Early learning and childcare: statutory guidance - July 2021

Statutory guidance to education authorities to support them in exercising their functions in relation to the delivery of early learning and childcare from 1 August 2021.

Meals, snacks and drinks

187. Section 53 of the 1980 Act sets out the arrangements for the provision of school meals, snacks and drinks for pupils in attendance at public schools. This can apply to an eligible young child who receives funded early learning and childcare in an education authority establishment or in settings in the private, third or childminding sectors delivering funded early learning and childcare through a section 35 arrangement.[36]

188. All meals and snacks must meet the most up-to-date nutritional guidance provided for early learning and childcare (currently included in Setting the Table). Settings that are part of a school, can provide meals and snacks through school catering arrangements/facilities, as long as they meet the nutritional guidance for early learning and childcare.

Free school meals

189. The 1980 Act provides criteria for children eligible for free school meals. Current information on eligibility criteria can be found on mygov.scot web pages.

190. Education authorities have a statutory duty to provide free school meals to eligible children when they are accessing their statutory entitlement to funded early learning and childcare.

191. Under section 53(12) of the 1980 Act, a school lunch means anything provided in the middle of the day which the education authority considers is appropriate for consumption as a meal at that time of day. It is for education authorities to determine at what point they serve school lunches within the general meaning of the middle of the day.

Early learning and childcare meal commitment

192. As part of the agreement to deliver the expanded statutory entitlement to 1140 hours of funded early learning and childcare, the Scottish Government and COSLA made a joint commitment that every child attending a funded early learning and childcare session – which is any session that includes funded early learning and childcare hours, regardless of whether they are mixed with 'paid for' hours – will be provided with a free meal. This commitment is a key aspect of Funding Follows the Child[37].

193. Children already eligible for free school meals will continue to receive their meal entitlement, which will be expanded to include all children attending a session that includes funded early learning and childcare hours.

194. Education authorities will provide settings who are delivering funded early learning and childcare with the funding to deliver the free meals, unless, in cases where a setting does not have onsite catering facilities, there may be an agreement that the education authority will provide the meals to the setting. Education authorities are expected to work in partnership with providers in the private, third and childminding sectors, to support them in identifying solutions to deliver the free meals commitment, particularly where they do not have onsite catering facilities.

195. As is the case for free school lunches, the up-take of the free meal is optional. Parents who prefer to provide their child with a packed lunch are free to do so. Setting the Table sets out how food should be stored.

196. Where children access their funded early learning and childcare in a blended placement, settings should seek to establish methods to effectively share information with other practitioners. This will ensure that practitioners are aware of what food a child has consumed during a funded early learning and childcare session, and ensure appropriate delivery of the free meals commitment.

197. Further information is available in Funding Follows the Child and the National Standard for Early Learning and Childcare Providers: Operating Guidance.

Additional meals/snacks

198. Under 53(3)(b) of the 1980 Act, education authorities have discretionary powers to provide food and drink, including school meals, to all young children; and, to provide this free or at a charge. This means that they can provide free meals to any young children at their own discretion or under their own local priorities; and, can provide those meals at any time of the day. They can also provide snacks and meals at any time of the day and charge for children who don't fall within the eligibility criteria for a free school lunch.

Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme

199. From 1 August 2021, the Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme replaced the existing UK Nursery Milk Scheme in Scotland.

200. Eligible settings wishing to participate in the Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme need to register with their local authority. Each setting needs to register in the local authority in which it operates.

201. Under the Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme eligible childcare providers are those (including childminders) providing pre-school day care, registered with the Care Inspectorate and registered with the local authority for the new Scheme. They receive funding via the local authority to enable children in receipt of 2 hours or more childcare in the day to be provided with:

  • 189 mls (1/3 pint)* of plain fresh cow's milk (whole milk for children over 1 year or to include semi-skimmed milk for children over 2 years), or first infant formula (for children under 12 months); or
  • 189 mls (1/3 pints)* of plain fresh goat or sheep milk (whole milk for children over 1 year or to include semi-skimmed milk for children over 2 years);
  • Or specified unsweetened calcium- enriched non-dairy alternatives (excluding rice milk) for those children over 12 months who cannot consume cow's milk because of medical, ethical or religious reasons;
  • and for those aged 6 months and over, a healthy snack item (a portion of fresh fruit or vegetables) meeting the portion requirements as set out in Setting the Table.

* Alternatively, a 200 ml container may be provided where the item is commonly supplied in individual portions of this size.

202. More information on the Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack scheme can be found on the Scottish Government website.


Email: ELCPartnershipForum@gov.scot

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