Parents' views and use of early learning and childcare: report 2017

Information on parents’ and carers’ current use, future potential use, views and experiences of early learning and childcare.

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This report presents an overview of key findings from a recent study to explore the views and experiences of parents and carers [1] with children under the age of six across Scotland, to inform the expansion of the Early Learning and Childcare ( ELC) programme. This section provides a summary of the background to the study, and the level and profile of response. The remainder of this report sets out findings against key indicators under each of the key themes of the expansion programme including:

  • Use of early learning and childcare;
  • Flexibility of early learning and childcare;
  • Accessibility of early learning and childcare;
  • Affordability of early learning and childcare;
  • Likely future use of the 1140 hours;
  • Quality of early learning and childcare; and
  • Outcomes and benefits.

Background and study objectives

In October 2016 the Government launched A Blueprint for 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland. This set out its vision for an expansion that will almost double entitlement to free early learning and childcare ( ELC) to 1140 hours per year by 2020. Eligibility will remain unchanged with funded hours offered to all 3 and 4-year olds in Scotland, and to eligible 2-year olds. A 2-year-old is eligible if their parents are in receipt of qualifying benefits. [2]

In 2017, the Scottish Government appointed independent researchers, Craigforth, to undertake a nationally representative survey and follow up qualitative research with parents and carers of children under the age of six. The overall aim of the study was to provide up to date information on parents' and carers' current use of, views and experiences of early learning and childcare. This included gathering views across the following key areas:

  • Use of ELC for eligible children;
  • Motivations that influence parents' use of ELC and choice of provider;
  • Attitudes towards and hypothetical future uptake of the expanded 1140 hours entitlement, and the factors that may influence these choices;
  • Experience and views on accessibility of ELC, including for parents of children with Additional Support Needs ( ASN);
  • How much parents pay for ELC, and any experience of affordability difficulties;
  • Views on the flexibility of ELC provision; and
  • Views on the quality of ELC provision.

The study was also required to provide information on the experiences, views, needs and expectations of different parent groups. This included those living in the most deprived communities, those in rural areas, and parents/carers of children with Additional Support Needs.

Fieldwork and response rate

The study sought the views of any parents or carers of children aged under 6, irrespective of their experience of ELC and involved two main fieldwork strands:

1. A survey of parents and carers from late August to the end of September 2017. This included a public websurvey promoted via ELC providers and other non-childcare related networks, and a telephone survey of parents and carers drawn from the re-contacts database of the Scottish Household Survey. [3]

2. Follow-up discussion groups and telephone interviews with 63 survey respondents expressing an interest in discussing their views and experiences in more detail. This strand focused on a number of parent groups including low income households and those in the most deprived areas, those in remote rural areas, single parents, those not using funded ELC, parents with eligible 2-year olds, and parents of children with Additional Support Needs ( ASN).

A total of 10,526 valid survey responses were received by survey close. [4] This very positive response means that the survey dataset can provide highly reliable results which are representative of the general population of parents with children under six in Scotland. Confidence intervals are the standard way of describing the robustness of survey results; the survey response was sufficient to produce a 95% confidence interval of ±1.0%. This means that if 50% of respondents said they would make use of the expanded ELC entitlement, we can be 95% confident that the true result for the wider population is between 49% and 51%.

In addition to the level of response, the robustness of results also depends on the extent to which the profile of respondents is representative of that of the wider population – in this case, parents/carers with children aged under 6. Figure 1 provides a summary profile of survey respondents. As this indicates, responses included a good cross-section in terms of use of funded/paid/informal provision, household income, and location. However, several rural areas were over-represented and a small number of urban areas under-represented, such that the balance between urban and rural areas was not representative. The distribution across more and less deprived areas also showed some element of response bias, with more responses from the least deprived areas (4 th and 5 th quintile) and fewer from the most deprived areas (1 st and 2 nd quintile). Survey weighting was used to adjust for this bias in relation to deprivation and urban/rural areas.

Figure 1: Profile of survey respondents (unweighted)

Respondent Type Survey respondents Population [5]
Eligible children
1 or more eligible children 61% -
Eligible 3 or 4-year-old 59% -
Eligible 2-year-old [6] 3% -
No eligible children [7] 39% -
Use of Early Learning & Childcare (with eligible children)
Funded ELC 89% 91%
Unfunded ELC 7% 10%
No ELC 4% 3%
SIMD Quintile
1st quintile (most deprived) 12% 24%
2nd quintile 15% 20%
3rd quintile 19% 18%
4th quintile 26% 19%
5th quintile (least deprived) 28% 19%
Urban/Rural classification
Urban 63% 72%
Large Urban 34% 35%
Other Urban 28% 36%
Small town 14% 13%
Accessible Small Towns 10% 9%
Remote Small Towns 4% 3%
Rural 23% 16%
Accessible Rural 17% 11%
Remote Rural 7% 5%
Household income
Less than £16,000 9% 10%
£16,000 to £29,999 17% 27%
£30,000 to £44,999 25% 22%
£45,000 to £59,999 21% 15%
£60,000 and over 28% 26%
Gender of parent respondent
Female 90% -
Male 8% -
Other 2% -
Age of parent respondent
Under 25 3% -
25-29 14% -
30-34 33% -
35-39 33% -
40-44 14% -
45+ 3% -

Figure 2: Qualitative participants by parent group (total 65 households)

Parent group Participants
Low income households/20% most deprived areas 29
Parents in remote rural areas 15
Parents not using funded ELC/expect to use less than half of 1140hrs 15
Parents of eligible 2-year olds 11
Parents of children with Additional Support Needs 11
Single parents 24

This report

The remainder of this report sets out key survey and qualitative findings in relation to the key principles of the ELC Expansion programme.

All survey questions have been cross-tabulated across a range of respondent subgroups. We highlight significant variation (based on 95% confidence intervals) across key parent groups at the end of each section. A technical report is provided under separate cover, including full frequency results across key parent groups. We round percentages up or down to the nearest whole number; for some questions this means that percentages may not sum to 100%. Similarly, aggregate figures presented in the text ( e.g. the percentage of "very satisfied" or "satisfied" responses) may not sum to results presented in figures and tables.

The research was open to all parents or primary carers of children under 6, but for reporting purposes we refer to participants collectively as "parents".


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