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.

Policy Background

The Scottish Government and local authorities have committed to almost double the funded entitlement to early learning and childcare (ELC) from 600 to 1140 hours from August 2020 for all 3 and 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds. This will be high quality, flexible ELC that is accessible and affordable for all families.

The expansion will deliver three main benefits for children and families:

1. Children’s development improves and the poverty related attainment gap narrows;

2. More parents will have the opportunity to be in work, training or study; and,

3. Increased family resilience though improved health and wellbeing of parents and children.

The Scottish Government has worked in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and a variety of stakeholders across the ELC sector throughout the development of the 1140 expansion policy and has consulted widely on the expansion of funded ELC.

There is currently very high uptake of funded ELC in Scotland. Our latest ELC census data[4] shows near universal uptake of funded ELC by 3 and 4 year olds. Approximately 10% of 2 year olds are registered for funded ELC (compared to the roughly 25% that are eligible), and this has increased gradually over the last few years. In addition, our Research on Parents’ Views and Use of ELC in Scotland[5] showed that of the parents surveyed, 90% would use some or all of their child’s expanded hours if the expanded entitlement were available now and offered required flexibility.

Local authorities are ‘phasing in’ the expanded offer between now and August 2020. This allows local authorities and nurseries to test the practicalities of the expanded offer, and to get feedback from parents. Our expansion planning guidance[6] which was issued to local authorities in March 2017 made clear that plans for phasing should reflect the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation to ensure that families and communities who stand to benefit most from the expansion also benefit first. As a result of ‘phasing in’ of the entitlement, over 11,000 2 to 5 year olds were already accessing more than 600 hours of funded ELC[7] as at September 2018.

Background - Expansion of Funded ELC to 1140 Hours

The driving force behind the expansion of funded ELC is to secure improved outcomes for all children in Scotland. The provision of high quality ELC is a key contributor to our ambition to close the poverty-related attainment gap.

The expansion to 1140 hours intends to maximise this opportunity to ensure that all children in Scotland get the best possible start in life. The expansion will also bring economic benefits. In the short term, the increased investment in the ELC sector will promote sector growth and create new Fair Work jobs, with the multi-year funding package enabling payment of the real Living Wage to all workers delivering the funded ELC entitlement. The increase in funded, flexible ELC will help increase parents’ opportunities to access work, training or further study. 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.

Background - Funding Follows the Child and the National Standard

Funding Follows the Child will be introduced alongside the national roll-out of the expanded entitlement in 2020. This ‘provider neutral’ approach is underpinned by a National Standard[8] that all providers delivering the funded hours will have to meet – regardless of whether they are in the public, private or third sector, or childminders. The National Standard focuses on what children and their families can expect from their ELC experience, regardless of where they access their funded entitlement.

At the heart of the National Standard is a clear and consistent set of quality criteria, recognising that the ELC expansion is fundamentally about improving the early years’ experience of our youngest children and reflecting international research and evidence of what drives quality experiences and outcomes for children. It will ensure that all settings that are offering the funded entitlement are delivering a high quality ELC experience for children.

Background – Learning and Wellbeing Project

The aim of the learning and wellbeing project is to ensure that the expansion of funded ELC entitlement is firmly focused on improving children’s outcomes and closing the poverty-related attainment gap.

We know from a range of evidence, including from the OECD, that if ELC is to make a contribution to children’s outcomes it must be of high quality. It is therefore important that, as we expand the infrastructure to deliver the near doubling of entitlement to funded ELC from 600 to 1140 hours, the quality of funded ELC provision is not compromised but instead is enhanced. The drivers of quality (as set out in the ELC Quality Action Plan) should be strengthened and further embedded within policy and practice so that all families have adequate access to high quality funded ELC settings that meet the developmental needs of children, and the quality criteria in the National Standard.

The aim of the project is also to see ELC fully integrated with wider policy on improving attainment and closing the gap. To help us realise the ambition of closing the poverty-related outcome gap and the Scottish Government’s commitment to the GIRFEC approach, ELC must be responsive to the individual needs and varying circumstances of children. The project should therefore ensure that the children who need it the most benefit from an enhanced ELC offer.

The Scottish Government’s National Outcomes reflect the values and aspirations of the people of Scotland, are aligned with the UN sustainable development goals and help to track progress in reducing inequality. This policy contributes to the following National Outcomes:

  • We grow up loved, safe and respected so that we realise our full potential
  • We are well educated, skilled and able to contribute to society
  • We tackle poverty by sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally
  • We have a globally competitive, entrepreneurial, inclusive and sustainable economy
  • We have thriving and innovative businesses, with quality jobs and fair work for everyone

A number of actions are underway to ensure that this policy promotes the duties of the Equality Act and to ensure that children’s outcomes are improved through this policy, including:

Equity and Excellence Leads – We have created 435 new posts in ELC settings, which will be either a teacher or early years graduate with or working towards a relevant qualification, for example, the BA in Childhood Practice. The role is primarily focused on leading support for children facing disadvantage to close the attainment gap. They are not part of the setting’s adult child ratios like other staff and are an extra resource that can be used in a flexible way to respond to the needs of the children and the setting. We know that the Equity and Excellence Leads are already providing support to children with a wide range of additional support needs.

Family Learning - Family learning is an early intervention and prevention approach aimed at encouraging family members to learn together, with a focus on intergenerational learning. It can also be designed to enable parents to learn how to support their children’s learning. There has been substantial investment in family learning in ELC. The Scottish Government held a national family learning summit in May 2018. Peep, which is an ELC family-based learning programme, has trained 1132 practitioners in Scotland to deliver the programme. And, we have committed to further increasing support for evidence-based family learning programmes to embed this in the early learning offer for families facing disadvantage.

Inclusion Fund - The ELC Inclusion Fund is a £2 million fund, set up in 2018 to run over 4 years. The fund provides funding to ELC settings to support children with additional support needs to fully access their ELC entitlement. This can include money for specialist equipment, training or adaptions. A total of £521,145.60 was awarded from the fund to 455 applicants in 2018/2019.

National Programme of Continuous Professional Learning – We have committed to creating and delivering an online national programme of continuous professional learning that will be available to all early learning and childcare providers. The programme will be freely available to all ELC providers and will help to drive up quality of provision across the sector. The modules in the programme will focus on areas where practice and/ or existing opportunities for CPL need to be strengthened and each module will promote equality of outcomes.

Universal Free Meals in ELCELC provides an important opportunity for maximising healthy eating and establishing healthy eating habits in the earliest years. All children in receipt of their funded entitlement will be entitled to a free meal within the ELC setting. The National Standard makes it clear that ELC settings will ensure that individual cultural and dietary needs are met through this provision.


Email: katrina.troake@gov.scot

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