Early learning and childcare expansion - learning and wellbeing project: EQIA

Potential impacts of early learning and childcare expansion policy on the outcomes of children with protected characteristics.

Executive Summary

  • The Children and Young People Act (Scotland) 2014 (the 2014 Act) made 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare available for all 3 and 4 year olds (from the relevant start date), and extended the entitlement to eligible 2 year olds. In a joint agreement with local authorities, the Scottish Government has committed to almost double the entitlement to 1140 hours per year from August 2020.
  • Quality is already, and will continue to be, at the heart of the expansion of early learning and childcare to 1140 hours. It is widely acknowledged, including by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that the provision of universally accessible and high quality early learning and childcare helps provide children with the skills and confidence to carry into school education, and is a corner-stone for closing the poverty related attainment gap between children from the most and least deprived communities.
  • Evidence from both the UK and international evaluations and studies of early learning and childcare support the fact that all children, and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can benefit from attending early learning and childcare. However, a key finding from research is that, if children are to benefit, early learning and childcare provision must be of high quality, with poor provision shown to have detriments effects on children.
  • The ELC Quality Action Plan[1] was developed in close consultation with a Reference Group, made up of expert stakeholders who best understand, not only what drives quality, but also how we can strengthen provision of high quality early learning and childcare in Scotland.
  • The Quality Action Plan’s actions are designed around the key aspects of quality that we expect to be reflected in all children’s early learning and childcare experience. The action plan defines the essential characteristics of quality as:
    • A high quality workforce
    • Strong pedagogical leadership
    • Warm and supportive interactions with children
    • A holistic curriculum
    • A focus on play-based learning
    • Good access to outdoor play
    • Support for parents to engage in their children’s learning
    • Transitions that are well managed
    • Professional collaboration
    • Provision that is accessible to all
    • High quality physical environments
    • Clear quality standards and robust self-evaluation and quality assurance regimes.
  • A 'provider neutral' Funding Follows the Child approach will be introduced alongside the national roll-out of the expanded entitlement in 2020. Funding Follows the Child is underpinned by a National Standard[2] that all providers delivering funded hours – regardless of whether they are in the public, private or third sector, or childminders – will have to meet. This will provide reassurance to parents and carers that any provider offering the funded hours will be able to offer their child a high quality ELC experience.
  • This Equalities Impact Assessment (EQIA) was undertaken to consider the potential impacts of the expansion of early learning and childcare on the outcomes of children with protected characteristics, and to identify potential opportunities to advance equality of opportunity for children with protected characteristics.
  • The process identified that some quality groups, for example some ethnic minority groups and those with disabilities, are over-represented in the lower Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) quintiles. Evidence also shows that some children living in areas of deprivation experience poorer outcomes than the general population.
  • Several studies have shown that good quality ELC can have a positive effect on the educational, cognitive, behavioural and social outcomes for children in both the short and long term, including those who are most deprived in terms of household income.
  • The Growing Up in Scotland Study[3] found that children who attended providers with a high 'care and support' grade (as assessed by the Care Inspectorate) were more likely to show improvement in vocabulary skills by age five, irrespective of their social background and other pre-school characteristics. The study has concluded that high quality pre-school provision therefore has the potential to reduce socio-economic inequalities in cognitive development by the start of primary school.
  • Some research has found that the benefits of ELC are even greater for children from more disadvantaged families. The expansion of high quality ELC should therefore be of particular benefit to children with protected characteristics, who are more likely to experience socio-economic disadvantage. High quality ELC may also reduce the risk of children with protected characteristics falling into poverty later in life.
  • We have put a range of measures in place to ensure that children who stand to benefit most from access to ELC benefit from an enhanced offer that meets their family’s needs. These include an earlier offer for eligible two-year-old children, increasing access to evidence based family learning programmes, and support from an additional graduate-level practitioner for children attending settings serving the most disadvantaged areas.
  • The EQIA process did not identify any direct or indirect unlawful discrimination through the ELC expansion. In addition, the process identified a number of areas where the work of the learning and wellbeing project can help to enhance the outcomes of children with a protected characteristic, and promote good relations between those with and those without protected characteristics.
  • The expansion programme is supported by a benefits realisation strategy and the Scottish Study of Early Learning and Childcare (SSELC) which will evaluate its long term impact on child, parent and family outcomes. Regarding protected characteristics, the SSELC collects information related to: limiting long-term illness, based on the Scottish Government’s recommended questions for identifying respondents who may have rights under the Equality Act 2010; gender of children and parents; and ethnicity of parents.
  • We will remain engaged with local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure that equalities issues continue to be considered in relation to the development and implementation of the expansion.


Email: katrina.troake@gov.scot

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