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
8. Long-term outcomes for children and parents

79 page PDF

1.2 MB

8. Long-term outcomes for children and parents

The long-term aims of the ELC expansion are to support children's cognitive, social and emotional development, especially children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds; and to support more parents and carers in work, training or study, especially parents from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. This chapter gives a brief overview of options and limitations for monitoring and evaluating the extent to which the ELC expansion policy is contributing to those aims.

Monitoring and evaluating long-term child outcomes

Children's long-term outcomes

The aim of supporting children's development refers not only to cognitive development, but also social and emotional development. It is related to the wider Government's objective on children's health and wellbeing set out in the ' SHANARRI' criteria of Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) [53] : that children are safe, respected, healthy, active and nurtured, achieving their full potential, included by their peers and wider community and able to take responsibility for their behaviour.

The theories of change [54] shows how the ELC expansion policy aims to contribute to its long-term aims of improved children's development. The logic is that if children attend more hours of high quality ELC they will, on average, show improved cognitive development and language skills; improved motor and physical development; improved social and emotional resilience; improved self-confidence; experience an enriched home learning environment; be more secure and attached; be kept more safe, have better supported families - and, as a result, their future outcomes will be improved.

Measuring children's long-term outcomes

A full evaluation of the effects of the ELC expansion policy would assess the extent to which the expansion has indeed led to improved child development and other outcomes.

This report does not include such an assessment because it is too early to expect any measurable change. The expansion from 475 to 600 hours in 2014 only meant a limited number of additional hours that are not expected to lead to a measurable change in children's outcomes. [55] The expansion to 1140 hours will mean that the number of funded hours will be almost doubled, but this expansion is only planned to be fully rolled out by 2020, so no measurable change in children's outcomes can be expected at this moment.

Nonetheless, even after the expansion has been fully rolled out, measuring the impact of the policy on children's long-term outcomes has its challenges. The ELC expansion policy will likely be rolled out at roughly the same time across Scotland, which means there may not be an accurate 'comparator group' to assess whether change is due to the policy alone. Any change in children's outcomes could also be driven by other changes in society, such as changes in the fiscal climate and income poverty, maternal health and family support, etc.

Related, there are several Government policies, programmes and legislation in Scotland besides the ELC expansion that are aimed at improving outcomes for young children and parents with young children [56] and it will be difficult to separate out precisely to what extent each of these are contributing to any change we see in children's development and other outcomes.

As part of the longer term evaluation strategy, we will use measures of children's development that will allow us to monitor changes in children's outcomes following the ELC expansion. The other evidence collected in the evaluation strategy on the extent to which the expansion policy is achieving its shorter term aims of building capacity, encouraging uptake, and providing high-quality, flexible, affordable and accessible ELC, will help to make an assessment of the likelihood that the ELC expansion is indeed contributing to any changes seen.

Monitoring and evaluating long-term parent outcomes

Measuring parents' long-term outcomes

Another key aim of the ELC expansion policy is to support more parents and carers in work, training or study, especially parents from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. As with children's outcomes, it is currently too soon to expect a measurable effect of the ELC expansion on the number of parents in training, work or study, and even when an improvement of such parent outcomes can be measured, it will be challenging to determine the exact extent to which such a change is the consequence of the ELC expansion, of other policies, or of larger societal changes. Nonetheless, where possible we will in future years monitor trends in parental labour market participation and other parent outcomes.

Current evidence on parent outcomes

While it is too early to measure the long-term parent outcomes of the ELC expansion, the 2014 ELC parent survey did give an indication on parents' reasons for using the ELC entitlement, both currently and after the future expansion to 1140 hours.

When parents who currently use the funded entitlement were asked what are or were the main reasons for doing so, a large majority of parents mentioned that it would be good for their child's learning and development, but many mentioned work reasons as well:

66% of parents with an eligible 3 or 4 year old said to work or look for work (and 47% of parents using the entitlement for an eligible 2 year old)
16% said to increase the number of hours they work ( 11% for 2 year olds)
10% to study or improve work related skills ( 26% for 2 year olds)

Other reasons for currently using ELC that parents mentioned which relate to parent outcomes were to have more time for household tasks (mentioned by 15% for 3 and 4 year old children and 44% for 2 year olds), to have more time for oneself such as rest, exercise, socialise, etc. (8% for 3 and 4 year olds and 24% for 2 year olds) and to care for another relative or friend (2% for 3 and 4 year olds and 10% for 2 year olds).

Parents who said they think they would use all or almost all of the expanded 1140 hours were also asked for their main reason(s) for this.

The most commonly mentioned reason why parents said they would use the 1140 hours was to work or look for work (mentioned by 78% of all parents who said they would use the increase in funded ELC).

This means that more parents mention to work or look for work as a reason for wanting to use the future 1140 hours entitlement than parents mentioning these reasons for currently using the 600 hours funded ELC entitlement. It is also notable that more parents who wish to use the full 1140 hours indicated that this would be to increase the number of hours that they work ( 33%).

This corresponds to findings in a recently published Growing Up in Scotland research report, which explored changes to mothers' employment status and trajectories in Scotland, and the main barriers these mothers face. [57] This showed that mothers in Scotland who had a child in 2010/11 were more likely to be in paid work than mothers who had a child 6 years earlier. [58] It also found that when mothers looking for paid work were asked about the main barriers they faced, a substantial minority of mothers mentioned childcare issues (the most commonly mentioned barrier was lack of suitable jobs). Childcare issues mentioned as a barrier to work included difficulties with arranging childcare as well as childcare being too expensive to make working worthwhile.