Background to the Research
The provision of accessible, high quality, flexible and affordable early learning and childcare (ELC) is a key focus of early years' policy for the Scottish Government. As such, the Scottish Government and local authorities have committed to almost doubling children's funded ELC entitlement from 600 to 1140 hours. The expanded statutory entitlement was due to come into force from August 2020, however the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic necessitated a delay to the full roll‑out. The full statutory roll out of 1140 hours is now planned for August 2021. Under the ELC multi-year agreement, the Scottish Government has committed to provide local authorities with an additional £567 million per year in revenue funding to support the delivery of this. The expansion will deliver three main benefits for children and families:
- children's development improves and the poverty related attainment gap narrows;
- more parents will have the opportunity to be in work, training or study; and
- increased family resilience through improved health and wellbeing of parents and children.
The related Statutory Guidance is targeted towards education authorities and is designed to support them in exercising their functions in relation to the delivery of ELC. However, the current Guidance was published in 2014 and is based on changes relating to ELC made previously by way of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. In order to reflect the substantial changes in the policy and legislative framework for the delivery of ELC since 2014, and the forthcoming changes in relation to funding entitlements and how this can be used, the Scottish Government updated the Statutory Guidance. Based on feedback from stakeholders, the document was refreshed to ensure that it was clear and readable and offered improved clarity on specific points. Revised sections included:
- Section 46: Definition of early learning and childcare;
- Section 47: Duty to secure provision of early learning and childcare for eligible children;
- Section 48: Mandatory amount of early learning and childcare;
- Section 49: Looked after 2-year olds: alternative arrangements to meet wellbeing needs;
- Section 50: Duty to consult and plan on delivery of early learning and childcare;
- Section 51: Method of delivery of early learning and childcare; and
- Section 52: Flexibility in the way in which early learning and childcare is made available.
The Scottish Government conducted a public consultation to elicit feedback on the revised Statutory Guidance in order to inform the development of the final version. The results of the consultation exercise are detailed here.
The Consultation Process
The consultation ran for 10.5 weeks, opening on 20 December 2019 and closing on 4 March 2020. It asked 5 questions, all of which sought free text responses.
Much of the consultation sought feedback on the clarity and readability of the revised Guidance, with questions including:
- Q1a. Does the Guidance help your understanding of the legislation relating to education authorities' functions in the delivery of early learning and childcare?
- Q1b. Are there any specific aspects of the early learning and childcare legislative framework that remain unclear after reading the Guidance?
- Q2a. Do you find the Guidance clear and readable?
- Q2b. Are there any specific areas of the Guidance where we could improve readability?
- Q3. Do you have any other comments on the Early Learning and Childcare Statutory Guidance for education authorities?
Views were sought from both individuals and organisations via the Scottish Government's online consultation tool, Citizen Space.
The publication of this consultation analysis took longer that desirable following the end of the consultation period, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on capacity within the Scottish Government.
A total of 198 responses were received, with the majority (n=188; 95%) submitted directly via Citizen Space, and 10 (5%) responses submitted by email.
However, two responses were removed from the analysis for being invalid, one of these was blank while the other provided the same response across all questions which was not relevant to the current consultation. A further two respondents were identified as having submitted duplicate responses, these were collated so that one response was generated for each whilst ensuring no content was lost. As such, the final number of substantive responses included in the analysis was 194. This included 132 responses from individuals, and 62 responses from organisations.
Organisations who responded represented the following sectors:
- local authorities (n=16, 26%);
- ELC providers, including private providers, local authority/school based providers and childminders (n=27, 44%);
- professional bodies (n=9, 14%);
- third sector organisations who support children and young people or represent parents/carers (n=8, 13%); and
- other organisation types (n=2, 3%).
Respondents self-identified as either an individual or organisation. As a result, some childminders were categorised as individuals and others as organisations. A total of 62 childminders were, however, identified within the responses (consisting of five organisations and 57 individuals). Meanwhile, 22 nursery providers responded (all categorised as organisations). It should be noted however, that a higher number of childminders may be represented in the data as some may not have clearly identified their professional interest/role within their response.
Most responses followed the standard format although a few (n=4) were received which did not address the specific consultation questions, but instead provided views in relation to the Guidance more generally, and/or provided comments on specific areas/clauses of the Guidance. There was no word limit for free text responses and the length and level of detail provided in responses varied considerably (with responses from individuals typically being shorter than those from organisations).
All responses were logged into a database and screened to ensure that they were appropriate/valid. Feedback was then analysed and is presented under the appropriate sections below.
Comments given at each question were examined to identify the main themes and issues discussed, with analysis conducted to identify any differences in views between respondent groups. The main themes to emerge across the consultation were also recorded and verbatim quotes extracted in some cases to highlight the dominant views that were expressed.
Where questions sought yes/no type answers (i.e. Q1a and Q2a), responses were coded where possible in order to undertake quantitative analysis.
All respondents were asked if they were willing for their response to be published. Two thirds (n=116, 60%) wanted only their response to be published, without their name, while 28% (n=55) were content for their response to be published with their name. The remaining respondents (n=23, 12%) either did not wish their response to be published or did not answer the question, and so were treated as wishing to remain anonymous.
Only extracts where the respondent indicated that they were content for their response to be published have been included in this report. A decision was made to anonymise all responses as part of the reporting process.
Report Presentation and Caveats
Findings are presented as they relate to each question in the consultation. Where views differed significantly between respondent groups, this is picked up narratively in the report.
It should be noted, however, that several core issues were discussed consistently across all consultation questions. While responses have been analysed and discussed under the most relevant question below, some repetition does remain (particularly between Q1 and Q3) in order to highlight the key issues discussed at each question and to reflect those areas that were key concerns for respondents.
A few respondents referenced external sources of evidence within their responses. The content of these external sources was not analysed here but a full list of these references is provided in Appendix A.
Similarly, several respondents provided comments and suggestions related to specific clauses/paragraphs of the Guidance. These were collated and provided separately to the Scottish Government for consideration.
The findings presented here should not be taken as representative of the wide range of stakeholders invited to respond to this consultation, nor should they be generalised too broadly. Rather, they reflect only the views of those individuals and organisations who chose to respond.
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