The Early Years Framework

Steps the Scottish Government, local partners and practitioners in early years services need to take to give all children in Scotland the best start in life.


It is clear that no one programme of work or action will be successful in turning around lives affected by complex and ingrained social problems. It will take a concerted and long-term effort across a range of policies and services to deliver the transformational change in early years described in the previous section. We have therefore set out 10 overlapping elements that need to come together over the 10 year timeframe of the framework to deliver the vision and a radical improvement in outcomes. These accord closely with the priorities identified by managers, practitioners and experts from across local government, the NHS, private and third sectors and beyond who provided their expertise during the development of the framework. The expert analysis is set out in Part II.

At a national level, the Scottish Government will work alongside partners on all 10 areas. At a local level, Community Planning Partnerships have flexibility to combine these elements in a way that best meets local needs and circumstances, and will be responsible for translating these elements into local action. In order to help partners with this work, the accompanying action plan highlights a number of ingredients that are intended to support local partners in developing a cohesive policy on early years. However, it should be stressed that successful delivery of transformational change will be demonstrated by improvement in outcomes, and not implementation of individual elements or actions.

1. A coherent approach

The current early years service landscape is quite fragmented in terms of service delivery and workforce, and often does not fully take account of the contribution of parents, families and communities to outcomes. A fundamental shift is needed to re-conceptualise the influences on children in the early years to see them as complementary parts of a whole system around the child. This is a major challenge for Community Planning Partners in future developments of their Single Outcome Agreements. Improving children's services planning and delivery and the Getting it Right for Every Child agenda will play key roles here.

2. Helping children, families and communities to secure outcomes for themselves

There is a danger that ever greater involvement of public services directly with children simply transfers responsibility away from parents to the state in a way that will not deliver improved outcomes. While there will continue to be cases where the best interests of children will mean finding alternative care, for almost all children responsibility for parenting must lie with parents, supported by communities and services as required. Within this model, we need to pay attention to the role of fathers as well as mothers. Where services do work with children directly, they must focus on building resilience and see part of their role as supporting parents to provide a positive environment for children. Improving the capacity of antenatal and post-natal support for parents and developing a culture of family and community learning are important aspects of this.

3. Breaking cycles of poverty, inequality and poor outcomes in and through early years

A renewed emphasis on the period between early pregnancy and 3 years old is needed to reflect the evidence that this is the period with the greatest bearing on outcomes and a critical period in terms of breaking cycles of poor outcomes. Risks of poorer outcomes for children and families are strongly correlated to underlying factors, mainly poverty and lack of parental skills and knowledge as well as education. The early years framework has to work alongside other key policies which address underlying factors, particularly Achieving our Potential, Curriculum for Excellence, Equally Well and Skills for Scotland. Wider stresses on parents and families such as substance misuse, debt, poor housing and lack of employment can also affect the quality of early years experiences and therefore impact on development. An understanding of the impact of adult services on outcomes for children, particularly in early years, and embedding the needs of children at the forefront of the thinking of those services is therefore also an important element of the approach.

4. A focus on engagement and empowerment of children, families and communities

A central issue for children and parents in the research conducted in support of the framework is the way that services engage with them, in terms of patterns of delivery and relationships with the people delivering those services. This implies a desire for a stronger and more personal relationship with a smaller number of people delivering services that meet a wider range of needs. This in turn, implies a need for service redesign and new roles within the workforce.

5. Using the strength of universal services to deliver prevention and early intervention

The power of universal services in securing engagement is key. Too much of recent investment has gone into small scale projects bolted on to universal services rather than building the capacity of the core services that children and families come into contact with on a regular basis. This has to change. The majority of future investment should be focused on making sure antenatal care, postnatal community nursing, childcare, pre-school and school are equipped to identify needs and risks, and able then to deliver a service that meets the different needs identified within mainstream services as far as possible. This does not mean a public sector solution and new and innovative models of collaboration will be required. There will undoubtedly still be a role for more specialised services. Where these are required they should be brought to the child and family in line with Getting it Right for Every Child principles.

6. Putting quality at the heart of service delivery

Early years research consistently highlights the quality of services and relationships as being the single biggest contributor to outcomes from early years services. Poor quality services waste resources and are a missed opportunity. Evidence from HMIe highlights the continuing variability across pre-school education provision. The skills, knowledge, attitudes and qualifications of the workforce are a key focus in improving quality, and the mix of those skills is also critical. We want the best people working in early years where they can have the biggest impact on outcomes.

7. Services that meet the needs of children and families

Accessibility, flexibility and affordability are key priorities that came through in research with parents. We need to concentrate on developing integrated education and childcare services and developing a progressive scheme for supporting parents with the costs of childcare. We also need to make sure we pay attention to other barriers to access, particularly transport.

8. Improving outcomes and children's quality of life through play

Play is central to how children learn, both in terms of cognitive skills and softer skills around relating to other people. It is a fundamental part of children's quality of life and a right enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Outdoor play in particular can also be a major contributor to outcomes around physical activity and healthy weight. Developing play spaces, and play opportunities for children and removing barriers to play is therefore a priority. This has wider implications for development planning and particularly provision of open space and green space.

9. Simplifying and streamlining delivery

At the moment, there is clear lead from health in antenatal services and from 3 upwards through education. The situation for 0-3 services is less clear and this has been identified as an area requiring additional support. This will involve developing multi-agency pathways of care, based on robust evidence and integral to this will be the need to develop strategic leadership where it does not currently exist.

10. More effective collaborations

Delivery of early years services relies increasingly on partners in the private and third sectors, who provide a mix of universal and very targeted services. Indeed, some of the most flexible, engaging, innovative and holistic services are provided through these sectors. There is an almost universal view that partnerships between the public sector and private and third sector providers could and should work better. There are several difficult issues to resolve in moving this forward, but the key areas are around developing more strategic partnerships, developing models of joint delivery involving public and private/third sector providers, establishing long-term funding arrangements and funding that reflects the real cost of delivering high quality services.

Back to top