Section 52: Flexibility in the way in which early learning and childcare is made available
Education authorities must have regard to the desirability of ensuring that the method by which it makes early learning and childcare available is flexible enough to allow parents an appropriate degree of choice when deciding how to access the service.
148. The purpose of section 52 of the 2014 Act is to support families through the provision of flexible hours that provide an appropriate degree of choice.
149. The intention is that education authorities will ensure that there is flexibility and choice for parents in terms of the patterns of hours of funded early learning and childcare available across their authority area.
150. Flexibility in provision also extends to access to funded early learning and childcare delivered through settings in the private, third and childminding sectors.
151. Section 52 of the 2014 Act does not place an expectation that every setting will offer every possible pattern of provision that a parent may request. This is to allow providers to effectively plan for and manage the capacity of their setting, and to acknowledge that for providers in the private, third and childminding sectors they will likely have a core offer for parents that underpins their business model. For example, settings will have established session times when delivering their service. While parents should have access to a range of sessions of varying lengths and start times, it is not expected that individual settings must accommodate every request from parents to use their child's statutory funded early learning and childcare entitlement for only part of a session (i.e. choosing their own drop off/pick up time).
152. Flexibility should be driven by local demand from families regarding the nature, and type, of provision and support that they require. The range of options available to families, should be established through consultation with representative populations of parents as specified in section 50 of the 2014 Act.
153. The range should also be delivered within the framework as defined in section 51 of the 2014 Act.
154. This will enable education authorities to ensure an appropriate mix of provision within their area that reflects local circumstances and allows for choice of:
- Different types of settings including those in the private, third, and childminding sectors.
- Choice in patterns of delivery such as varying lengths in sessions (whole day, half day, blended placements etc.) and the number of weeks of the year in which they access the statutory entitlement (term time or year round provision).
155. It is important to stress that flexibility and choice is around patterns or models of provision. It will be for education authorities to design and develop those models in response to consultation; and to design systems of choice. Appropriate choice under section 52 of the 2014 Act is therefore intended around models and not individual providers or places.
156. Where providers in the private, third and childminding sectors, are delivering funded early learning and childcare sessions of a particular length, it is not necessary for education authorities to specify when those sessions should start and stop. Sessions also do not need to be in line with education authority timings as long as the framework for delivering funded early learning and childcare as defined in section 51 of the 2014 Act is met, as this will limit flexibility.
157. Parents may wish to alter the days of the week or the sessions during which they access their child's funded early learning and childcare during a term. Providers offering the funded early learning and childcare entitlement should work with parents to accommodate this where possible, however section 52 of the 2014 Act does not set an expectation that settings must accommodate frequent changes to the delivery pattern for a child's funded early learning and childcare entitlement.
158. This flexibility in choices for parents that arise from consultations will mean that education authorities will have to be adaptable. This will require a recognition that there will be an ongoing need to review and change models in response to demand from parents within their area.
Transitions and blended placements
159. The aim of flexibility is to provide options for families which are in the best interests of the child whilst also meeting the needs of the parents. Being able to access funded and discretionary early learning and childcare, where they are required, at the same location can provide consistency for the child and their parent(s). However, there is no evidence to indicate that all of the child's funded early learning and childcare entitlement should be delivered by the same provider. A mixed model of provision can be beneficial for children and parents, and education authorities should accommodate blended placements across different providers where this meets the needs of the child and parent(s).
160. The key priority in moving between settings is to manage those transitions well. This should be done by sharing responsibility for the child's personal plan and focusing on developing a supportive and caring relationship between the child and their caregivers. The most important factor is that children receive high quality provision, wherever and however early learning and childcare is provided.
161. When a child starts at an early learning and childcare setting, they will make a number of transitions: from home to the setting, within the setting, potentially between settings, and from person to person. This can be exciting yet challenging for parents and children, as change often brings apprehension. Transitions may be more challenging for some children who have additional support needs and this should be an important consideration when planning for the support of children in these circumstances. Where transitions are well supported, children can learn to manage change in a positive way, which is an important skill for life. A high quality early learning and childcare setting will build on the valuable learning and experiences that a child has had in and around the home; and, staff respond to children's and parent's needs to make sure the transition is positive and meaningful. Guidance on supporting transitions is included in National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare: Realising the Ambition, that builds on the current national framework of Curriculum for Excellence.