Background and research rationale
The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 made up to 600 hours of funded childcare per year available to all 3- and 4-year-olds and eligible 2-year-olds. From August 2021, the funded entitlement to Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) in Scotland increased from 600 to 1,140 hours per year for all 3- and 4-year-olds as well as eligible 2-year-olds. In the 2021 Programme for Government, the Scottish Government further committed to expanding funded ELC to all 1- and 2-year-olds, starting in this Parliament with those who will benefit most.
The aim of this research is to enable the Scottish Government to understand what ELC provision presently exists in Scotland for 1- and 2-year-olds, identify good practice and understand challenges that need to be addressed within the design of the new policy.
The first phase of the research focused on mapping ELC provision across Scotland. It included analysing secondary data; conducting a focus group and interviews with key stakeholders; and administering a survey to all local authorities (LAs). The second phase explored childcare provision in four LAs in Scotland: Scottish Borders, Moray, Glasgow City, and Fife. Fourteen interviews were conducted with representatives from the LAs, the Care Inspectorate and with providers operating in those areas. Additionally, a survey was administered to providers in the LAs selected. In what follows, the overarching findings across all research activities are presented.
Current ELC provision for 1- and 2-year-olds
The survey questionnaire administered in all LAs in Scotland indicated that childminding and nurseries are the most common types of provision for 1- and 2-year-olds, with playgroups also being relatively widespread. Fewer LAs responded that they have children and family centres and creches. The LA representatives discussed additional provision models for 1- and 2-year-olds, including parent and toddler groups, family support programmes, and community childminding, which offers short term respite to vulnerable families during times of need.
According to analysis of data provided by the Care Inspectorate and discussions with stakeholders, the number of ELC places in formal group-based settings is much lower for 1- and 2-year-olds than for older children. Nationally, in December 2021, there were only 0.25 ELC places in formal group-based settings per 1-year-old child and 0.47 per 2-year-old child, compared to 0.89 and 0.99 for 3- and 4-year-olds respectively. These figures do not include places in childminder settings. This is an important limitation as childminders provide a significant proportion of ELC for 1- and 2-year-olds. Although the numbers above are underestimates of available ELC places, they still showcase the significant variation in the availability of ELC places across different age groups of children. Additionally, the data show that ELC provision for 1- and 2-year-olds relies on the private sector. More specifically, only 5% of LA nurseries provide ELC services to 1-year-olds and only 29% to 2-year-olds, compared to 61% and 67% of private providers (excluding childminders).
According to the LA representatives, there are gaps across all types of provision. Of the 32 Scottish local authorities, 26 responded with only two LAs responding that they do not have provision gaps in their area. The gaps in 19 out of the 26 LAs were described as specific to 1- and 2-year-olds.
Remote rural and island communities have more pronounced gaps in provision for 1- and 2-year-olds than other areas. Additionally, in those areas there are fewer options for families across ELC types, as families are much more reliant on nurseries than in urban and accessible rural areas. These challenges are related to the sparse population and demand in those areas, as well as the long travel distances for both families and staff.
In terms of current challenges in ELC provision for younger children, the recruitment and retention of staff were emphasised as primary challenges, together with capacity issues and demand being higher than supply, as well as the need for facility changes and additions to appropriately address the needs of 1- and 2-year-olds.
Good practice examples
Holistic approaches and family support
The importance of a holistic approach to ELC for younger children and their families was emphasised, including working with both children and parents, providing family support services, and hosting sessions for parents on topics related to parenting skills. For example, the funded ELC places in Fife that are combined with parenting classes and support from voluntary organisations like Home Start, which trains volunteers to work with families and provide parent support, and Gingerbread, which provides advice and support to lone parents in Fife, were discussed. Additionally, the Early Years centres in Scottish Borders were described as a good practice example following such an approach.
Programmes tailored to the needs of children and families
The benefits of tailored programmes to meet the different needs of each family were also emphasised, including programmes and schemes designed for children and families that might need additional support or have additional vulnerabilities, e.g., community childminding to provide short-term respite and the Young Parent Support Base in Glasgow City designed to support young parents to continue their education. Additionally, a few good practice examples of delivery models that work well for children with Additional Support Needs (ASN) were also identified, including developmental nurseries in Moray providing one-to-one support and nurseries having the resources to have a lower number of children per adult to be able to support children with ASN appropriately.
Suggestions for a potential new offer
Across all research activities, while not a formal consultation on the expansion of the funded offer, the stakeholders shared insights on what works better for 1- and 2-year-olds based on their experience of the current provision and provided suggestions for the new offer. According to stakeholders, there is a need to increase the capacity of the ELC sector to deliver the new offer. This could be achieved by providing additional training to staff and tailoring workforce learning pathways to reflect the skills needed for service provision for 1- and 2-year-olds. Additionally, a few stakeholders emphasised the need to include and promote all different types of provision in a new offer for two reasons. Firstly, this will increase the sector's capacity, and secondly, a wide range of provision types and models will ensure that all the varying needs of families will be met.
Another topic discussed extensively was that the new offer should be designed to fit the needs of 1- and 2-year-olds. Thus, it should allow for flexibility and include and promote (i) programmes tailored to the varying needs of families, (ii) attachment-led models, and (iii) a focus on family learning and parental engagement. Regarding children with ASN, stakeholders suggested additional training to enable providers to recognise early signs of ASN, ELC to be packaged with other services, and additional funding and support to allow providers to offer one-to-one care. Furthermore, stakeholders also highlighted the importance of adequate funding to ensure high-quality ELC provision for 1- and 2-year-olds.
Finally, a few stakeholders suggested that the new offer should be gradually implemented over time. Some also highlighted the importance of clarity around eligibility criteria and the offer's details to maximise uptake by both providers and families.
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