progress to Date
We have already substantially increased the offer of free ELC entitlement.
In 2007 we increased the offer from 412.5 hours to 475 hours per year, and then through the 2014 Act we further increased the annual entitlement to free ELC to 600 hours for all three and four year olds, and to eligible two year olds.
The Scottish Government has committed £969.2 million over 6 years (from 2014/15) to local authorities to support implementation of the ELC elements of the Act.
The Act introduced the new term of 'early learning and childcare' to capture the learning journey that takes place from birth, and reflects EU and OECD recommended models of integrated education and care.
But we know it's not just about the number of hours provided, and that provision must be of a high quality. We are aware that access to free provision can be problematic for some families. That is why, crucially, the Act made it a legal requirement for local authorities to increase flexibility and choice in how funded hours are offered, informed by ongoing consultation with parents.
This was a significant milestone - putting the right to more flexible options for early learning and childcare on a statutory footing in Scotland for the first time, with local authorities required to consult at least once every two years with representative groups of local parents on patterns of ELC and Out of School Care ( OSC) provision which will best meet their needs.
Implementing Early Learning and Childcare under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014: Progress Update highlights that the majority of local authorities have improved flexibility since 2014 by increasing the number of options available to parents and carers to take up ELC  .
The Scottish Government has developed statutory guidance to support local authorities with implementation, and published Building the Ambition, practical guidance for practitioners to complement the statutory guidance. Building the Ambition supports practitioners to deliver high quality ELC experiences for children from 0-5 years old.
Transformation in ELC Entitlement
However, we know that there is potential for the ELC system to do more to support our ambitions to close the attainment gap, and ensure that every child is ready for learning and able to succeed throughout their education.
That is why we are now working towards almost doubling 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 will provide greater flexibility as to how such an entitlement can be accessed throughout the year, whilst ensuring that provision meets the needs of all children, including those with additional support needs.
Expanded ELC has huge potential to improve outcomes for all our children. It is a gateway to children getting the right start and will help to ensure that our children develop as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.
It will require not just substantial increases in the workforce and investment in infrastructure, but also new, innovative and flexible models of delivery.
We are also committed to further empowerment of ELC settings and exploring the most effective means of delivery  . For example, the expansion in ELC entitlement offers the potential for innovative delivery approaches where they can add value, in particular for community-led ELC provision.
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