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
5. Part B – Key findings from Scottish Government collated evidence

5. Part B – Key findings from Scottish Government collated evidence

5.1 Capacity workforce

Local authorities have a complex combined role as both providers and commissioners of services. Recruiting nursery staff and childminders presented some practical barriers within the relatively short trial timescales, however the trials uncovered some useful learning on the level of preparation and engagement needed within the workforce to ensure success.

For example:

  • As providers, some trials based in rural local authority settings faced difficulties recruiting new staff for the expansion, and noted the importance of building sufficient time at the outset to address this challenge.
  • Several trials mentioned the importance of engaging staff around changing existing patterns of work. In some cases, staff were required to take on shift systems for the first time or change contracts to move from term-time to year round employment. Problems were in some cases mitigated by ensuring that any new contracts met needs at the outset, rather than trying to adjust contracts already in place.
  • Trials with childminder involvement noted the challenge of an inconsistent spread of childminders across the authority (very few or none in some areas of deprivation).
  • Where outdoor learning or forest kindergartens were involved, local authorities were required to choose learning facilities on the basis of being a) existing local authority assets b) available for high quality outdoor learning environment all year round, and/or c) practical additions to the existing infrastructure. On the latter point, in one trial area, the installation of a geo dome [2] meant that children could be offered an outdoor experience for a large part of the day.
  • The offer of an outdoor experience proved attractive for parents/carers, and enabled the registration capacity of the nursery to be increased, with good uptake.
  • Outdoor learning offers did present some workforce challenges however, including specific training needs, transportation issues for staff and the provision of suitable clothing for staff.
  • For some expansion models, such as those offering 'stay and play' services, staff had to receive training and learn on the job how to provide a service to parents/carers as well as to children. While delivering this level of service was a challenge in terms of staff capacity, trial authorities spoke of the prospect for long-term benefits for child and parent outcomes as well as staff development.
  • Where new and/or unqualified staff were part of the extended offer, some trials noted that experienced staff had to give a lot of time to mentoring and mitigate against any impact this might have on the quality of experiences for children.
  • Several trials mentioned the benefits of partnerships with external providers and third sector organisations, in that staff had more opportunities for peer support, better learning and development opportunities, as well as a shared purpose and vision.

5.2 Uptake

This section concerns the uptake of the additional hours on offer across trials. In particular, each of the trials were asked what they did to encourage uptake of the 1140 hours expansion, and to reflect on what did and did not work well in relation to uptake.

5.2.1 Methods of encouraging uptake

  • Most trials used a combination of methods to advertise the trial to parents/carers and encourage them to take part. These included group meetings with parents/carers, one-to- one conversations, letters sent out to all eligible parents/carers, social media adverts/ updates and leaflets.
  • Many local authorities worked with other agencies or services to advertise the trial and recruit parents/carers. These included community groups, Homestart, Parent Groups, Health Visitors, Social Work Services, Early Years Scotland Staff, the Scottish Childminding Association and local community activists.
  • In some cases, all eligible families within a certain area were targeted, or all families with eligible two year olds. In others, specific children or families were identified and approached directly.

5.2.2 Encouraging uptake – what worked well

  • Many trials noted the success of building personal relationships with parents/carers, through face to-face conversations and one-to-one meetings.
  • Question and answer sessions with parents/carers were frequently mentioned as a success, in order to address an array of concerns.
  • Some trials offered morning, afternoon and evening meetings to accommodate all parents/ carers.
  • Help with application form completion was mentioned as being greatly appreciated by parents/carers, and in turn encouraged uptake.
  • Parent questionnaires were conducted to better understand parental needs, and personalised feedback ( e.g. evidence of children enjoying the programme) proved particularly successful.
  • Several trials operated an open doors policy for the parents/carers to speak to staff all year round.
  • Closed community social media groups for parents/carers worked well in a number of cases, where parents/carers were able to make requests of the local providers (often in relation to flexibility, changes in hours etc.).
  • Several trials worked in partnership with other stakeholders to increase uptake. These local authorities reported that the approach helped them to understand how best to communicate the offer and to maximise the reach of their message. This was especially important for the trials aimed at eligible two year olds.
  • All trials aimed to ensure parents/carers were made aware of the benefits of the trial for their child. To encourage uptake in eligible two year olds in particular, positive non- stigmatising language was seen as key, talking about positive benefits for the child as a result of early access to services.
  • Giving parents/carers as much ownership as possible and a say in the offer was seen as a positive step by the trials. As a result, parents/carers felt they were involved in their child's learning journey with the setting.

5.2.3 Encouraging uptake - what did not work well

  • Several of the trials mentioned that more formal ways of approaching parents/carers, such as formal meetings, had not worked well, further evidencing the importance of personal and informal one-to-one conversations.
  • For example, some authorities felt that parents/carers were very anxious and lacking confidence about attending a formal meeting.

Many of the trials mentioned issues with some parents/carers not fully understanding the offer, such as:

  • Families not being aware of the eligible funding available for two year olds.
  • Some families who were working with Social Work, misunderstood the offer to participate in the trial as increased scrutiny and monitoring of their parenting ability.
  • Parents/carers being confused about whether the childcare would continue after the first year of the trial.
  • Parents/carers not understanding different flexibility options and being overwhelmed by the different options.
  • Parents/carers wondering whether children may miss certain parts of the curriculum by attending at different times.
  • Parents/carers not realising that if they sign up it is not obligatory to send their child for the full 1140 hours all the time.
  • Parents/carers avoiding certain hours ( e.g. holiday provision) in the belief that it would not be popular so they would not be able to get those hours anyway.

5.2.4 Reasons for not wanting to take up the 1140 hours offer

In addition to the above learning on uptake, trials reported the following reasons for why parents/carers did not want to use 1140 hours of funded childcare:

  • Parents/carers said they simply didn't need the childcare, especially those who did not work.
  • Parents/carers were concerned that there was a hidden agenda, e.g. if they took up their entitlement, something would be expected of them, such as a return to work.
  • Some parents/carers thought their children, especially two year olds, were too young to be in ELC or to be in ELC for as many as 1140 hours.
  • Some families felt that they required time to build relationships and trust with the setting and staff before increasing to 1140 hours of ELC.

5.3 Flexibility

The trials offered varying degrees of flexibility in opening hours, ranging from specific hours to bespoke models offering parents/carers whichever hours they needed. The sections below outline the flexibility offer in more detail, with findings on what did and did not work well.

5.3.1 Offering flexibility - what trials did

  • Several trials arranged flexibility by offering extended nursery opening hours, some by working with childminders who offer flexible hours, and others by offering a blended model in which children spent set hours in nursery with childminder flexibility around those hours.
  • Some trials offered additional hours above the 1140 for payment.
  • While a number of trials offered term-time provision only, most offered year-round care.
  • Some trials offered an asymmetric week in line with school provision in their area.
  • Several nursery-based trial models offered specific hours, while others first consulted with groups of parents/carers on which opening times they would prefer, and gradually adopted the patterns identified as most suitable.

5.3.2 Offering flexibility - what worked well

When asked what worked well in terms of delivering flexibility, trials mentioned the following:

  • Consulting with parents/carers on which hours they would prefer, with some trials discovering that parents/carers did not want extremely early, late or long opening hours.
  • Trials working with childminders were able to deliver a higher level of flexibility or a completely open-ended offer to parents/carers, given that some childminders did not have set times in the way that nurseries do.
  • Changing operating models to accommodate all-day, all-year provision. For example, one trial shifted staff from term-time only contracts to year-round contracts, and as a result were able to offer parents/carers the option to choose the days and hours they need. The authority reported that this model worked well for offering flexibility at a large scale and supported best use of existing capacity within a setting.

5.3.3 Offering flexibility - what did not work well

Trials mentioned the following as not working well in terms of offering flexibility:

  • A lack of interest in e.g. early or late hours meant that offering those hours became very expensive per child, especially in more rural areas.
  • Low uptake over the holidays made holiday provision unsustainable in some cases.
  • Staff unwillingness to move to year-round contracts proved difficult for some trials.
  • Offering fully flexible provision (with both nursery and childminder) was very expensive given that, for these trials, it required paying for more childminder hours than was being used, to retain the place and accommodate parents/carers' variable work shift patterns and holidays.
  • Contrary to the finding above, where a change in staff operating model resulted in flexibility and best use of capacity, some trials felt that it may be difficult to maximise their capacity as a result of being as flexible as possible. A concern was that the offer would need to become less flexible as uptake increased.

5.4 Scalability

Several trials are continuing to provide the expanded 1140 hours provision, with a view to scaling up the offer. Various learning points are laid out below.

5.4.1 What worked well for scaling up

  • A number of trials based around extended nursery opening hours found they were able to secure the necessary staff hours to provide more flexible opening hours and parent uptake of provision for three and four year olds, and have already started to roll out the trial in other areas, or plan for such a roll out.
  • In one large Local Authority, over 50% of the council settings and nearly half of staff are on all-year contracts, and the experience thus far is that this staffing model works well for offering flexibility at a large scale, and that all-year flexibility is not necessarily more expensive.
  • One of the trial models offering outdoor learning achieved high uptake and increased capacity for 1140 hours, at manageable costs. Learning from this trial suggests that outdoor sites need to be within walking distance from an ELC centre, and that more training for all staff should be provided about the philosophy and approach of the model. The original trial site will continue to offer an outdoor experience for two nurseries closer to the site. This limits the need for some of the transport costs as children are brought to or collected from the site by their parents/carers.
  • Another trial authority are exploring options for more nurseries within the local area to have a geo dome attached, enabling the council to maximise capacity of some nurseries.
  • In both examples, solutions have to be explored to overcome practical issues such as the supply of quality outdoor clothing, lunch provision and staffing.

5.4.2 What did not work well for scaling up

As mentioned previously, trials offering fully flexible bespoke ELC provision around parents/carers' needs (including shift working patterns) with both nursery and childminders, report that the model requires intensive support to sustain, and is very expensive. This is because they have to pay for hours beyond what is actually used by parents/carers to retain the place with the childminder.

Several trials commented very positively about working with childminders, with one for example noting the benefits of home-based care, the intimacy of the relationships as opposed to establishment care, and the creation of new community connections that happen by parents/carers and childminders getting to know each other. However, a small number of trials working with childminders noted the following challenges related to scaling up these models:

  • The uptake of childminder offers has tended to be lower than other trial offers, although this may be due to parents/carers being less informed on this type of provision.
  • Local authorities will need to consider how to assess the quality of blended nursery and childminding offers.
  • There may be difficulties associated with recruiting large numbers of childminders, and there may be an uneven spread of childminders across local authorities, with a lack of services in the most deprived areas.
  • Childminders will often need to balance paid places and funded places. This may be a problem in a blended model which requires childminders to transport funded children to or from a nursery setting.
  • Childminders may need access to transport if such a blended model is to work, depending on location, or the Local Authority has to fund transport costs.

5.5 Child/parent outcomes

Some anecdotal evidence on child outcomes was collected during structured conversations with trial leads, and this largely echoes the findings from the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland visits. For example, trial practitioners reported that:

  • The increase in hours resulted in more time for richer learning, with some trials observing an increase in social skills as a result of two, three, and four year olds learning together.
  • Children develop stronger friendship bonds with peers/staff as a result of spending more hours together.
  • Some parents/carers of children in trials spoke of having more time to do other things, e.g. return to work, adult learning, hobbies etc.
  • As a result of spending more time in ELC settings, children are more aware of and caring towards their environment. They have a sense of belonging, and are more prepared for transitions through nursery and into school.
  • While some trials found that children can be tired in the afternoon and more difficult to engage, the same trials noted the positive impact of consistency through longer sessions for children with challenging behaviour.
  • Through formal and informal feedback from parents/carers - children attending outdoor provision as part of the expansion were sleeping and eating better, and their confidence, knowledge about nature, physical wellbeing and ability to care for their belongings had improved.
  • Children in trials with outdoor provision, were helping parents/carers become more interested in the outdoors and live a healthier family lifestyle.