Rural childcare provision, innovative models and the needs of agricultural families: research

This report outlines the main findings from research exploring the challenges of rural childcare provision, innovative models and the needs of agricultural families


This report has discussed the main findings of research conducted with rural childcare providers running settings of various sizes in both rural and remote locations. It has examined how financial and practical challenges affect the sustainability of rural childcare services; the extent to which current models meet the childcare need of agricultural families; and the opportunities presented by innovative models including flexible services and outdoor nurseries. Several providers involved in this study have plans to open further settings, and this research points providers to models of childcare that could be piloted further in rural areas.

This research indicates the range of challenges faced by rural childcare providers, including: fewer services, resulting in pressure on existing providers; sustaining provision in more remote settings with lower numbers of staff and children; a shortage of transport provision, including drop-off services, public transport and safe walking routes; a shortage of suitable venues, resulting in buildings being shared with other groups and additional work for staff; and difficulties recruiting staff, particularly for senior roles.

During interviews, providers spoke about struggling to make settings financially sustainable, but also indicated how important it is that rural families have access to a range of childcare services to meet their requirements. The innovative models discussed in this report offer parents greater choice, and have been shown to have a range of benefits for children, from creativity and physical health through outdoor play-based learning to interactions with older adults in their community.

Rural settings provide childcare for families with a diverse range of working patterns and childcare needs, and the providers interviewed suggested that flexible booking options, longer hours and out-of-school care would be beneficial to a range of rural families, including those from agricultural households.

Providers are aware of parents having longer journeys to rural settings, and changing childcare requirements throughout the year. In many settings, demand can fluctuate as children from agricultural households require additional sessions or are unable to attend. The innovative models discussed in this report represent potential solutions to these issues, from flexible booking options to shared use of transport with other local services. For example, during an intergenerational project with a rural skills college, one provider was able to use the minibus owned by the college to transport children.

The financial and practical issues that providers deal with in rural areas are often added to by the lower numbers of children using their services, and whilst many stated that additional funding would have a positive impact, this report has highlighted wider challenges around the sustainability of rural childcare services, and providers' ability to expand provision. Providers take a range of factors into account when setting up services in rural areas, including the cost of buildings, staff and transport, in addition to the number of children they register and changes in demand.

This report shows that challenges in rural childcare provision are connected to many longstanding issues in rural areas, from employment to transport and broadband. Policies around population should therefore take childcare provision into account when addressing rural depopulation. It is clear that a shortage of suitable childcare remains a barrier to employment opportunities in rural Scotland, and this has a wider impact on the rural economy. The research also highlights the effects of COVID-19 on rural childcare providers, particularly in areas where other services have closed.

The 2020-21 Programme for Government (PfG) sets out a range of commitments in this area, from the delivery of 1140 hours of free early learning and childcare, to increasing service provision and supporting repopulation in rural and remote communities. The PfG also sets out a commitment to look at wraparound care options that will give families more choice, greater opportunities to work, and greater financial freedom. This has the potential to benefit rural parents, and to positively affect women's employment opportunities and household incomes.

This report has identified the challenges faced by rural childcare providers and outlined potential solutions. It highlights the need for both standard and innovative models of provision in order to improve sustainability and better meet the needs of families in rural areas, including those working in agriculture. Having access to affordable and flexible childcare is one way of attracting people to live in rural Scotland.



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