Publication - Research and analysis

The expansion of early learning and childcare: evaluation report 2017

A report exploring the impact of the expansion of government-funded early learning and childcare after 2014.

79 page PDF

1.2 MB

79 page PDF

1.2 MB

The expansion of early learning and childcare: evaluation report 2017
1. Introduction

79 page PDF

1.2 MB

1. Introduction

The expansion of funded early learning and childcare: background

In 2016, the Scottish Government published 'A Blueprint for 2020: Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland'; a public consultation on its commitment to almost double the hours of government funded ELC to 1140 hours per year by 2020. [1] This increase follows a number of smaller expansions in the past decade. Parents and carers [2] in Scotland have had the opportunity to use funded ELC since 2002, though it was then called 'pre-school education'. This was initially 412.5 hours per year and increased to 475 hours in 2007. In 2014 the term 'early learning and childcare' ( ELC) was formalised through the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 ('the 2014 Act'), and funded ELC increased to 600 hours per year for all three and four year olds and two year olds whose parents are in receipt of certain out of work benefits or on low pay, as well as two year olds who are Looked After. [3] The 'Blueprint' consultation document set out the largest expansion of the ELC entitlement thus far by increasing it to 1140 hours per year by 2020.

The expansion of early learning and childcare: aims

The primary long-term aim of the expansion to 1140 hours of funded ELC is:

1. To support children's cognitive, social and emotional development, especially the most disadvantaged children.

A secondary aim of the expansion is:

2. To support more parents and carers in work, training or study, especially the most disadvantaged parents.

The Blueprint document set out four important further principles for the expansion: [4]

  • Quality: The expansion should ensure a high quality experience for all children, which complements other early years and educational activity to close the attainment gap, and recognises the value of ELC practitioners.
  • Flexibility: The expansion should support parents and carers in work, training or study, and patterns of provision should be better aligned with working patterns whilst delivering this in a way that ensures a high quality experience for the child.
  • Accessibility: ELC capacity should be sufficient and as conveniently geographically located as possible - particularly in areas of higher deprivation and in rural communities - to support families and enable parents and carers to work, train and study, while also appropriately meeting the needs of children who require additional support and parents who request ELC through the medium of Gaelic.
  • Affordability: the expansion should increase access to affordable ELC to help to reduce barriers to participating in the labour market which parents and carers face.

Rolling out the expansion

Local authorities are responsible for implementation and delivery of ELC to their local communities. It is recognised that existing ELC provision will have to be transformed to deliver 1140 hours by 2020. The expansion will require substantial levels of investment in workforce and infrastructure which will be phased in from 2017-18 onwards to ensure that the required capacity is in place by 2020.

Local authorities have flexibility to determine the most appropriate way to phase in entitlement in their local area as they build capacity. This should reflect the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation ( SIMD) [5] to ensure that families and communities who stand to benefit the most from the expansion benefit first. All 32 authorities submitted their first expansion plans in autumn 2017, which provided further detail of their approach to phasing in the expansion to 1140 hours.

Early learning and childcare trials

The Scottish Government is funding delivery model trials in 14 local authorities across Scotland to test out different ways in which the 1140 hours ELC can be delivered and to provide learning for the national ELC expansion. All trials run for between 6-12 months but they started at different times, with the first trial having started in December 2016 and the last trial ending in June 2018.

A report with the learning from the trials will be published in summer 2018, and initial learning has already been gathered and shared with all local authorities to assist in their ELC expansion planning.

Evaluating the early learning and childcare expansion

The illustration below shows the policy's main shorter-term aims and how these are expected to lead to its long-term aims.

Figure 1: High-level theory of change ELC expansion policy

Figure 1: High-level theory of change ELC expansion policy

More detailed 'theories of change' of how the policy is intending to achieve better child and parent outcomes can be found in a published evaluability assessment on the ELC expansion policy. [6] This was conducted by NHS Health Scotland in collaboration with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders.

Recommendations from this evaluability assessment informed the monitoring and evaluation strategy for the ELC expansion, which the Scottish Government developed with support from a Monitoring and Evaluation Working Group of key stakeholders (see annex 1). The objectives of the evaluation are to:

a. Provide learning to inform and, if needed, help to improve the implementation of the ELC expansion to 1140 hours as it is being rolled out.

b. Monitor and evaluate the extent to which the expansion to 1140 hours is achieving its short, medium and long-term aims.

c. Explore the impact of the expansion to 600 hours and eligible two year olds after the 2014 Act.

Detailed evaluation questions have been formulated together with stakeholders. [7] To answer these questions a range of data sources are used, including for example statistical data collections, surveys, the longitudinal Growing Up in Scotland ( GUS) study, financial data, literature reviews and focus groups.

The monitoring and evaluation strategy is a long-term strategy, looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, because the ultimate aims of the ELC expansion (to improve children's development and support more parents into work, study or training) are longer-term aims as well. This is partly because the expansion to 1140 is not scheduled to be completed until 2020, and partly because it can take time before measurable changes in children's development and parents' labour market participation happen as a result of a change in policy.

However, that does not mean that we have to wait until then to start evaluating the policy. In order to achieve its long-term aims the policy has a number of shorter-term aims and we can already start monitoring the policy's progress towards these.

Aims and structure of this report

This first evaluation report will provide evidence on all the aims illustrated in figure 1 above, but the emphasis will be on the shorter-term ones. The intention of the report is to a) provide a picture of how things stand at the moment as a baseline for comparing changes in the coming years as the expansion to 1140 is further rolled out; b) provide evidence on the expansion following the 2014 Act; c) provide learning to inform and support the expansion to 1140 hours by 2020.

The report is structured along the lines of the policy aims illustrated in figure 1 above. It first presents evidence on capacity for providing more hours of ELC ( chapter 2), flexibility of the ELC offered ( chapter 3), accessibility ( chapter 4), affordability ( chapter 5), the quality of ELC ( chapter 6), parents' current and future use of the available hours ( chapter 7), and longer-term outcomes for children and parents ( chapter 8). Chapter 9 brings together and reflects on the key findings from across the report.

Throughout the report, differences between different groups of parents and children will be analysed wherever possible, in terms of people living in different parts of the country, in urban or rural areas, in different areas of multiple deprivation ( SIMD), parents in different income groups, with English as an additional language, children with different ages, and children with additional support needs.

Follow-up evaluation reports will be published in future years to provide regular updates on progress and consideration of new evidence as it becomes available.

Limitations and evidence gaps

This report gives an overview of evidence currently available on the ELC expansion. This is partly evidence from existing data collections, and partly new research and analysis undertaken specifically to monitor and evaluate the ELC expansion programme. However, there are still several aspects of the expansion on which limited evidence is available.

For example, while this report will present evidence on the extent to which additional capacity has been created since 2014, it is not in the position to compare this to how much capacity would have needed to be created to provide for the 600 hours ELC entitlement in the most efficient way possible.

In addition, figure 1 includes governance and funding of the ELC expansion as a key driver for the success of the expansion, but no evidence on this will be presented in this report. (However, Audit Scotland will publish a report on the ELC expansion in 2018 in which the governance of the expansion will be one of the topics reviewed, and the Scottish Government published a financial review of early learning and childcare in September 2016. [8] )

In the coming years we will undertake new data collections and analysis to be able to provide a more complete picture of the ELC expansion, and include these in future evaluation reports. For example, qualitative research with parents (particularly those living in our more disadvantaged communities and those with children with additional support needs) has been commissioned to take place in 2018, new questions on ELC will be included in the Scottish Household Survey from 2018/19 onwards and a Data Transformation Project [9] is underway to improve the data collected in the annual ELC census.

Finally, this report focuses primarily on the aims of the expansion policy illustrated in figure 1 above. It does not assess wider impacts of the policy (either positive or negative) on, for example, the private childcare sector or ELC workforce. Yet as the expansion to 1140 hours is rolled out such wider impacts will also be incorporated into the monitoring and evaluation of the policy where possible.

Exploring parents' views on ELC: the 2017 ELC parent survey

A key source of information for this report is the 2017 ELC parent survey. The Scottish Government commissioned independent research company Craigforth to conduct a nationally representative survey amongst parents of children below 6 on their use of, experience with and views on ELC. The survey ran from the end of August until the end of September 2017.

An important aim of the survey was to ensure the voices of different groups of parents were included, such as parents with English as an additional language, with children with additional support needs, in lower income groups, in more deprived areas, and parents from both rural and urban areas. For that reason the survey was promoted to as many parents as possible, especially to parents from the above groups, with the help of stakeholders from across the country. As a result, the survey received a total of 10,526 responses which allowed us to look at differences in experiences and preferences between different groups of parents. In addition, where certain groups of parents were still slightly underrepresented (in urban areas and the most deprived areas) the survey data has been weighted to correct for this and make survey findings representative of all Scottish parents with children below 6.

The key findings from the survey are reported for the first time in this evaluation report. A full survey report will be published in 2018, together with findings from qualitative research which is scheduled for early 2018 to explore in more detail some of the survey's findings.

More detail on the survey is provided in annex 2.