Financial review of early learning and childcare in Scotland: the current landscape

Information on the early learning and childcare system in Scotland, with a focus on provision of the funded entitlement.

Introduction and Context

The Scottish Government is committed to improving and increasing high quality, flexible early learning and childcare ( ELC) which is accessible and affordable for all children and families. Since 2014 three and four year olds and eligible two year olds have been entitled to 600 hours of free ELC a year and parents to and increasing range of choice and flexibility in how those hours are accessed. The Scottish Government has a commitment to increase this to 1,140 hours a year, flexibly provided, in order to:

  • Improve outcomes for children, especially those who are more vulnerable or disadvantaged
  • Support parents to work, train or study, especially those who need routes into sustainable employment and out of poverty

This commitment to substantially increase the provision of funded ELC over the course of the next Parliament has highlighted the need for an improved evidence base.

Scottish Government announced in February 2016 that it would conduct a Financial Review of the provision of the free entitlement to ELC. This report summarises the findings of that Financial Review of the current baseline situation in Scotland.

The key elements of the Financial Review are as follows:

  • Baseline review - collation of existing information on ELC provision
  • Collection of detailed financial data from Partner Providers - conducted by Ipsos MORI
  • Collection of detailed financial data from ten local authorities
  • Final report (this report) on the current provision of ELC including summary of data collected from partner providers and local authorities
  • Development of a financial model, incorporating parallel analysis of workforce needs, to test funding implications of 1,140 hours scenarios

The purpose of the Review is to improve our understanding of current expenditure and costs associated with ELC provision in order to inform decisions about the delivery and funding of the expansion to 1,140 hours. This report collates and summarises the existing knowledge and evidence on ELC. It is based on published and unpublished data and on the specific data collections from local authorities and from partner providers that were conducted as part of the Financial review. The information summarised here will be used by Scottish Government in developing and analysing the options for delivering on our commitment to the expansion of funded ELC from 600 to 1,140 hours a year.


Over the past 15 years, public ELC provision in Scotland and across the rest of the UK has been expanding. The timeline below briefly sets out the development of ELC in the UK, specifically Scotland and England.



The Education (Scotland) Act gave local authorities a power to secure pre-school education for pre-school children in their areas


UK Government childcare voucher scheme in Scotland


Standards in Scottish Schools Act places a duty on local authorities to secure a pre-school education place for all three and four year olds


Pre-school education introduced: 412.5 hours (2.5 hours per day over 33 weeks per year)


Pre-school education increased to 475 hours (2.5 hours/ per day over 38 weeks)


Pre-school education is offered to Looked After two year olds


Children and Young People (Scotland) Act: Pre-school education re-defined as early learning and childcare and increased to 600 hours (flexible delivery) and extended to any two year olds with parents in receipt of out of work benefits


Further extension to all two year olds who qualify for free school meals under the passported benefits eligibility criteria


Roll-out of 1140 hours for all three and four year olds, and eligible two year olds

England and UK


Voucher scheme for part-time nursery places for three and four year olds introduced


UK government made early learning and childcare a policy priority


Entitlement to funded part-time nursery education introduced (412.5 hours per year)

Introduction of the Sure Start Programme targeting disadvantaged children

Childcare Tax Credit introduced ( UK)


Unpaid parental leave and time off for dependants introduced ( UK)


Part-time funded nursery education extended to three year olds


Part-time funded nursery education three and four year olds extended to 475 hours


Part-time funded nursery education three and four year olds extended to 570 hours


Additional paternity leave and pay introduced


Part-time funded nursery education (570 hours) extended to 20 per cent of two year olds


Part-time funded nursery education (570 hours) extended to 40 per cent of two year olds


Start of roll-out of 1140 hours of funded childcare for children with working parents


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