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.

This document is part of a collection

Flexibility of Early Learning and Childcare

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 placed a statutory duty on local authorities to increase choice and flexibility of hours of provision within their area, alongside the expansion of entitlement to 600 hours per year. To inform this, local authorities are required to consult with parents and carers every two years about how they would like to see this provision being delivered.

The expansion to 1140 hours per year is intended to further develop available flexibility options for parents and carers within local authority areas. This could include flexibility in opening hours, year-round or term-time provision, the length of an ELC session and being able to choose a provider that best meets the needs of the child, from a range of provider types.

This section considers parents' views and experiences on flexibility of current ELC provision, and in relation to how they might use the expanded entitlement of 1140 hours.

Flexibility in current provision

Parents raised a range of issues or concerns around the extent to which current provision is sufficiently flexible, and the impact this can have on their choice of provider(s) and working arrangements:

A substantial number of parents taking part in the qualitative work felt there is not enough flexibility in current ELC provision. This was particularly the case for local authority provision. Several participants suggested that half-day nursery sessions are insufficient to enable parents to work, and some felt that only a small proportion of local authority nurseries offer flexibility in terms of longer sessions or places outside term time.

"Half day sessions don't work for working parents…I'm lucky if I get 2 hours [out of the half-day session] to work."

"I prefer to pay for private nursery because the school attached nurseries don't seem to cover the hours required…Funded nursery hours need to allow for a full working day plus travel time."

While parents generally saw private providers as giving greater flexibility of hours and days, some had experienced difficulty accessing sufficiently flexible private provision. This includes parents who had difficulty identifying and/or accessing private nurseries where they are able to use their funded entitlement. Several parents also referred to private providers setting a minimum number of days or hours, such that parents had to pay for more hours than they needed; there was concern that this may not always suit the child's needs, and that these providers are effectively setting a minimum cost for parents.

A lack of flexibility in current provision was of most concern to particular parent groups. Flexibility of hours provided was a particular concern for parents who are unable to afford private provision, single working parents, and those without access to informal childcare through family or friends. A lack of flexibility in hours and choice or provider was also highlighted by parents in rural areas with access to a limited number of providers, and in some urban areas where parents felt that limited supply of available places meant that they did not have sufficient choice to consider the relative flexibility or quality of providers.

"I live relatively rurally and although there is a choice of providers only one offers the hours that fit my work pattern, and local public transport options. That provider does not offer funded places. Therefore I either have to reduce my work hours (potentially risking my job) in order to use a less favourable provider, or use a provider which fits my needs but has to be personally funded in whole. An extension of free hours would be fantastic but…the options offered need to fit with non-traditional requirements."

In contrast, households with at least one parent not in work and those using private provision were most likely to be happy with the flexibility of their provision.

A range of parents indicated they have to use multiple providers to achieve the flexibility they require. Finding the right mix of providers has been a challenge for many parents, especially where they are seeking to use a childminder or other private provider as "wraparound" alongside a funded local authority nursery. This included difficulties accessing up-to-date information on available private providers, and some parents being required to pay a full-day rate to retain wraparound provision (and concern that this cost undermines the benefit of funded hours). Accessing a mix of providers was also a particular concern for parents of children with Additional Support Needs. This reflects a perceived lack of provision suitable for their child's needs, and also the potential for changing providers or handover between providers to have a negative impact on children with ASN.

Parent A secured a place at a local authority nursery for their 3-year-old, but was only able to take up the place by using informal care from grandparents to cover the "shortfall" in hours between working hours and the 3-hour sessions offered by the nursery. The nursery was not able to offer longer sessions, and private childcare was not affordable.

"As well as more hours of funded places there needs to be more flexibility in how and when you can use them. My husband and I work in flexible 9-5pm Mon-Fri jobs but still find it very complicated…and use three different nurseries for just two children."

Several participants had been unable to access the provision they wished to use due to a lack of flexibility in hours and days available, or felt that a lack of available places and/or lack of flexibility had effectively removed any choice of provider. Several parents had been required to make significant adjustments to their working and home arrangements to better fit with available ELC provision. This included reducing working hours, changing employer, and (for two-parent households) one parent choosing to stop working.

Flexibility and the expanded entitlement

Parents were asked to consider (hypothetically) how they might use the expanded entitlement of 1140 hours if they had an eligible child. This included preferences for using the 1140 hours across the year ( e.g. term-time or all year round) and during the week ( e.g. longer sessions on fewer days, or shorter sessions on more days).

The majority of parents (70%) would prefer the flexibility to use funded hours all year round. A minority of parents (25%) would prefer to use funded hours during school term-time only, and this is the case across all key parent groups.

Figure 10: How parents would prefer to use 1140 hours across the year

Figure 10: How parents would prefer to use 1140 hours across the year

In terms of how parents would use the 1140 hours across the year, qualitative feedback from parents highlighted their diversity of requirements. This included individuals across a number of parent groups who wished to use funded hours throughout the year to better fit with their working patterns, and others who preferred to use hours during term-time only (including some with older children in school). Parents also referred to working patterns that vary during the year, and to other factors that can lead to parents' requirements changing over time (for example changing work demands, older siblings starting school).

"I don't need [more hours]…I just want more flexibility around what already exists. The only nursery session available is 12.05-3.15, that is it. There [is] only one childminder in the area, although another is just starting. There is no holiday provision except the childminder, and no before or after school clubs at all. It is a nightmare for working parents or anyone who starts work before 9 or finishes after 5, or who has to commute to work."

In terms of using the expanded hours during the week, most parents (65%) would prefer longer funded sessions on fewer days per week. This compared to 21% who would prefer shorter sessions on more days. Survey results were consistent with qualitative feedback from parents highlighting the importance of longer sessions to include early mornings (before 9am or before 8am) and evenings to fit with working patterns.

Longer sessions were the preferred option across all parent groups, and particularly for higher income households, those in the least deprived areas, and those who currently pay for ELC. Again this was consistent with qualitative feedback which linked a preference for longer sessions with full-time working requirements.

"We would not be able to take our child to and from a specific school nursery if they were in less than a normal working day for full time employees (8 hours)."

Figure 11: How parents would prefer to use 1140 hours during the week

Figure 11: How parents would prefer to use 1140 hours during the week

In addition to the above mix of preferences for use of the 1140 funded hours during the week, 17% of parents would also like to have the flexibility to use the expanded funded hours outside normal working hours and/or at weekends. This also appeared to be consistent with qualitative feedback on the importance of access to childcare for earlier mornings and/or later evenings – it is notable that most of those wishing to use funded hours outside normal working hours also wished to use longer funded sessions.

Flexibility in the type of provider

In addition to how parents might use the 1140 hours across the year and during the week, feedback also highlighted the value of flexibility in enabling parents to use the expanded 1140 funded hours with different types of provider. For a substantial proportion of parents, this reflected a preference to use funded hours across multiple providers.

Most of those with an eligible child identified more than one type of childcare provider they would wish to use for the 1140 hours (63%), and around a third identified three or more types of provider (34%). Figure 12 provides further detail. This is consistent with examples noted earlier where parents had to use multiple ELC providers to meet their needs.

"No childcare provider in my area has long enough hours to cover a single day. Because of this, we have to use multiple providers."

In terms of the type of provider, local authority nurseries were the most common preference for parents. However, survey results show some variation in preferences for 3 or 4-year olds, and for 2-year olds:

  • Around three quarters of parents with 3 or 4-year olds wish to use a local authority nursery linked to a primary school (76%), and nearly half would prefer to use a private nursery (46%). [10] More than a fifth would prefer to use a childminder (22%), and qualitative feedback suggested that this includes some who would wish to use a childminder alongside a local authority nursery to provide additional flexibility.

    "[The] biggest problem is timings. Unless you work from home or have a 3hr job next door you must have a childminder or someone else to pick up/drop off - or not work. It's great to help with costs but not with helping working parents with childcare."

  • For parents of 2-year olds in low income households (those most likely to be eligible for the 1140 hours), local authority nurseries were also the most common preference. However, these parents were more likely than parents of 3 or 4-year olds to wish to use the 1140 hours with a private nursery, playgroup and/or childminder. This is consistent with qualitative feedback which suggested that parents may place a greater emphasis on smaller or more home-like settings when choosing a provider for their 2-year-old. This included for example reference to facilities such as sleep rooms or sensory/quiet rooms when choosing a nursery for a younger child.

    "I would hate to be in the position to uproot my children to make us financially better off…I much prefer the intimate setting of a childminder where my [2-year-old] can grow and develop in a homely environment with people she has strong bonds with."

Figure 12: Type of provider preferred for 1140hrs

Figure 12: Type of provider preferred for 1140hrs

Note: Parents could select multiple options. Result for a 2-year-old are based only on low income households as an indicator of those likely to be eligible for the 1140 hours when they are made available.

Survey data showed some correlation between the types of provider that parents would like to use for the 1140 hours (for children of all ages), and their current use of ELC. For example, most of those who would prefer to use a local authority and/or private nursery were already using these types of provision. This correlation was weaker for other types of provider; for example less than half of those who would prefer to use a childminder were currently doing so.

Views and experiences across parent groups

The research identified some significant variation across parent groups in terms of views and preferences on the flexibility of ELC.

This variation primarily related to income, deprivation and whether parents pay for ELC. For example lower income, single earners and those in the most deprived areas were more likely than others to wish to use the expanded funded entitlement during term-time only, in shorter sessions each day, and with a local authority nursery. In contrast, those who pay for ELC were more likely to prefer using their entitlement all year round, for longer sessions each day, and with a private nursery.

Below we summarise the main variations across parent groups, highlighting where parents were significantly more or less likely than those in other parent groups to give a specific response.

Low incomes/Most deprived areas

More likely than others to prefer to use the 1140 funded hours with a local authority nursery, playgroup, family centre or childminder.

Rural areas

Less likely than others to prefer to use the 1140 hours with a local authority nursery linked to a primary school.

Single earner households

More likely to prefer to use the 1140 funded hours with a local authority nursery, playgroup or family centre.

Parents of children with ASN

Less likely to prefer to use the 1140 funded hours with a private nursery, and more likely to prefer a community/voluntary nursery.

Currently pay for ELC

More likely to prefer to use the 1140 funded hours with a private nursery.

Do not currently use funded ELC

No significant variation

Other significant differences

Parent age: under 35s are more likely to prefer to use the 1140 funded hours with multiple types of provider.

Parent gender: Males are more likely than females to prefer to use the 1140 funded hours on shorter sessions each day. Females are more likely than males to prefer provision outside of normal working hours and to wish to use multiple types of provider.


Back to top