Scope of the CRWIA, identifying the children and young people affected by the policy, and summarising the evidence base
A range of UK and international studies have found that high quality ELC provision can help to improve children’s cognitive development in the early years. The expansion of ELC will affect all 3 and 4 year olds and around a quarter of 2 year olds. The targeting of the funded entitlement to around a quarter of all 2 year olds is based on evidence that all children, but especially those experiencing the most disadvantage, benefit from access to high quality ELC. Those eligible for the 2 year old offer include looked after children, children in families receiving support due to an ongoing asylum claim and children whose family are in receipt of a no or low income ‘qualifying benefit’.
This Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) was therefore undertaken to consider the impacts that increasing the statutory entitlement to 1140 hours of funded ELC and of modifying the current minimum and maximum session lengths will have on the rights and wellbeing of children eligible for ELC in Scotland. The process also sought to explore any impacts on children’s rights and wellbeing resulting from the introduction of Funding Follows the Child, underpinned by the National Standard.
A number of key sources informed the development of the expansion of ELC:
- Rapid evidence review: childcare quality and children’s outcomes: this evidence report highlights the benefits to children from attending early learning and childcare. Key findings show that all children have the potential to benefit, but the biggest impact tends to be among children from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
- Starting Strong 2017: Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care; 2017. The OECD have produced a series of reports under the theme of Starting Strong. It provides an authoritative overview of the international data and evidence on ELC from over a decade of research and aims to support countries to review and improve their ELC. The latest report (2017) concludes that giving all children access to high quality early education and care will lay the foundations for future skills development, boost social mobility and support inclusive growth. This report also states that disadvantaged children benefit the most from this investment.
- The effective provision of pre-school education (EPPE) project: this was a longitudinal study funded by the Department for Education and Skills 1997 – 2004. Leading academics published numerous reports using EPPE data focusing in particular on the impact on children’s outcomes. There is clear evidence from EPPE to show that duration of attendance (in months) is important, with an earlier start (under 3 years of age) related to better intellectual development. It also found that high quality ELC is essential and related to better intellectual and social/behavioural development for children.
- Provision of early learning and childcare and parents’ outcomes – an evidence brief: this evidence report looks at the impact on parents of their preschool children attending early learning and childcare (ELC). These include direct impacts associated with childcare costs and the indirect impact of increasing parental ability to return to or seek employment, training or education.
- Changes in early learning and childcare use and outcomes at age 5: comparing two Growing Up in Scotland cohorts: this provided evidence of the impact of the expansion to 600 hours on children’s outcomes by comparing with those who had been entitled to 475 hours.
- Parents’ views and use of early learning and childcare: this includes findings from a survey of over 10,000 parents across Scotland alongside focus group and interviews with particular groups of interest to explore current patterns of use of ELC as well as an in-depth exploration of parents perceptions of quality, flexibility, accessibility, and affordability. This found that parents on average use 29 hours of ELC per week for an eligible 3 or 4-year-old, and 24 hours per week for an eligible 2-year-old.
The evidence highlights that the ELC expansion has the potential to impact positively on children’s social, emotional and cognitive outcomes, particularly for those facing disadvantage. The expansion to 1140 hours intends to maximise the opportunity to ensure that all children in Scotland get the best possible start in life.
The expansion will also bring economic benefits which will further support children’s rights and wellbeing. 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.
We have also considered whether increasing the maximum session length for funded ELC will impact on children’s wellbeing. It is important to note that research on Parents’ views and use of early learning and childcare the Parent Survey found that 10-hour sessions are commonly used by families already. 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 that a certain number of hours per day is beneficial or detrimental. All credible research which we have reviewed agrees that the most consistent indicator and greatest contributor to improved outcomes for children is high quality.
As part of the ELC expansion we are also developing a parental communication strategy to ensure that parents have the information to make an informed choice about how to use their child’s ELC entitlement in order to best meet the needs of their child. National and local government both have a role to play in making sure parents and carers are aware of their child’s funded ELC entitlement and how to make the best choice for their child. The Scottish Government has been working closely with parent organisations and parents to make sure we understand what information parents need about ELC, and when they need it.
The legislative changes mean that local authorities will be able to ensure an appropriate mix of ELC models within their authority area. Parents and carers will therefore have more choice in how they access their child’s ELC entitlement and our parental communication strategy and local communication will ensure that parents and carers can make the choice for their child based on their individual needs. The legislative changes do not mean however, that parents and carers must access the full entitlement or longer ELC session lengths if this does not meet the needs of their child.
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