The Scottish Government and local authorities have committed to almost double the funded entitlement to early learning and childcare (ELC) from 600 to 1,140 hours from August 2020 for all 3 and 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds. This will be high quality, flexible ELC that is accessible and affordable for families.
The expansion will deliver three main benefits for children and families:
- children’s development improves and the poverty related attainment gap narrows;
- more parents will have the opportunity to be in work, training or study; and
- increased family resilience through improved health and wellbeing of parents and children.
The Scottish Government has worked in partnership with COSLA and a variety of stakeholders across the ELC sector throughout the development of the 1140 expansion policy and has consulted widely on the expansion of funded ELC.
There is currently very high uptake of funded ELC in Scotland. Our latest ELC census data shows near universal uptake of funded ELC by 3 and 4 year olds. Approximately 10% of 2 year olds are registered for funded ELC (compared to the roughly 25% that are eligible), and this has increased gradually over the last few years. In addition, our Research on Parents’ Views and Use of ELC in Scotland showed that of the parents surveyed, 90% would use some or all of their child’s expanded hours.
Local authorities are ‘phasing in’ the expanded offer between now and August 2020. This allows local authorities and nurseries to test the practicalities of the expanded offer, and to get feedback from parents. Our expansion planning guidance which was issued to local authorities in March 2017 made clear that plans for phasing should reflect the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation to ensure that families and communities who stand to benefit most from the expansion also benefit first. As a result of ‘phasing in’ the entitlement, over 11,000 2 to 5 year olds are already accessing more than 600 hours of funded ELC.
Background - Expansion of Funded ELC to 1140 Hours
The driving force behind the expansion of funded ELC is to secure improved outcomes for all children in Scotland. The provision of high quality ELC is a key contributor to our ambition to close the poverty-related attainment gap.
It is widely acknowledged, including by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), that the provision of universally accessible and high quality early learning and childcare helps to provide children with skills and confidence to carry into school education, and is a cornerstone for closing the poverty-related attainment gap between children from the most and least deprived communities. Evidence from both UK and international evaluations and studies of early learning and childcare programmes, including our own Growing Up in Scotland Study, support the fact that all children, and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can benefit in terms of social, emotional and educational outcomes from attending early learning and childcare.
The expansion to 1140 hours intends to maximise this opportunity to ensure that all children in Scotland get the best possible start in life. The expansion will also bring economic benefits. In the short term, the increased investment in the ELC sector will promote sector growth and create new Fair Work jobs, with the multi-year funding package enabling payment of the real Living Wage to all workers delivering the funded ELC entitlement. The increase in funded, flexible ELC will help increase parents’ opportunities to access work, training or further study. In the longer term, the increased investment in children’s outcomes during the early years is anticipated to reduce interventionist public spending later in life, and have a positive impact on long term health, wellbeing and productivity.
Background - Funding Follows the Child and The National Standard
Funding Follows the Child will be introduced alongside the national roll-out of the expanded entitlement in 2020. This ‘provider neutral’ approach is underpinned by a National Standard that all providers delivering the funded hours – regardless of whether they are in the public, private or third sector, or childminders – will have to meet. The National Standard focuses on what children and their families can expect from their ELC experience, regardless of where they access their funded entitlement.
At the heart of the National Standard is a clear and consistent set of quality criteria, recognising that the ELC expansion is fundamentally about improving the early years experience of our youngest children and reflecting international research and evidence of what drives quality experiences and outcomes for children. It will ensure that all settings which are offering the funded entitlement are delivering the highest quality ELC experience for children.
Background - Changes to the ELC Session Length
Under the current legislation, the ELC funded entitlement can only be used for a session of 8 hours’ or less duration and there is a minimum session length of 2.5 hours. Families who wish to use a 10 hour session have to pay for an additional two hours of ELC, which is referred to as ‘wraparound care’. Based on feedback from a number of consultation events on the National Standard, and from our research on Parents’ Views and Use of ELC in Scotland there is wide support to provide more flexibility with session lengths.
Published research measuring outcomes for children in ELC does not gauge the impact of a specific number of hours per day that is the most beneficial for children nor the point at which the length of a session starts to disadvantage children. This means we cannot currently state the relative impact of a certain number of hours per day relative to another. All credible research which we have reviewed agrees that the most consistent indicator and greatest contributor to improved outcomes for children is high quality.
Secondary legislation has been laid in the Scottish Parliament to increase the maximum session length for funded ELC from 8 hours to 10 hours and to remove the minimum session length from August 2019. Subject to parliamentary approval, this will allow families to access their child’s ELC entitlement over longer sessions over a smaller number of days if this best meets the needs of their child.
The minimum session length is being removed as it is considered superfluous in the context of the expanded entitlement and the Care Inspectorate’s registration requirements. ‘Day care of children’ is required to be registered with the Care Inspectorate where the service meets the minimum service duration - of more than two hours in any day. While there is currently no legislative requirement that all funded ELC should be registered with the Care Inspectorate, in practice the Scottish Government and local authorities require it to be so. The National Standard for becoming a funded provider requires settings to achieve minimum Care Inspectorate inspection grades and so assumes that services are registered and therefore regulated with the Care Inspectorate and meet the minimum service duration and a defined quality standard.
Our long-term evaluation of the expansion programme, the SSELC, will include exploration of the number of hours a child attends a setting per day and the number of days per week. From this we will be able to ascertain whether there are any correlations between session length/frequency and developmental outcomes. If, at any point, evidence comes out of the evaluation process to support a different course of action, we will respond to this in further legislative change.
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