A fairer Scotland for women: gender pay gap action plan

Our action plan setting out a list of actions that will be taken to address the many drivers of the gender pay gap.

This document is part of a collection

Chapter 3 Early Learning And Childcare

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of investing in our youngest children – so that every child has the best start in life and can reach their potential, regardless of their situation.

What we are doing

We are working with local government to deliver a transformational expansion in the funded entitlement to early learning and childcare (ELC) to 1,140 hours from August 2020 for all 3 and 4 year olds and for around one quarter of 2 year olds. Securing high quality experiences for all children is at the heart of our plans for the expansion, so that we can improve outcomes for all children and contribute towards closing the poverty-related attainment gap. This has the potential to make a significant impact on our country’s future economic prosperity, and make both a short and long-term contribution to closing the gender pay gap. 

We also know that childcare provision is one of our most important pieces of economic infrastructure. Childcare responsibility still sits predominantly with women. This means that it has a disproportionate impact on women’s access to study, training and work. 

A major cause of the gender pay gap is the availability of affordable and flexible childcare provision. Without it, women with children either; leave the workforce; work part time or work in inflexible employment which under-utilises their skills and pays less. We want all families to have choices about how they balance work, training, income and care. Existing legislation requires local authorities to consult with local families and move towards more flexible provision based on what local families need. We know that flexibility has been improving and the expansion to 1,140 hours will offer parents greater choice over where and how they access their child’s funded entitlement. There will be improved access to settings that open all year round or for extended days. 

Our transformation of early learning and childcare – while primarily an investment in giving our children the best start in life – will empower more women to return to training or work, if they choose to do so. 

The driving force behind expanding the funded ELC provision is ensuring a high quality experience for all children. This requires a dedicated, skilled and well-qualified workforce, but the sector can be characterised by low pay and occupational segregation which contributes significantly to the gender pay gap. It is also a workforce whose skills should be better valued by society for the contribution that they are making to the care and development of our youngest children, as well as towards achieving inclusive economic growth and tackling child poverty in Scotland. 

We want the expansion of funded ELC to be underpinned by Fair Work principles and practices, in particular ensuring that staff are fairly remunerated. The Financial Review of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland found that, in 2016, around 80% of practitioners and 50% of supervisors in private and third sector settings delivering the funded ELC entitlement were paid an hourly rate below the real Living Wage. 

This situation cannot be allowed to continue. We want to see all workers in the ELC sector paid at least the real Living Wage. To support this, we have committed to providing the funding to enable local authorities to pay sustainable hourly rates to ELC providers, which are set at a level that enables the payment of the real Living Wage to childcare workers delivering the funded entitlement from August 2020. We are already seeing increases in the funding rates paid by local authorities to funded providers.

To deliver the expansion, we estimate that the ELC workforce in Scotland will have to grow by up to 11,000 people by 2020-21, creating high value employment opportunities across the length and breadth of Scotland. We have plans in place to expand the capacity of relevant college and university courses, and modern apprenticeships to support this expansion. These plans are set out in the Skills Investment Plan published by SDS in January 2018 and our own ELC Workforce Delivery Plan. 

We are also running an ongoing national recruitment campaign to attract more people into the profession, with a particular focus on school-leavers, career-changers and parental-returners. Only 4% of the current ELC workforce is male, and so we are over-representing men in our campaign materials to attract more men into careers in early learning and childcare. 

Children benefit from a diverse ELC workforce. Increasing the number of men in the workforce will mean children experience different perspectives and have more male role models to look up to. We are committed to attracting in new entrants to the sector from other groups who are currently under-represented; this includes more people from minority ethnic communities, those with disabilities and those with language skills. We are funding the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to run a new Men in Early Years Challenge Fund for colleges and are funding the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations (CEMVO), which represents minority ethnic communities, to raise awareness of and promote the opportunity of a career in ELC.

Childhood and play are becoming more gendered and polarised between girls and boys. Toys, books, clothing and other items for children are increasingly being produced and marketed along gender lines[35]. Evidence shows that gender stereotyping from a very early age has an impact on the decisions that girls and boys make about their future subject and career choices. The consistent application of the early years curriculum can also make a fundamental contribution to tackling gender stereotyping by ensuring that our youngest children play and learn without being restricted by these stereotypes.

To support staff working in early learning and childcare the Care Inspectorate and Zero Tolerance have co-developed practice resources for staff on promoting gender equality. Gender Equal Play[36] explains the importance of challenging gender stereotyping and provides ideas and examples for early years professionals of existing good practice.

“Modelling equality and challenging gender stereotypes from an early age is important to ensure children develop values and skills which support them throughout their lives[37].”

The Monkey House Childminding, Dumfries.

We recognise that many families who use either a childminder or nursery before their children become eligible for publicly-funded childcare, usually at age three, can be asked to pay a deposit of as much as £900. That is why in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dumfries and Galloway, we have been piloting a childcare deposit guarantee scheme to support parents who are returning to work or training. We are working closely with NHS Health Scotland to evaluate its impact.

We have also been working in partnership with One Parent Families Scotland in Dundee, to offer high quality registered care in the child’s own home, 7 days a week from early morning to late evening, as required by the family. Such flexible childcare is vital in allowing women to work, learn, and develop their employability skills.

In keeping this agenda moving forward we will in: 

2019 - 20

  • Ask Education Scotland and Care Inspectorate to take account of gender equality through their scrutiny activities.
  • Continue to work in partnership with education and training providers and the third sector to test new ways to encourage men into the early learning and childcare sector, supporting our efforts to diversify the workforce. 

2020 – 22

  • Ensure successful implementation of the real Living Wage commitment for funded provider settings from 2020 that forms part of the new Funding Follows the Child approach, and build on this with a more ambitious target around pay to be set thereafter.
  • In the next review of the national occupational standards and resulting qualifications for the early learning and childcare and out of school care sector, we will consider how to build addressing gender stereotyping and occupational segregation into training.
  • Over the course of this Parliament we will develop and consult on a plan for after-school and holiday childcare, setting out the steps we will take in the next Parliament to further improve and expand early learning and childcare. 


  • Undertake by 2024 an evaluation to determine the impact the significant investment to increase the number of funded hours to 1,140 per year has had on improving the outcomes for children; on labour market outcomes for parents, particularly on women; and consider what further action may be required to further strengthen women’s equal access to the labour market. 


Email: lorraine.lee2@gov.scot

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