Early learning and childcare: Deferral Working Group - February 2023

Minutes from the meeting held on 27 February 2023.

Attendees and apologies


Scottish Government
Aberdeen City Council
Care Inspectorate
Fife Council
Glasgow City Council


Angus Council
Argyll and Bute Council
Clackmannanshire Council 
Education Scotland
Falkirk Council
Scottish Borders Council
Shetland Islands Council
Stirling Council
Forth Valley & West Lothian Collaborative Regional Improvement Collaborative
Northern Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative
Tayside Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative
West Partnership Regional Improvement Collaborative
South East Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative
South West Collaborative Regional Improvement Collaborative

Items and actions

Updates from Scottish Government

Chair welcomed the attendees to the meeting and provided updates.

The first draft of the Ipsos evaluation has been received for review. Ahead of publication, the group will be invited to a presentation of the findings which will most likely take place in the second half of April.

Funding for the full implementation of the deferrals policy has been factored into the early learning and childcare (ELC) settlement for 2023-24, following discussion at the joint ELC Finance Working Group.

Scottish Government have had a discussion with COSLA to review the Joint Implementation Plan which was published at the end of 2020. The plan included a line about having a nationwide campaign to promote the change in legislation. This has not been taken forward based on feedback from this working group that important conversations were taking place at the local level. We wouldn’t want to be seen to be promoting deferrals as the best option in every instance; rather the decision should be led by the parents with advice from settings. The plan also referenced understanding the impact of an increase in the number of 4 and 5 year olds within ELC settings, and a wider age range in Primary 1 (P1).

Review Terms of Reference

The main update required is confirmation from members of the group on the membership and if the members included in the document are still correct.

Action – Chair to follow up with email to identify who is the correct person for each local authority.

It was noted that most of the objectives of the working group are complete or near to complete. A question was put to the group about what is the future and purpose of the working group going forward. The group agreed to discuss this under agenda item 4. 

Discuss school enrolment for 2023-24

Members were asked if there were any initial findings from current enrolment processes that the group could share, for example, any changes in deferral numbers and about how are they monitoring numbers.

Local authorities cannot confirm if there is an increase in deferrals for 2023-24, as parents do not have to make final decision until the school year starts. Members are seeing variation in the number of applications, with some seeing an increase and others not seeing a change.
There is not a national cut-off date when deferrals decisions need to be, it was suggested that this would be useful as it can be difficult to plan for P1 classes when parents apply for both a deferral and P1 place.

Some local authorities are seeing an increase in applications for children born March to July, usually for reasons linked to a child’s additional needs. 

There was also a wider discussion about a general increase in the number of children with additional support needs (ASN) and the impact this is having on deferrals. Some families who have not been able to access additional support spaces in P1 are choosing to defer so that they can try and access this support the next year.

A lack of certainty about deferral numbers is resulting in challenges with workforce planning for P1, in some cases. This is a particular problem in rural areas but also in cities where there are high deferral numbers.

There was a brief discussion on reasons for deferrals, which included parents in more affluent areas seeing deferral as giving their child an advantage. It was also reported that some parents were choosing to keep their child in ELC due to a lack of out of school care.

Future work on monitoring deferrals

The group agreed it would be useful to monitor some characteristics alongside deferral, such as ASN, level of deprivation, gender and ethnicity.

There could be work on promotion of the value of going into P1 when children are ready and improving parental awareness of what P1 is like.

There are more children with speech and language difficulties, which is potentially having an impact on the number of deferral requests.

In terms of a future working group, the group suggested embedding the group into 1140 programme rather than it being a stand alone group.

Any other business

There was no other business raised by the group.

SG will share a proposed date for the Ipsos presentation, which will be in late April.

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