Early learning and childcare: Deferral Working Group minutes - March 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 1 March 2021.

Attendees and apologies


Katherine Tierney (KT), Scottish Government, Chair

Margot Black (MB), Scottish Borders Council, RIC: South East Alliance

Lisa McCabe (LM), Falkirk Council

Victoria Smith(VS), Angus Council

Janice Collins (JC), East Renfrewshire Council, RIC: West Partnership

Bernadette Martin-Scott (BMS), Perth and Kinross Council, RIC: Tayside Collaborative

Samantha Flaws (SF), Shetland Islands Council

Jacky Gillian (JG), Care Inspectorate

Sandra Clark (SC), Argyll and Bute Council

Lynda McDonald (LM), Clackmannanshire Council, RIC: Forth Valley and West Lothian Collaborative

Catherine Diamond (CD), Orkney Islands Council, RIC: Northern Alliance

Liz Candish (LC), South Ayrshire Council, RIC: South West Collaborative

Sian Neil (SN), Education Scotland

Catriona Rooke (CR), Education Analytical Services, Scottish Government

David Taggart (DT), Scottish Government - Secretariat

Francesca Iwanyckyj (FI), Scottish Government


Gary Greenhorn (GG), Falkirk Council

Wendy Brownlie (WB), Argyll and Bute Council

Ellen Leaver (EL), Scottish Government

Items and actions


KT welcomed members and attendees introduced themselves to the rest of the group.

Scope and remit of the group

KT explained the planned scope and remit of the group, and that a priority for the group will be the implementation of the initial five pilot areas and the lessons learned from these areas. The work of the group also includes understanding staffing, infrastructure and resource implications for authorities as a result of the new deferral policy. Plans are to monitor the implications of these with the Scottish Government’s ELC Strategy and Delivery (S&D) team to understand how the change to deferral legislation will impact on capacity to deliver the increase to 1140 hours of funded ELC. Members were encouraged to share any issues on capacity with the group moving forward.

KT highlighted that the Minister for Children and Young People has committed to invite Give Them Time campaign members to a future meeting of the working group. The group also suggested the group should seek representation or input from:

  • Association of Directors of Education (ADES) Resources Network
  • SG ELC Strategy and Delivery 
  • Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists (ASPEP)

KT explained that, in order for the work of the group to be open and transparent, they plan to publish the minutes of the group meetings through the ELC Expansion: Local Authorities Knowledge Hub group, and on the Scottish Government’s website.

Actions agreed

  • KT/DT – A terms of reference will be drafted and circulated to the group for comment ahead of the next meeting
  • KT/DT – to contact ADES Resources Network about representation
  • DT – to invite SG ELC Strategy and Delivery Team to future meetings
  • KT – to speak to ASPEP about the work of the group and invite input
  • KT/DT – to invite GTT to a future meeting

Update from pilot authorities (applications to date, issues arising)

All members who represent a pilot authority provided an update on recent activities and developments to implement funded ELC access for all deferred children in their local areas.

Angus Council

  • VS (Angus) highlighted the window for applications for an additional year of ELC in a deferred year closed the day before the meeting, so data available has been pulled together quickly. There had been concerns that the additional COVID-19 lockdown and closure of ELC settings may have resulted in additional applications for ELC in a deferred year but this appears to be unfounded. Applications met the expectations of the council and were in line with numbers from previous years. The next analysis will look into resource and spacing within pressured localities. It was highlighted that over the past two years it has been helpful with parental communications to refrain from referring to applications as applications for deferral, but rather applications for an additional year of funded ELC, noting parents of children who’s birthdays fall within the relevant dates for deferral should receive consistently clear information.

Argyll and Bute Council

  • SC (Argyll and Bute) welcomed the opportunity to be part of the pilot, and noted that they are already delivering 1140. They also anticipated COVID-19 may increase this year’s applications but this does not seem to be the case. Their priority now will be to consider applications against available spaces.

Shetland Islands Council

  • SF (Shetland Island) put out a form to all potential deferred entries in December to assist with planning. There didn’t seem to be any sense that people were choosing to defer more so than in previous years, and they noted there were no major behavioural changes to previous years. They did however note it will be interesting to see if there are particular communities where uptake is higher.

Falkirk Council

  • LM (Falkirk) noted that they are in a slightly different position to other pilot authorities as the council removed the discretionary element to an additional year of ELC in deferred year in August 2018. Since 2018 they have noted there has been a doubling of deferred entries within August to February birthdays. Within this trend there appears to be a greater proportion of parents of children with additional support needs (ASN) choosing to defer. There has also been a trend in communities where there are lower levels of deprivation. Settings within Falkirk have conversations with parents about their reasons to defer their child’s entry and highlight that as they are advocates of play-based learning within Primary one, the needs of the child could be met through entry to Primary School as opposed to deferring entry, and note that deferral may not be in the best interests of the child in every circumstance.

Scottish Borders Council

  • MB (Scottish Borders) noted they are still processing figures from this year but anecdotal evidence from settings suggest there has not been an increase in applications. They highlight it is also important to empower parents to make an informed choice on the best interests of the child, echoing that play based approaches to Primary one may allow for the needs of the children to be met.

On this agenda item, members of the group also highlighted:

  • the need for additional communications to parents on the impact deferring entry may have on a their future schooling, for example the impact it could have on the child’s legal right to leave education when in secondary education
  • the risk of funded ELC places in a deferred year displacing two year old places in areas where there is a considerable percentage of eligible two year olds (noting that the number of eligible two year olds could increase as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic)
  • concerns regarding capacity for three year olds, and whether the impact of deferral would result in challenges for capacity. Members suggested that this should be considered early on to allow time for any consideration of capital requirements in the lead in to 2023

Evaluation plan

CR presented the evaluation approach to members, noting key points by which information will be needed. The aim is to have identified year two pilots by autumn to allow for greater time for enrolment, potentially allowing applications by November/December, with a multi-year finance deal being decided by the end of 2021. The group gave some initial feedback (see actions below for details).

Actions agreed

  • DT – to circulate evaluation plan to members following the meeting, to allow them to provide written feedback.
  • CR – to consider collecting information that is not solely specific to the child, e.g. on ‘wider family reasons’ as this can be a reason for deferral decisions, to allow for stability. This information has not been collated recently as there is no longer a need to scrutinise applications to make discretionary decisions.


KT encouraged members to share any thoughts they have for discussion points prior to the next meeting.

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