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.


14. The earliest years of life are crucial to a child's development and have a lasting impact on outcomes in health, education and employment opportunities later in life. It is widely acknowledged that the provision of universally accessible and high quality early learning and childcare can play a vital role in helping to close the poverty-related attainment gap.

15. In the longer term, the increased investment in children's outcomes during the early years is anticipated to reduce interventionist public spending later in life, and have a positive impact on long term health, wellbeing and productivity[1]. Early learning and childcare also brings other economic benefits through reducing household costs and improving parents' opportunities to access work, training or further study, contributing to cross government policy priorities, for example tackling child poverty, as highlighted in the Scottish Government's Child Poverty Delivery Plan.

16. From 1 August 2021 the funded early learning and childcare entitlement is 1140 hours per year for all 3 and 4 year olds, and eligible 2 year olds. This will be high quality, flexible early learning and childcare that is accessible and affordable for families.

17. This will be supported by Funding Follows the Child[2], which was agreed by the Scottish Government and COSLA, and ensures that the funded early learning and childcare entitlement is delivered in high quality settings. This approach is 'provider neutral' and is underpinned by a National Standard that all settings that wish to deliver the funded entitlement have to meet.

18. This is intended to support a wider system for the delivery of funded early learning and childcare that is built upon a mixed economy model of provision in the public, private, third and childminding sectors.

19. This guidance is supported by the Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) national approach which aims to improve outcomes through coordinating services that work with children and young people and Curriculum for Excellence Early Level. The GIRFEC approach puts the rights and wellbeing of children and young people at the heart of the policies and services that support them and their families – such as early years services, schools and the NHS. The Curriculum for Excellence Early Level begins at age 3, when most children will be in a range of early learning and childcare settings, and continues throughout their transition into a school setting and the early primary years. Curriculum for Excellence places learners at the heart of education and helps our children and young people gain the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century.

20. This guidance is further supported by the additional support for learning and the responsibilities set out in the 2004 Act. These provisions seek to ensure that children who face barriers to their learning, for whatever reason, receive the additional support that they need to reach their full learning potential.

21. The Scottish Government is committed to recognising, respecting and promoting children's rights, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament on 16 March 2021[3]. Once commenced, the Bill will incorporate the UNCRC, the first optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the second optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography into Scottish domestic law.

22. The Bill will support the delivery of a proactive culture of everyday accountability for children's rights across public services in Scotland and a fundamental shift in the way children's rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in Scotland.

23. Many articles contained within the UNCRC are particularly relevant to the delivery of early learning and childcare including Article 31 (leisure, play and culture) which provides for a child's right to culture, leisure, rest and play and Articles 28 (right to education) and 29 (goals of education). More flexibility about how early learning and childcare is delivered and accessed, also contributes to Article 18 (1) and (2) (parental responsibilities and state assistance) as models of early learning and childcare more suited to a families' working pattern can maximise the time that children are able to spend with their parent(s) and provide more opportunities for parent(s) to move into employment, increase their hours of work, or to study if they wish to do so. The wider economic benefits of early learning and childcare through reducing household costs and improving parents' opportunities to access work, training or further study can also contribute to Article 27 (adequate standard of living).

24. As per Article 2 (non-discrimination), the UNCRC rights apply to every child and young person regardless of the child's or their parent's background or status. Article 2 along with Articles 3 (Best interests of the child), 6 (Right to life, survival and development), and 12 (Right to be heard), are the four articles in the UNCRC which are known as the "General Principles". These assist in interpreting all the other articles and play a fundamental role in realising all the rights in the UNCRC for all children.


Email: ELCPartnershipForum@gov.scot

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