The Consultation Process
Overall, the consultation achieved a relatively high response rate, both in general and to each individual question posed. A wide range of respondents contributed, including local authorities, nursery providers and childminders, parents/carers and a range of other stakeholder groups.
There was significant consistency in the issues discussed by respondents, both between questions and across respondent groups. There was also considerable repetition in the main issues raised in response to different questions, with some clear themes emerging in terms of the additional clarity required both now and in the future to ensure transparency, consistency and accountability.
Many areas of the draft Guidance were welcomed and supported, including the need to consult parents/carers from a range of backgrounds, to provide clear and accessible information for parents/carers, for blended models to be provided, to accommodate flexibility in care arrangements, and ensure the inclusion of children with ASN and/or ASL.
Encouragingly, around three quarters of respondents felt the Guidance helped their understanding of the legislation relating to education authorities' functions in the delivery of ELC, and had found the Guidance clear and readable. Many constructive comments and suggestions were also made in relation to the document in general, and in relation to specific sections and paragraphs of the draft Guidance.
One key area for consideration is the need to make the Guidance more accessible for the lay reader, parents/carers and ELC practitioners. It was suggested that the draft Guidance, as currently written, may be too long and complex, with some respondents suggesting that more work is needed to simplify the Guidance and/or to improve its accessibility to a wide audience.
Several key issues/concerns were repeated by respondents throughout the consultation, including:
- concern that the Guidance would continue to allow a 'postcode lottery' situation where each local authority is able to interpret the Guidance, and implement ELC systems, differently. Respondents felt there was a need for the Guidance to be implemented consistently across the country, with some calling for local authorities to have less scope to interpret the Guidance in different ways;
- the need for stricter guidance or a more prescriptive approach to be taken regarding funding for discretionary deferrals, particularly for those children with birthdays that are between August and December;
- for parents/carers to be given a greater voice and participation within the deferral decision making process;
- for more information to be provided to parents/carers regarding the deferral process, for the process to be transparent and provide the opportunity for appeals;
- for PVI providers and childminders to be treated equally and fairly with local authority providers - this included:
- equal funding to be provided regardless of the ELC setting;
- equal promotion of all ELC services to parents/carers;
- for greater, and more appropriate, consultation to be undertaken with PVI providers and parents/carers; and
- for PVI providers be allowed equality in access to funds for expansion and resources;
- for childminders to be given greater consideration throughout the Guidance.
It was also suggested that the Guidance should be strengthened to ensure it cannot be interpreted in a way that negatively impacts any children living in poverty/ material deprivation, and to ensure that local authorities actively promote and engage with families. It was also felt that the Guidance should stress that it is not compulsory for families to take up all or any of their entitlement, and that there should be no penalties for not utilising their full entitlement.
Further, a few respondents suggested that the Guidance needed to better embed the rights of the child and the UNCRC, as well as the 2004 Act and Gaelic Medium education provision throughout.
Overall, the consultation feedback was effective in identifying key areas of concern, for parents/carers, PVI providers and local authorities, and provided numerous constructive suggestions which will help the Scottish Government to further improve the Guidance ahead of its publication.
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