Publication - Research and analysis

Early Learning and Childcare Expansion delivery trials: evaluation

Published: 22 May 2018
Learning Directorate
Part of:
Children and families, Education

An evaluation of 14 trials delivering 1140 hours of government funded Early Learning and Childcare.

Early Learning and Childcare Expansion delivery trials: evaluation
4. Part A - Key findings from the Care Inspectorate / Education Scotland evaluative visits

4. Part A - Key findings from the Care Inspectorate / Education Scotland evaluative visits

4.1 Context

The Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland supported the evaluation of the 1140 hour trial delivery models through the use of an impact review framework. The key focus of this work was to:

  • provide professional judgement on what was working well and what barriers existed to providing high-quality early learning and childcare ( ELC) using different models of delivering 1140 hours of funded provision.

and where possible:

  • identify key elements of the new models that supported improved outcomes for children and families.

Consideration was also given to how the Care Inspectorate's registration and variation function had impacted on and supported the delivery of the trial models.

The Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland's evaluation included all 14 trial authorities. At the time of the evaluation visits, two local authorities had concluded their trials but were continuing to provide 1140 hour provision informed by their trial delivery model therefore these were included within the evaluation. The 14 trials included:

  • Seven local authorities offering a blended model of ELC involving children attending both a childminding and establishment setting.
  • Five local authorities offering ELC based at a single provider.
  • Two authorities offering a single provider but including outdoor/forest kindergarten sessions as part of their provision.

Ahead of the evaluative visits, local authority trial leads completed a Self-Evaluation Position Statement ( SEPS) (see Annex B). The SEPS template questions were framed to share evidence in relation to the areas that potentially impacted on the delivery of the various models.

The Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland visited each trial authority during March and April 2018. The visits focussed on the impact the change in delivery model was having on children and their families, rather than evaluating the quality of individual settings. Not all individual settings involved in the trials were visited; the validation exercise sampled at least one site involved in each trial within an authority.

During the visits the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland engaged in professional dialogue with staff, carried out direct observations, engaged with stakeholders, and reviewed of relevant documentation. At the end of the visit there was a plenary session with key staff involved in the trial. This involved a discussion on the positive features of the trial model and any aspects which had, or still required further development.

4.2 Learning from the Registration and Variation Process

The following section focusses on information relating to registrations and variations undertaken by the Care Inspectorate, which directly supported the implementation of the delivery models. It also reports on the ways in which and to what extent the Care Inspectorate's registration or variation processes (where required) had impacted on the delivery of the model, as well as feedback from the local authority trial leads on how the process could be improved to reduce potential barriers. This included consideration of timescales, expectations and communications.

From the 14 local authorities, 69 registered care services were identified as being involved in the delivery of the trial models, including 30 Daycare of Children services and 39 Childminding services.

Of the 30 Daycare of Children services, three were new services requiring registration. However, only one completed the registration process. Two providers withdrew their applications for a variety of reasons, including challenges recruiting staff, financial reasons and building requirements. In response to one application being withdrawn, the local authority made alternative arrangements which parents/carers reported they were happy with, as it was an extended hours provision in an establishment that they were familiar with. The service registered was intended to support the delivery of a blended model involving an extended day and year nursery as well as childminders.

Variations were submitted and granted for 14 Daycare of Children services. Of these:

  • Twelve involved an increase in the numbers of children cared for. This created an additional 328 places for pre-school children, 69 of which were for eligible 2 year olds.
  • Four involved extending operating times throughout the day and year.
  • Seven were to utilise outdoor spaces as an indoor/outdoor nursery.

Of the 39 Childminding services, five submitted variations. There was no evidence to suggest the variations were required for the trial models they were involved in, although the additional places created may have been utilised by children involved in the trial models.

With the exception of one variation, the registration and all variations were completed within the key performance target timescales set by the Care Inspectorate. More than half of the variations were completed within one month of the application being received.

The reason one variation was not completed within the timescale was due to adaptations to premises not being completed on time. The authority stated the Care Inspectorate responded promptly to progress the variation when all works were completed.

In terms of the ways in which and to what extent the Care Inspectorate's registration or variation processes had impacted on the delivery of the models, almost all feedback was very positive. This included:

  • The quick timescale in which the process was progressed.
  • On-going support and advice from the registration team and case holding Inspectors.
  • The prompt availability/responsiveness of Care Inspectorate staff.
  • Established good working relationships with Care Inspectorate staff, in particular the case holding inspector and registration link inspector, and the knowledge they have of the services.

Two trial leads felt that Care Inspectorate expectations on what was required to progress the applications could have been made clearer at the start of the process as the lack of this had delayed the process. The Care Inspectorate will be reviewing their registration process in 2018 and will take account of this comment.

Some trial leads shared that whilst no formal variations were needed, they had received a range of support from the Care Inspectorate, including on-going conversations and advice. The value of this featured strongly in the feedback received from all authorities.

In summary, the Care Inspectorate approach to supporting the implementation of the trial models was successful and contributed effectively to the delivery of the models and 1140 hours of Early Learning and Childcare as part of the Scottish Government's Early Learning and Childcare expansion policy

4.3 Learning on aspects of quality

The evaluation highlighted a number of aspects which are valuable in terms of the learning they offer local authorities. These may also be of interest to providers adapting their services to offer the entitlement of 1140 hours of ELC in the future.

When considering the evidence gathered, it is important to take into account the small number of trials, their relatively short duration, and wide range of models represented. In an evaluation such as this, it cannot be assumed that aspects not highlighted were absent from other trials or delivery models. It was also noted that areas identified as strengths in some trial delivery models were also noted as areas for improvement in others.

4.3.1 Elements of new models having a positive effect on the quality of ELC being delivered

The following positive aspects of provision were noted during evaluative visits:

Relationships between staff/parents/carers/children

  • Children had positive, nurturing relationships with practitioners and childminders. In blended models children were reported to be more confident than they were prior to this arrangement. They were displaying increasingly positive social interactions, and developing early communication skills.
  • Feedback suggests that children had fewer absences from their ELC setting than before the trial delivery model was implemented.
  • Carefully managed transitions which took account of the needs of individual children and their families. Arrangements were also in place to maximise continuity of care for children across an extended hours or year placement. For example a dual-keyworker system supported consistent communication with families. In another delivery model one practitioner stayed with the children as they moved between different sites. In a further example, full day, rather than half-day, placements were offered with providers in order to minimise the number of transitions a child experienced within their day. In single provider models where children had attended trial provision prior to starting school, primary school staff reported smoother transitions to school. Across all delivery models, families felt well supported by the settings their children attended.
  • Increased parental engagement in their children's learning was identified. Families who took part in family learning workshops reported that these had had a positive effect on their ability to engage in, and support their child's learning at home.

Child development

  • Parents/carers spoke positively of the difference extended hours and/or attendance at outdoor provision had on their children. For example, they noticed positive changes in their children's sleep patterns, behaviour at home, improved language skills, and their children being more independent.
  • All practitioners within a setting offering Gaelic Medium Education ( GME) were able to deliver learning through the medium of Gaelic. Practitioners and parents/carers noted the progress that children had made. Parents/carers shared that children in the delivery trial model used more Gaelic at home than their older siblings had when they attended ELC.
  • Extended placements and/or new delivery approaches to the curriculum had given children access to a wider variety of experiences. Examples of this included increased learning opportunities in literacy and numeracy, opportunities for children to lead their learning, and to take part in outdoor learning. Greater use was made of the local environment to support learning. Children had extended time to take forward their own interests. It was noted that children benefitted from being able to revisit their interests throughout the day.
  • Children had increased opportunities for outdoor learning. Practitioners had reviewed the structure of the day in response to children attending for longer hours than previously. Due to the flexibility created by children attending for extra hours, opportunities were identified for children to spend more time learning outdoors. This was as part of free-flow play at their ELC setting, and also at off-site locations such as local beaches, forest areas and in other community locations.
  • Practitioners had considered how they delivered the curriculum in the light of children's new experiences and made changes to try to help with continuity and coherence for learners. Changes had been made to the play and learning environment. These included, for example, increased access to loose-parts play materials indoors and out, and the redevelopment of the outdoor environment. A sharing wall had been developed to enable children who attended more than one site to share their experiences and reflect on their learning. This helped staff to build upon children's prior learning.

Partnership working and staff development

  • Collaborative approaches with partners had led to improved partnership working and community capacity building. For example children's extended hours had supported increased partnership working with health visitors and speech and language therapists. In a second example families of children attending were able to access support from the local authority positive destinations officer. This had resulted in some family members returning to or gaining employment, others had accessed training or education.
  • The role played by childminding development officers helped establish and strengthen links between childminders and establishments in some blended models.
  • There was a focus on meeting the professional learning needs of childminders. Examples included a focus on Curriculum for Excellence and other national education priorities. A learning pathway for childminders was in place in one authority and childminders were registered at the local college to support access to qualifications.
  • Increased staffing had provided opportunities for enhanced leadership roles for practitioners. These have included leaders of outdoor learning and the development of a family support worker role.
  • Positive working relationships were established between providers, including local authority and third sector providers, and childminders, to improve the quality of provision. For example, work was underway to create a shared outdoor community space that would enable childminders and nursery staff to come together, with their children, for shared learning experiences. In another trial, the positive and supportive relationships between the local authority and the providers within a blended model had contributed to the effective support for children and families within the trial delivery model.
  • Implementing the new models had increased opportunities for professional learning and dialogue for practitioners. This had resulted in improvements as a result of staff teams developing a shared and consistent understanding of child development and pedagogy, including forest kindergarten/outdoor learning pedagogy.

4.3.2 Barriers to the successful delivery of high quality provision

In order to support the learning of others developing their expansion plans, local authorities involved in the trials shared openly the challenges they had faced. They shared evidence of the progress they had made in finding solutions, and were open about the work they still had to progress. Local authorities also recognised that in some instances, although they had successfully implemented strategies to address areas for improvement, their solutions were not scalable and further consideration was still required.

Aspects identified as potential challenges, which either had been, or were still to be overcome, in the successful delivery of high quality ELC within the trial delivery models included the following:

  • In some delivery models children benefited from choosing from a menu of nutritious hot and cold options, and eating in an attractive and inviting setting. However in a number of delivery models there was scope to improve children's mealtime experience. Areas for improvement included making the setting more inviting; providing appropriate furniture, a choice of meal on a daily basis and variety over time, and by considering approaches to the service of meals to support independence and social interactions.
  • Where ELC was offered over two locations, including an off-site solely outdoor setting, there were some challenges. Providing shelter and warmth in some outdoor settings proved challenging due to local conditions. Dealing with official requirements such as planning and building control was time consuming and difficult. The inability to provide warmth and shelter affected the quality of children's experiences, including restricting access to make and enjoy warm food. The lack of shelter and warmth outdoors also limited the allocation of outdoor provision to half a day. Some children who attended outdoor provision in the morning found it challenging to transfer to an establishment in the afternoon. Practitioners worked to overcome this by putting in place a range of strategies such as outdoor play on arrival at the afternoon location, and by providing time to relax in a separate nurture room, before moving into the playroom.
  • Effective communication and joint working across settings and within staff teams, in relation to children's care and learning needs was identified as an important area requiring further attention. For example, creating, developing and monitoring children's personal plans, and tracking and monitoring children's progress and achievement across the curriculum in different settings. Further consideration is required as to how best communication between settings to support children can be facilitated. This includes taking account of the working patterns of childminders.
  • Ensuring that the professional learning needs of childminders were met. Local authorities reported that further consideration was required to ensure that sustainable and scalable models of professional learning are developed to support their expansion plans.
  • Clear roles, remits, and expectations of providers required to be established. This was the case where the delivery model had resulted in expanded management team or where children attended more than one setting. These need to be communicated and understood by families as well as practitioners.
  • To ensure safe working practices, providers within blended provision had to put in place consistent approaches, policies and procedures in relation to safeguarding and the sharing of information. Providers with no prior experience of the agreed approach required significant support to implement these requirements.
  • Recruitment of high quality staff in rural areas has presented difficulties in some trial authorities. This includes the recruitment of staff to provision offering GME. This has resulted in some children learning through GME receiving less of their learning through Gaelic than had previously been the case.

4.4 Key considerations and next steps

The evaluation of the quality aspects of the 1140 hour trial delivery models by the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland highlights a number of key considerations for local authorities in taking forward their expansion plans.

In relation to the quality of ELC provision, there was no single delivery model that could be identified as more effectively delivering high quality. Models reflected the needs of Scotland's diverse communities and geography. Parents/carers, local community members, ELC providers, and local authority staff shared their experiences of working together over time to develop models which met the needs of local communities, children and families.

The evaluation highlighted the need for a continued focus on high quality professional learning for the existing and new ELC workforce as the expansion continues. The benefits of continued sharing of practice within and across local authorities as the expansion of ELC continues, were also evident. There requires to be a deliberate focus on the delivery of high quality provision for children and their families within this. The sharing of effective practice should draw not only on the experience of provision which is changing as a result of the ELC expansion policy, but also the high quality extended day and year provision which already exists in Scotland.

As increasing numbers of children attend ELC settings for longer periods of time, there is both the responsibility and opportunity to get it right for them. The evidence on the importance of high quality provision is clear. During the evaluation we saw evidence of settings that had evaluated their care and learning provision to ensure that they were making the most of the opportunities created by the expansion to improve the quality of their provision. These settings paid careful attention to a number of key characteristics of high quality ELC including focussing on the quality of their environments; the curriculum; play-based learning and outdoor learning. There is a challenge for all provision to ensure that it has a focus on continuous improvement throughout the expansion period and beyond, taking account not only of improving the way that things have been done in the past, but also in exploring those new opportunities that the expansion offers.