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

Minutes from the meeting held on 7 May 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Scottish Government
  • Angus Council
  • Argyll and Bute Council
  • Care Inspectorate 
  • Education Scotland
  • Northern Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative
  • South East Alliance Regional Improvement Collaborative
  • South West Collaborative Regional Improvement Collaborative
  • West Partnership Regional Improvement Collaborative


  • Falkirk Council
  • Forth Valley and West Lothian Regional Improvement Collaborative
  • Scottish Borders Council
  • Shetland Islands Council
  • Tayside Regional Improvement Collaborative

Items and actions


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

Review minutes and open actions from last meeting

Chair reminded members the plan is to be open with the minutes of the working group. They will be shared on Knowledge Hub and the Scottish Government website.

Members are content with the minutes from last meeting and happy for them to be published.


  • Scottish Government (SG) to develop and share Q and A on impact of the new policy on children with May-August birthdays
  • invite the Give Them Time Campaign to attend a future meeting

Terms of Reference

Chair highlighted that the main interest for any discussion is the objectives. The objectives listed are:

  • assess and agree appropriate mechanisms to evaluate the initial pilot in order to further inform the second year of the pilot and full implementation of the policy in August 2023
  • share learning from the pilots more widely, and seek input from across all local authorities (LAs) via representation from each Regional Improvement Collaborative (RIC)
  • raise potential risks and issues to delivery of the obligation, whether generally applicable or specific to certain local authorities
  • identify best practice that can be shared across local authorities and/or settings delivering this commitment, whether now or in the future
  • identify best practice in non-pilot authorities that can be shared across local authorities and/or settings who are not yet offering automatic funded ELC, to consider opportunities to improve the communications and experience for families
  • invite other partners or leads in priority policy areas to attend meetings, where their expertise is required

One member noted there was a feeling that objectives 2 and 4 might overlap, just 4 will be required to include feedback on best practice.

Another member noted on lessons learned and best practice if the group could consider a free standing objective on gathering parental feedback. The chair agrees this will be part of evaluation and notes, and that this proposal could be included under objective 1.

A member questioned on evaluation and lessons learned; if the group will be looking at parent satisfaction or if this evaluation will look more closely at closing the attainment gap and gathering data to decide if this is an equitable policy. Chair notes Scottish Government want evaluation to contribute to future equality impact assessments. They are also keen to understand as much as possible on practical points around delivery, the actual experience of children and long term impacts.

A member questioned if the evaluation will have longevity and track these children through primary 1, 3 and 5. Chair notes evaluation includes primary 1 , and with LA support, we could find out about those who applied and those who met the criteria but chose not to apply. 

The member also raised the point of possibly changing the language around deferral, noting as opposed to referring to it as a deferred year it could be addressed as an additional year and make the language more positive generally.  

They further highlighted there are a number of tools we could use to gather engagement with children. Chair agreed  an action to arrange a separate discussion with SG analysts to discuss this looking particularly at the leuven scale. 

Another member agrees on language and highlights a need guidance for those children that sit outwith the statutory deferred entry dates. Chair suggested that SG provide some key lines to clarify the position for LAs and for parents.

The member further mentions there will be children who miss the eligibility date by a couple of days and there is a need for clarity around those dates. 

Chair notes that parents need to understand school needs to be child ready rather than child being school ready. In ideal circumstances there shouldn’t be a need for deferral in all cases. We want people to defer for the right reasons, for now it’s worth us having a Q&A about what this means for May – Aug birthdays.

A member notes their LA look at the exit point as the biggest risk, as someone enters at an older age may mean they will have the option to leave education at a sooner date than others. 

Another member notes the directorate is looking to update statutory guidance to include legal duties around provision of Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) when children reach statutory school age. Whenever we refer to legislation it’s about the start of the school commencement date as per that LA.  The statutory guidance is about explaining legislation that has already passed so it’s not an opportunity to change anything. The legislation was passed to be in line with school start age legislation. Action to share feedback with Learning colleagues.

Action - Arrange separate discussion with SG Analysts to look at language around deferral.

Evaluation and deferral uptake returns

Chair notes that SG analysts passed on thanks for the uptake returns. 

Chair acknowledged some limitations to the year one data, in that behaviour may change over coming years, and it will be useful to see any changes between year 1 and 2. Chair questioned whether timing about the decision of pilots impacted decisions – e.g. if there wasn’t enough time for parental communications and/or parents may have already made up their mind. 

A member notes that if that was the case we would have heard from these parents and doesn’t anticipate this to be an issue.

Chair notes we are trying to refine modelling ahead of pilots that start in 2022, we are front loading the evaluation to feed into the new multi-year financial agreement at appropriate points, although this will be too early to use numbers from the second year pilots.

Chair questions if LAs would be able to run surveys similar to Shetland to get a better idea of numbers for the second year of pilots.

Chair states we may offer a simple parental survey, however if LAs are not comfortable approaching parents then we could collect data through ELC practitioners. 

Action: SG officials to create a draft parental survey to provide early indication of second year pilots.

Parental communications

There is a need to ensure parents make informed choices and make the right decision for their child. 

Chair highlighted there is a page on parent club website, and also a PDF of this translated which could be printed out to help facilitate conversations. ELC practitioners were identified as best placed to have these discussions but health visitors involvement is something to be considered.

Members were asked if there is anything in terms of parental communication approaches they have all taken when speaking to families. Is there anything that has worked well or not that would be useful to share.

Any other business

It was agreed the Give Them Time (GTT) campaign will be invited to the next meeting of the working group. 

An agenda will be agreed closer to the meeting by the Scottish Government.

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