Early learning and childcare - statutory guidance: consultation analysis

Analysis of responses to a public consultation on updated statutory guidance for early learning and childcare.

Other Comments

The consultation also provided respondents with the opportunity to identify and discuss any other issues that they wished to raise, as follows:

  • Q3 - Do you have any other comments on the Early Learning and Childcare Statutory Guidance for education authorities?

In total, 171 (88% of all) respondents provided substantive comments at this question, including 122 (92% of all) individuals and 49 (79% of all) organisations.

The feedback outlined below details both responses provided at this question specifically, as well as other common issues discussed across earlier questions (which did not directly address those consultation questions).

Campaign Responses

A total of 51 responses were submitted which showed strong similarities and consistency at this question, with responses linked to seven key issues. Although there was some divergence, with not all responses commenting on all seven elements, those which were included tended to provide a standard text (although a few also provided additional context or personal experience to complement their response).

Responses largely focused on issues for childminders or childminding services and were submitted largely by individuals (n=46) and a few organisations (n=5). Findings from these consultation style responses are presented first, before the more general feedback that was received, and any areas of repetition between this cohort and the rest of the respondents are highlighted, as appropriate.

Retainer Fees

Most of the campaign style cohort (n=50) were concerned that the National Standard for ELC did not currently allow for the charging of retainer fees and noted that this could have a significant adverse effect on the viability of childminding businesses. These respondents, therefore, welcomed the inclusion of paragraph 61 within the Guidance which will enable childminders to make optional service charges "such as the provision of localised cover arrangements required by parents and carers (for example, acting as the emergency contact for a child, cover for shift patterns, holiday cover, etc.) which requires the setting to retain a place in order to meet this demand during the hours that the child is receiving part of their funded ELC entitlement at another setting as part of a split placement". Respondents also welcomed the recognition that such arrangements are outwith the scope of ELC.

Promotion of All Partner Providers

Some campaign respondents (n=33) also welcomed the requirement at paragraph 90 for local authorities to consider how they make parents/carers aware of their child's entitlement, of the range of provision available, and how to access this. However, it was felt this did not go far enough and respondents suggested that the Guidance should explicitly require local authorities to clearly promote all partner providers (including childminders) in their area, equitably alongside their own local authority nursery provision.

Method of Delivery

Some campaign respondents (n=33) noted that, while section 51 (paragraphs 107-112) of the Guidance provides examples of the models which local authorities could offer, and includes term-time, full-time, half days and part days, some of the models being offered by local authorities to parents/carers and providers can be too prescriptive and sometimes limited to particular times of the week. As such, it was felt that this did not reflect the increasingly flexible nature of modern childminding services or the increasing demand from parents/carers for flexibility. It was also suggested that some of the models being offered may disadvantage childminding services from operating competitively alongside nursery provision.

For example, a few noted that they were being asked to provide just a lunch service where they pick a child up from one nursery, give them lunch and then take them to another nursery to complete their funded hours, while others were being asked to only provide limited wrap-around care. These limited hours, along with the limitations on the number of children who can be cared for by a childminder, made it challenging and not financially sustainable for all childminders and did not, it was suggested, provide a viable business model:

"I am offering funded places at the moment but most of the parents are wanting to use most of their hours at the local nursery, leaving just enough hours to pay for wrap around care. I obviously cannot run my service with so little hours." (Individual)

Flexibility and Parental Demand

Some campaign respondents (n=32) expressed support for specific elements of the Guidance that seek to ensure flexibility is provided in line with the needs and demands of parents/carers:

"I strongly support the recognition that "flexibility should be driven by local demand from families regarding the nature, and type, of provision they require" (paragraph 124) and that "there will be an ongoing need to review and change models in response to demand from parents and carers within their area" (paragraph 130)." (Individual)

Blended Care

Similarly, some campaign respondents (n=34) advocated support for blended models of provision in the Guidance and, in particular, the recognition in paragraph 131 that "a mixed model of provision can be beneficial for children and parents, and education authorities should accommodate split placements across different providers where this meets the needs of the child and parents or carers". They felt that catering for blended models of childcare should be standardised across Scotland and suggested that local authorities should not be allowed to only offer single-provider models.

Caring for Relatives Children

Another common concern raised (by 32 campaign respondents) was the legal restrictions on childminders providing childminding services (ELC or other) to their own children or their relatives' children. It was suggested that there may be circumstances where such provision should be considered, for example, in remote and rural areas where childcare provision is more limited and relatives may be involved in the paid care of children. As such, respondents felt that the Scottish Government should consider how support could be provided in such circumstances.

Recognition of Play

Some campaign respondents (n=25) also commended the Guidance for its recognition of play:

"I welcome the commitment that play, as outlined in 'Building the Ambition', will continue to be an essential and fundamental part of children's learning and happiness (paragraph 24). This is an important part of learning which deserves wider recognition." (Individual)

Other Concerns for Childminders

In addition to the campaign style responses outlined above, a number of other respondents also highlighted concerns in relation to childminders, their consideration within the Guidance, and the potential impact the ELC provision will have on their businesses.

It was felt that childminders were not well reflected or considered within the Guidance and, again, the issue of retainer fees (and the current inability to charge these) was discussed, as well as the need for consideration for childminders to be able to provide services to family members. This latter issue was considered important for childminders in rural areas where other childcare options may be limited, as well as for the provision of consistency in care for the child, and to support more informal one-to-one arrangements:

"Please include us from the beginning, we [childminders] are a valued childcare provider for families who need flexible care. We give a more 1 to 1 service which is invaluable for younger children." (Individual)

"Unfortunately, the Guidance does not go anywhere near far enough in supporting childminders. Although it does state that Local Authorities should include childminders, the Scottish Government does not go into detail in how childminders will be supported. Unfortunately, childminders are undervalued and deemed of little importance in the Early Learning and Childcare sector." (Individual)

While childminders were generally in favour of the provision of blended models, a few noted that the drop in the number of hours pre-school children were likely to be placed with childminders in such a model (e.g. half a day, wraparound hours, or lunch provision only) and the cap on the number of children which childminders can accommodate, would result in significant drops in their earnings and mean their service was no longer viable:

"I would like to be part of blended childcare, however, if operating on a half day basis around council nurseries my income would nearly half." (Individual)

"All this has done is take work away from childminders." (Individual)

Standardised Provision

Similar to concerns raised in response to the earlier consultation questions, some respondents reiterated perceptions that local authorities have interpreted the Guidance differently resulting in a 'postcode lottery' in the provision of local ELC models. The key issues (as discussed in detail at Q1) related to discretionary deferrals, differing funding being available depending on the setting, and PVI providers being treated differently to local authority providers. Other specific discrepancies which were noted, typically by one respondent each, included:

  • where provision for two year olds was only being offered in local authority settings;
  • childminders having to bank unused hours and provide these to families at a later date while nurseries do not; and
  • different, inflexible models being provided within/between areas meaning true choice is not being offered to parents/carers.

Again, both individuals and organisations called for less discretion/interpretation to be afforded to local authorities and a greater national standard established in the delivery of ELC across the country:

"SG [Scottish Government] needs to step in as the blueprint is being interpreted 32 ways…" (Organisation)

"It should not have been guidance but a policy which must be adhered to." (Individual)

Other Issues/Comments

Blended Models

Again, blended models of care were supported, with respondents suggesting that this would provide parents/carers with the desired/necessary level of flexibility. It was felt that blended models should be made available and supported by all local authorities.

Creation of Less Suitable/Flexible Models

A few individuals noted that, as a result of the increase in funded hours, there had been/could be a reduction in the number of hours available per day, with a requirement to spread the available funded hours across the full week rather than condensed over fewer days. This was considered unsuitable for working parents/carers who previously had access to full day care, and was seen as less flexible than the previous system.

Local Authorities Prioritising their Own Services

Throughout the responses at all consultation questions, a few respondents' highlighted concerns and perceptions of local authorities prioritising their own services over PVI providers and childminders. In addition to the differing funding levels discussed above, other issues included:

  • the promotion of available services;
  • access to other funding to support expansion;
  • local authority providers offering top-up hours at rates which were considered to be below cost/unsustainable and which PVI providers could not compete with;
  • expanding local authority based services while the PVI sector still has capacity to meet demand; and
  • in either not consulting, or not effectively/impartially consulting parents/carers on need and preferences in order to suit their own services/agenda.

Such comments were made by individuals and organisations:

"How are the public of Scotland [to] realise the fantastic opportunities in their area of choice if their own councils are not promoting it to the public at large… We are Partner Providers however it does not feel like an equal partnership." (Individual)

"LAs are using guidance to increase their estates and workforce to the detriment of existing PVI sector, building new nurseries in areas where there is already existing PVI provision. Rates offered by LAs to PVI are inconsistent, unsustainable, unfair, don't allow for sector neutral provision and don't create a level playing field." (Organisation)

Areas for Further Consideration

While a few local authorities provided supportive comments in relation to the clarity and helpfulness of the Guidance, and several provided comments and suggestions in relation to specific paragraphs within the Guidance, several also outlined more general areas where greater consideration or clarification would be helpful. These included:

Deferrals and Transitioning

  • That any changes to eligibility criteria for discretionary deferrals needs to allow appropriate lead in times and for resources to be available as this could lead to a significant increase in funded places and therefore funding challenges for local authorities. Clarity on roles and expectations would also be welcomed in such circumstances;
  • Improved information sharing between all agencies, e.g. Health Visiting Pathways[10] and the 27-30 month review[11] information would support robust decision making in relation to deferrals;
  • Further guidance was needed on the sharing of 27-30 month review data; and
  • Health visitors' capacity to ensure early identification of needs for children transitioning into ELC was a concern.

Optional Extras/Food Provision

  • In relation to charges for optional extras, the inclusion of 'snack' created concern/confusion for several local authorities due to the poverty agenda, as well as the food entitlement and additional fruit and milk offer; and
  • To provide clarity around whether it is acceptable for nurseries to offer children a free lunch as part of the entitlement through school catering arrangements, or whether there are plans for specific nursery menus to be developed in line with the refreshed Setting the Table guidance[12].

Other Elements

  • Further clarification around supporting transitions and split/blended placements. It was felt that some mention of the number of settings impacting on the child may be helpful, and/or that the Guidance should include a recommendation that local authorities can set a maximum of providers for this as part of their local delivery model. Local authorities considered this necessary as they noted that, while in most cases the split is between two settings, some families are seeking more, thus making the arrangements more complex and potentially more negative for the child. It was felt this would need careful management;
  • Greater clarity was required in relation to parents/carers paying for additional hours beyond the funded element of ELC; and
  • To provide a simple leaflet on what parents/carers can expect to receive through the National Standard and ELC Expansion Programme.

Additional comments and suggestions provided by other organisations included:

  • reference should be made to the new Best Start Early Learning and School Age payments, placing a requirement on education authorities to promote these grants to eligible families;
  • in order to improve uptake among eligible families, the Guidance could support greater and more effective promotion, and expand its consideration of consultation with parents/carers and, in particular, those living in poverty. This included consideration of barriers to uptake and participation in consultation;
  • the Guidance should also set out to local authorities that they must make it clear to parents/carers that the 1140 hours is not compulsory/mandatory and is an entitlement which parents/carers may or may not use, all or in part, voluntarily;
  • it was suggested that the relevance of educational psychology in assessment of concerns was important if early intervention was to be offered. It was felt that the current CAMHS referral was not always effective or appropriate;
  • provide more detail about how looked after children will be helped by starting nursery at an earlier age. It was also considered vital that early years' staff are appropriately trained and paid if the system is to promote recovery for these children;
  • provide greater connection between the Guidance and relevant targets set by the Scottish Government. For example, the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 and the targets set within this would tie in to the framework as to how education authorities can use such guidance in the elimination of child poverty and the furtherance of equality. It was felt this could be further emphasised with the placement on a legislative footing of access to childcare provision as a human right. Using the framework of the enshrinement of the Social Security Charter within the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, for instance, as a mode of best practice for this; and
  • any future changes to nursery milk provision should be transparent and inclusive, with the industry being comprehensively consulted, and must be set out clearly in advance.



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