Early learning and childcare: Deferral Working Group minutes - April 2022

Minutes from the meeting held on 27 April 2022.

Attendees and apologies


Scottish Government
Aberdeen City Council
Angus Council
Argyll and Bute Council
Clackmannanshire Council 
Falkirk Council
Fife Council
Glasgow City Council
Scottish Borders Council
Shetland Islands Council
Stirling Council 
Northern Alliance Regional Improvement Group
South East Alliance Regional Improvement Group
South West Collaborative Regional Improvement Group
Tayside Alliance Regional Improvement Group
West Partnership Regional Improvement Group
Ipsos Scotland
Education Scotland


Care Inspectorate

Items and actions

Welcome and updates

Colleagues from Ipsos joined the meeting to share the evaluation approach for the pilot evaluation.

Pilot local authorities (LAs) provided updates from their areas. Some LAs were seeing increasing applications for deferrals, but this included increases in children with January or February birthdays (children who are not affected by the pilot) and increases in line with previous years. One LA had seen a reduction in deferrals after a large increase in the previous year. This LA had a policy of accepting most deferral applications for funded ELC pre-pilot.

Some LAs were improving communication materials and application processes.

One LA noted some parents were applying for deferral and for school placement, but were opting not to defer if the school placement is successful. Another noted an increase in deferrals with a number of children asking to defer to a different setting than they were originally attending.
One LA was beginning to think about what an increase in deferrals will look like in practice, impact on learning and Primary 1 (P1) in the following August. They were also planning a conference in October 2022 for early levels (ELC and P1) on how practice will be affected by increased deferral.

Updated terms of reference and outstanding actions

Updated terms of reference were circulated in advance, no comments were received.

Members were informed about the Knowledge Hub, an online space to allow sharing of best practice.

Scottish Government (SG) asked for any remaining data returns from LAs to be sent in.

Issue of cross boundary admissions within pilots was raised in the previous meeting. One member noted this will only be an issue for one year, and that the local authority have been following usual cross boundary policy.

A member noted not one size fits all in regards to cross boundary placements, as arrangements are different between different LAs.

SG confirmed we would not prescribe rules on cross boundary arrangements, and that the impact of any increased number of deferrals on any arrangements should be monitored.

Evaluation strategy 

SG analyst informed members that independent researchers at Ipsos have been commissioned to undertake the evaluation work after a delay at the tender stage.

The logic model developed as Phase 1 of the evaluation was discussed, followed by questions about the evaluation.

Members asked if the views of children will be sought around deferral. This is not part of the evaluation but there is wider work on engaging with young children being developed. The Chair noted that SG will take this point away to consider. 

Ipsos confirmed that the views of parents who choose not to defer will be included in the evaluation.

A member asked if data on reasons for deferral will be collated. This could help us to understand if more flexible childcare encourage parents to defer. It was noted that typically parents from a higher socio economic background tend to defer more which exacerbates attainment gap.

The logic model showed short to medium term outcomes but members were asked if they were aware of any long term outcomes. SG analyst noted there had been discussion around what long term impacts to include and settled on focusing more on short and medium term outcomes to avoid the evaluation being framed as promoting deferral as the best option for a child or the focus shifting to deferral in general. Analysts noted they were thinking about longer term monitoring leading on from logic model.

The logic model would be a resource to be used when planning the evaluation data collection and engaging with staff.

Ipsos outlined they would be looking at local data provided by leads to analyse uptake figures, trends and patterns by demographics, as well as reviewing LA promotional and admissions materials to gain insight into their approaches.

For Phase 2, in each pilot area Ipsos propose to speak to two representatives from each LA, the lead and another representative of their choice. These interviews will be around 45 minutes in length and are scheduled for May. They will cover questions around planning, resourcing, progress, successes, challenges, and anticipated challenges. 

Ipsos will compile an interim report and will select six areas for more in depth research, conducting interviews with parents and ELC staff to create case studies. In their research Ipsos will look at varied locations by deprivation and geographical make up (e.g. rural and urban).

Phase 3 of the evaluation will include 30 interviews with parents, with mix of deferral and non-deferral families (18/12 split). Again this will be varied by spread of deprivation and family backgrounds. These interviews will covered questions around awareness and understanding of the pilot, information on sources on decision making, process for deferring, child’s experiences of pilot, challenges, and suggestions for improvement.

There will also be mini focus groups with ELC staff in year 1 pilot areas. These will be in September or October 2022. This will look into; their role in informing parents, impacts on settings with older cohorts, outcomes for children, and challenges or suggestions.

In March 2023 there will be a final report on findings of evaluation.

Chair noted the risk that decisions on deferrals could be made for different reasons now than prior to the pandemic. An important area of interest will be the key drivers behind deferral decisions and if availability of funded ELC influences this decision.

Members were encouraged to share further feedback online via knowledge hub.

Impact of additional deferrals on how ELC spaces are prioritised 

Members were asked if deferral prioritisation will have a knock on effect on spaces for 2 or 3 year olds, and if this had been a problem in pilot areas.

One member noted that their LA was not part of the pilot but aimed to agree all discretionary deferrals. As a result some children were being sent out of catchment as there was not sufficient local capacity.

One member questioned if this could be a geographical issue across more affluent areas where there may be higher rate of people deferring. This could impact on the share of children across private and local authority settings, or on the baby places and under 3s provision generally. 

A member noted parents often wanted ELC places in settings attached to schools, this had created a high number of split placements and reduced choice for parents.

This was echoed by another member who noted that many parents do not get their first choice of setting for three year olds due to deferral and this was again in more affluent areas. Resource capacity was also an issue.

One member noted they had found it difficult to collate data on displacement due to deferrals.

A member noted a wider issue about having to decommission services that had not met Care Inspectorate standards which had an overarching impact on funded placements that are available.

One member noted that there had not been an increase in applications to private, voluntary and independent (PVI) settings in their area. 

It was noted anecdotally that PVI settings had concerns that deferral may displace under 3s who already attend their setting, as there may not a be a funded place available when the child turns 3.

Action-  Chair will highlight potential issue to Access policy leads 

Any other business 

Discussion on impact of increased deferral on children, and if their views had been considered.  Chair noted that the children’s rights impact assessment (CRWIA) will be revisited this year. SG Analyst commented there may be ongoing broader work involving engaging with young children, which might encompass more general views on ELC and wellbeing.

Action- SG to consider how children’s views and rights have been considered as part of the current policy when CRWIA is refreshed in Autumn.

A member noted that parents have the option to change their mind on deferral which creates an impact on primary 1 capacity, as parents can change a day before term starts. Parents are asked to enrol in catchment school as precaution but if this is not needed it could impact on teacher allocations or ELC ratios.

Other LAs noted this was an issue they had successfully managed via their admissions process.

One member noted they had a few changes, and the impact this can have on child’s transition to primary.

Members were encouraged to share their thoughts on this via the knowledge hub to see how other pilot authorities manage this situation.

Action- SG to start knowledge hub forum thread to enable the sharing of best practice on this issue.

Members are thanked for their contributions, next meeting will follow the interim evaluation report in June. 

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