Publication - Advice and guidance

Funding follows the child and the national standard for early learning and childcare providers: interim guidance - update March 2021

This update sets out the requirements on early learning and childcare (ELC) settings and local authorities from August 2021.

Contents
Funding follows the child and the national standard for early learning and childcare providers: interim guidance - update March 2021
National Standard for ELC Providers - requirements from August 2021

National Standard for ELC Providers - requirements from August 2021

The criteria in the National Standard focus on what children and their families should expect from their ELC experience, regardless of whether they access their funded entitlement in local authority, private, or third sector settings, or through a childminder. This is to ensure that, as part of Funding Follows the Child, which is ‘provider neutral’, there is consistency of high quality provision across all funded provider types. It is also underpinned by the regulations in the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 which applies to all care services across Scotland, including daycare of children and childminding settings.

While the impact of the public health measures due to the pandemic continue it is recognised that there may be circumstances where flexibility for some criteria and sub-criteria of the National Standard is still required from August 2021. However, it is still expected that the majority of the National Standard should be delivered alongside the full national roll-out of 1,140 hours of funded entitlement from August 2021.

As contracting bodies, local authorities can adapt criteria where they cannot reasonably be met currently as a result of the pandemic, for example, allowing longer improvement or transition periods.

This section sets out for each of the criteria, and sub-criteria where applicable, the expectations regarding deliverability from August 2021. For some aspects of the National Standard there are variations for childminders to reflect the different nature of these providers.

This section should be read alongside Section 2 of Funding Follows the Child and the National Standard for Early Learning and Childcare Providers - Operating Guidance, which provides detailed information as to how to meet the National Standard criteria and sub-criteria.

Sub-criteria and requirements from August 2021

1. Staffing, leadership and management 

1.1: Care Inspectorate quality evaluations are good or better on themes that relate to quality of staffing, management and leadership.  [All settings]

  • Expect the majority of funded providers to already be meeting this sub-criteria
  • Deliverability for a small number of providers may be affected by suspension of Care Inspectorate routine inspections as a result of the pandemic from March 2020, in particular if they were on a service improvement period
  • Where a setting is on a service improvement period and does not receive evaluations of ‘good’ or better at their next Care Inspectorate quality evaluation, the local authority may agree to extend the service improvement period until their next Care Inspectorate quality evaluation. This is in recognition that COVID-19 restrictions may have impacted on some settings’ ability to access improvement support before the time of their next inspection
  • Where a newly registered setting does not receive evaluations of ‘good’ or better at their first Care Inspectorate quality evaluation, the local authority may agree to place the setting in a service improvement period until their next Care Inspectorate quality evaluation. Again, this is in recognition that COVID-19 restrictions may have impacted on some settings’ ability to access improvement support before the time of their next inspection
  • Service improvement periods should only be provided or extended where no quality evaluation grades for the setting are below adequate and the local authority is satisfied that the setting meets all other aspects of the National Standard, has already engaged in quality improvement work and has the ability to improve and sustain improvement
  • Any settings on a service improvement period are expected to be drawing on the additional Care Inspectorate improvement support programme that has been made available for funded provider settings who do not currently meet the quality evaluations

1.2: All support workers, practitioners and lead practitioners/managers working in the setting and included in the adult: child ratios must have either obtained the benchmark qualification for their role or, if they are still within their first 5 years of registering with the SSSC, have started to work towards this. [All settings excluding childminders]

1.2: From the implementation of the full roll-out of 1140 hours, childminders delivering the funded entitlement must have either obtained the benchmark qualification for ELC practitioners or, if they are still within their first 5 years of delivering the funded hours, be working towards achieving this qualification. [childminders]

  • We expect that access to professional learning and qualifications may have been affected since March 2020. We will engage with SSSC and SCMA to establish the extent to which this has prevented some new staff members, or childminders, from commencing the benchmark qualification requirements
  • It is expected that where new staff in settings, or childminders, have been unable to commence their benchmark qualification due to difficulties in accessing courses as a result of the pandemic, that extra flexibility is provided for this criteria. However, any practitioners or childminders affected by this should be able to provide details of any courses applied for, or that they intend to apply for (if requested by the local authority)

1.3: Sustainable staffing structures are in place which meet the recommended adult: child ratios. [All settings excluding childminders]

1.3: The staffing structure in the setting is adequate to meet the recommended adult: child ratios. [childminders]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria.
  • The COVID-19 guidance states that, to limit the number of contacts, staff members should work with the same groups of children wherever possible. If staff need to work with other groups to maintain safe adult:child ratios, this should be for limited periods, with strict adherence to other risk mitigation measures  
  • Settings should consider whether staffing contingency plans should be updated
  • It is recognised that more adults may be required in settings as a result of any amendments to public health measures and advice

1.4: All SSSC registered staff in the setting are achieving a minimum of 12 hours per year of Continuous Professional Learning. [All settings excluding childminders]

1.4: All childminders delivering the funded entitlement are achieving a minimum of 12 hours per year of Continuous Professional Learning. [childminders]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria
  • The 12 hours a year of Continuous Professional Learning (CPL) is the minimum requirement, and where staff need or would like to undertake more hours of CPL then it is expected that funded providers will support this as far as possible, given the business needs of the setting
  • Many CPL materials are easily accessible and should not be impacted by the pandemic

1.5: Staff new to delivering funded ELC within the last year are familiar with the content of the most up-to-date version of the national induction resource. [All settings excluding childminders]

1.5: All childminders newly registered to deliver ELC within the last year have undertaken appropriate induction. [childminders]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria
  • Induction materials are easily accessible and should not be impacted by the pandemic
  • Inductions for new staff should include guidance on the setting’s approach to ensuring physical distancing by adults - as well as routines to ensure good infection prevention and control
  • There is a range of induction support for childminders including:

2. Development of children’s cognitive skills, health and wellbeing

2.1: Care Inspectorate quality evaluations are good or better on the theme relating to quality of care and support. [All settings]

  • Expect the majority of funded providers to already be meeting this sub-criteria
  • Deliverability for a small number of providers may still be affected by the continuing suspension of Care Inspectorate routine inspections as a result of the pandemic in particular if a setting is subject to a service improvement period
  • Where a setting is on a service improvement period and does not receive evaluations of ‘good’ or better at their next Care Inspectorate quality evaluation, the local authority may agree to extend the service improvement period until their next Care Inspectorate quality evaluation
  • Where a newly registered setting does not receive evaluations of ‘good’ or better at their first Care Inspectorate quality evaluation, the local authority may agree to place the setting in a service improvement period until their next Care Inspectorate quality evaluation. This is in recognition that the pandemic restrictions may have impacted on some settings’ ability to access improvement support before the time of their next inspection
  • Service improvement periods should only be provided or extended where no quality evaluation grades for the setting are below adequate and the local authority is satisfied that the setting meets all other aspects of the National Standard, has already engaged in quality improvement work and has the ability to improve and sustain improvement. Again, this is in recognition that the pandemic restrictions may have impacted on some settings’ ability to access improvement support before the time of their next inspection
  • Any setting on a service improvement period is expected to be drawing on the additional Care Inspectorate improvement support programme that has been made available for funded provider settings who do not currently meet the quality evaluations

2.2: The setting must have a framework to support children’s learning that is informed by national guidance and is appropriate to support individual children’s development and learning focussed on active learning through play. [All settings]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria
  • Settings should ensure that the health and wellbeing needs of the children, resulting from the pandemic, are included in this framework
  • Settings should also look to identify what additional support may be required by children who may have suffered the greatest disadvantage during the lockdown period

3. Physical environment

3.1: Care Inspectorate quality evaluations of good or better on the theme relating to quality of environment. [All settings]

  • Expect the majority of funded providers to already be meeting this sub-criteria
  • Deliverability for a small number of providers may be affected by suspension of Care Inspectorate routine inspections as a result of the pandemic from March 2020, in particular if they were on a service improvement period
  • Where a setting is on a service improvement period and does not receive evaluations of ‘good’ or better at their next Care Inspectorate quality evaluation, the local authority may agree to extend the service improvement period until their next Care Inspectorate quality evaluation
  • Where a newly registered setting does not receive evaluations of ‘good’ or better at their first Care Inspectorate quality evaluation, the local authority may agree to place the setting in a service improvement period until their next Care Inspectorate quality evaluation. This is in recognition that the pandemic restrictions may have impacted on some settings’ ability to access improvement support before the time of their next inspection
  • Service improvement periods should only be provided or extended where no quality evaluation grades for the setting are below adequate and the local authority is satisfied that the setting meets all other aspects of the National Standard, has already engaged in quality improvement work and has the ability to improve and sustain improvement. Again, this is in recognition that the pandemic restrictions may have impacted on some settings’ ability to access improvement support before the time of their next inspection
  • Any settings on a service improvement period are expected to be drawing on the Care Inspectorate’s additional improvement support programme that has been made available for funded provider settings who do not currently meet the quality evaluations

3.2: Children have daily access to outdoor play and they regularly experience outdoor play in a natural environment as part of their funded ELC offer. [All settings]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria
  • Children's right to play outdoors every day has been enshrined in the national Health and Social Care Standards – As a child, I play outdoors every day and regularly explore a natural environment (HSCS 1.32)
  • This sub-criteria is particularly important as the evidence suggests that outdoor environments can limit transmission of the pandemic, as well as more easily allowing for appropriate physical distancing between children
  • Settings will be encouraged to maximise their use of outdoor space including the use of outdoor public spaces such as parks and woodland where appropriate

4. Self-evaluation and improvement

4.1: The setting uses relevant national self-evaluation frameworks to self-evaluate and systematically identify strengths and areas for improvement. [All settings]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria

4.2: The setting has a clear plan, developed in line with self-evaluation evidence, evidence from Education Scotland and Care Inspectorate scrutiny activities, research and national practice guidance, to continuously improve the quality of provision and outcomes for children and families. [All settings]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria
  • It is expected that settings may have to update plans to reflect the latest public health guidance, and ensure that children’s health and wellbeing will be a central focus of any updates
  • The Care Inspectorate have developed a self-evaluation resource and tool for childcare settings to evaluate how well they are supporting children and families during the pandemic

5. Parent and carer engagement

5.1: There is open and regular communication with parents and carers about the work of the setting and families are meaningfully involved in influencing change. [All settings]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria
  • It is expected that settings may have to adapt the nature of their communication with parents and carers in the period following reopening and while public health restrictions continue
  • In doing so settings will need to ensure that any new methods of communication and engagement are compliant with GDPR requirements and that there is increased security measures when engaging with children in different and mainly digital ways

5.2: Parents and carers are supported to engage in their child’s learning and development. [All settings]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria
  • It is expected that settings may have to consider adapting their approach to remain compliant with the rules around operating during the pandemic, and that some practices and access arrangements may need to be adjusted given the prevailing public health guidance

6. Inclusion

6.1: The setting must comply with the duties under the Equality Act 2010. [All settings]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria

6.2: The setting will be willing to provide appropriate support, including making any reasonable changes to the care and learning environment, to ensure that children’s additional support needs do not provide a barrier to them accessing a full range of experiences and meets their individual needs. [All settings]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria
  • It is possible that some settings may have to make adaptations in order to meet children’s additional support needs and the requirements of public health guidance. It is expected that the setting will work closely with the local authority in considering any potential adaptations

7. Business sustainability

Settings wishing to deliver the funded entitlement must be able to demonstrate that they are financially viable providers. [All settings]

  • Business sustainability is vital to assuring the local authority that the provider’s setting can be sustained and offer continuity of care to children and families as part of their funded ELC entitlement
  • However, the pandemic has the potential to continue to impact on the financial position of settings. As a result, and given the prolonged period of the pandemic, some settings may continue to be unable to demonstrate the same levels of financial viability as they were before the impacts of the pandemic took effect 
  • It is expected that settings will continue to face financial challenges due to expected higher costs of delivery, compared to business as usual, whilst the public health guidance requirements remain in place; reduced levels of private income; reduced reserves; the winding-down of some financial and business support schemes; and repayments have to be made on any support provided as loans
  • Local authorities should consider the impact of the continuation of contracted, or expected, revenue streams to funded providers to promote short and long term sustainability. For example, many funded providers will have restructured their business models, and invested in their settings, in the anticipation of delivering expanded ELC entitlement from August 2020. Lower volumes of capacity and the consequent payments than would been expected will have implications for the financial sustainability of settings
  • To support sustainability local authorities are encouraged to continue to work with funded providers to commission provision beyond the 600 hours statutory minimum as they work towards full national delivery of 1140 hours from August 2021, provided this is within current budgets
  • Local authorities are still expected to draw on the separate guidance on Business Sustainability published in April 2019. However, there are some aspects of this guidance where more flexibility will be required. For example, occupancy levels may be below normal levels for many settings (due to reductions in capacity to meet the public health guidance, and reduced demand from families), which could impact sustainability.
  • Local authorities have a vital role in managing risk regarding the delivery of funded ELC. In order to help them manage risk, and to support settings, local authorities may wish to request or review information relating to the financial viability of settings on a more regular basis (particularly if the level of risk in the setting is assessed to be higher)

8. Fair work

Settings, including childminders where workers are regularly employed to provide direct care to children, who agree to deliver the funded entitlement will, in accordance with the supporting guidance on Transition Options, pay the real Living Wage to all childcare workers delivering the funded entitlement and commit to adopting and demonstrating Fair Work practices in their setting. In committing to Fair Work practices, settings must take into account:

  • a fair and equal pay policy across their setting, (including a commitment to supporting the real Living Wage)
  • ELC managers/lead practitioners/employers (in the case of childminders who employ staff) have clear managerial responsibilities to nurture talent and help individuals fulfil their potential
  • promoting equality of opportunity and developing a workforce which reflects the population of Scotland in terms of characteristics such as age, gender, religion or belief, race, sexual orientation and disability
  • security of employment and hours of work, avoiding exploitative employment practices such as inappropriate zero hours contracts, or pregnancy and maternity discrimination
  • consideration of patterns of working (including for example part-time working and/or term-time working) and support for family friendly working and wider work life balance
  • support progressive workforce engagement, including trade union membership or alternative arrangements to give staff an effective voice, for example, through regular staff meetings, where possible
  • The promotion of Fair Work practices remains a vital way of supporting a high quality workforce and high quality services, and it is expected that settings retain their commitment to these practices
  • All settings are therefore expected to commit to adopting and demonstrating Fair Work practices. Providers should make use of the following resources to assist in adopting Fair Work practices:
  • Settings should receive sustainable rates that are set at a level which reflects the payment of the real Living Wage to all childcare workers delivering the funded entitlement
  • The Scottish Government and local authorities cannot provide the funding to cover the hours that staff spend delivering non-funded hours in their setting
  • It is therefore a business decision for funded providers as to whether they provide the additional resource to uplift the salaries of all workers in their settings, including those not engaged in delivery of the funded entitlement, to the real Living Wage. However, providers are encouraged to adopt fair work practices, including fair pay, to ensure fair and equal pay across all relevant staff within their setting
  • However, it is expected that, given the financial pressures on many providers, local authorities and funded providers are expected to commit to work together in order to determine how best providers can work towards the delivery of this commitment.

9. Payment processes

Settings delivering funded hours must ensure that access to the funded hours are free at the point of access and that parents and carers are not subject to any fees in relation to funded hours. [All settings]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria
  • This is a long-standing legal requirement. As set out under section 33(1) of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act 2000, the entitlement to funded early learning and childcare must be provided without the payment of fees, including where this is delivered through a third party (i.e. providers in the private and third sectors, including childminders), under a section 35 arrangement
  • Any charges which are in addition to the funded early learning and childcare entitlement should be for optional extras, and limited to, for example, snacks, costs of outings or extracurricular activities. These optional charges include where a setting offers an additional optional service such as the provision of localised cover arrangements required by parents and carers (for example acting as the emergency contact for a child, cover for shift patterns, holiday cover, etc.) which requires the setting to retain a place in order to meet this demand during the hours that the child is receiving part of their funded early learning and childcare entitlement at another setting as part of a split placement
  • It is also expected that settings are considerate of the financial challenges that households will be experiencing as a result of the pandemic, and that some families may not be able to afford additional costs

10. Food

Settings must have a clear and comprehensive policy for the provision of healthy meals and snacks for children. This should be consistent with Setting the Table and the Eatwell Guide and should ensure that individual cultural and dietary needs are met. There should be consultation with parents and carers about how other dietary preferences might be accommodated. [All settings]

  • All settings are expected to meet this sub-criteria
  • However, it is expected that, to deliver in line with the current public health guidance, there will be some changes from normal practice to reflect enhanced infection control and that there may be some restrictions on how meals and snacks can be delivered (for example, avoiding shared snacks, etc.)

Contact

Email: ELCPartnershipForum@gov.scot