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Increasing the hours of free early learning and child care provision - An exploratory analysis of parents' views on the proposed increase to 1140 hours per year

This report provides the analysis of an exploratory survey conducted by Education Analytical Services within the Scottish Government on the views of 4485 parents of 3 and 4 year olds on the proposed increase, by 2020, of free early learning and child care hours.


3. Discussion of results

Barriers to current use of the entitlement

Apart from those who stated that they used no formal childcare, the majority of respondents reported using the current free entitlement. While the overall use was 86%, each of the groups analysed had at least 8 in 10 of the respondents state that they used the entitlement.

Overall, there were three main barriers that were reported by non-users of the free entitlement (table 1). The most common barrier reported was that they would still need some private childcare (26%). This was closely followed by the lack of availability of places within their area (26%) and that their child is 3 but is due to start their free place at a later date (20%).

Table 1: Reasons for not using the free early learning entitlement

Q Why don’t you use free early learning and child care provision for your 3 or 4 year old child?
Base: Non users 501 %
I would still need some private child care 26
Not enough availability of places within my area 25
Child is 3 but will not be able to commence free entitlement until a later date 20
Childcare providers are not flexible enough about hours of use 18
There is no free provision during school holidays 14
Myself/partner prefers to look after our own child 10
I do not qualify for other childcare costs support 8
I prefer for a family member to look after my child 4
I do not feel that local childcare provision is of a high enough quality 3
My child has additional support needs and I would not be able to access the quality of child
care they would need
1
None of these or Other 19

The focus group research revealed similar findings, with some non-users of the current entitlement opting to send their children to private nurseries despite the fact that many do not offer funded places. The stated reasons for this was that they offer the required hours and flexibility in service, to cover the parent’s needs.

The focus group research also found parents with a perception that three year olds are too young to participate in early learning, and that it is more relevant to a four year old in the year prior to starting at primary school.

Low, medium, high, and non-users of formal childcare.

Insufficient availability of places in their area was a commonly reported barrier by each of the levels of formal childcare use. Among the parents who stated that they used formal childcare, the proportion that reported this barrier increased depending on level of use, starting at 20% among low users of formal childcare, and doubling to 40% among high users. Of those who identified as non-users of formal childcare, 26% reported insufficient availability as a barrier to using the free entitlement.

Another barrier often reported by those who did not use the child care entitlement were that that they would still require some private child care to cover their needs. The proportion of respondents that reported this barrier increased alongside the level of formal childcare use. The third main barrier identified was that their child was 3 but was due to commence their free place at a later date. This was most reported by non-users of formal childcare, with the frequency dropping as the level of formal child care increased.

Not wishing to use the free entitlement as they preferred to look after their child themselves was a barrier particular to non-users of formal child care, with one in five (20%) reporting this. This may be due to there being a perception from some parents that three year olds are too young for early education.

Household composition

It is important to note that the number of households with no working adults was low, with only 147 parents identifying themselves as belonging to such a household. When investigating those who reported not using the free entitlement, the number dropped to 18 parents. Caution should be exercised when discussing the results from such low numbers as relatively high proportions can be identified that reflect the responses of only a few participants.

The main barriers reported varied slightly depending on the number of working adults in the house. As with the general trend, lack of availability of places was a common barrier regardless of the number of working adults in the house, however the proportion was highest among households with no working adults (39%).

The lack of free provision during school holidays was commonly cited as a barrier. This was a particular issue in households with no working adults (22%), and those with two or more working adults (18%). This was presumably less of an issue in households with only 1 working adult because in most cases the non-working parent in such households would take care of the child.

A number of parents within households with 1 working adult reported that they preferred themselves or their partner to look after their child (20%). This was less of a barrier among households with no working adults, or 2 working adults.

The need for some private childcare beyond the free entitlement was primarily reported by families with 2 or more working adults (29%) dropping off among households with 1 working parent and lower still for those with no working adults.

The most commonly given reasons for 2 parent households were the same as those for single parent households, with broadly the same proportions as the overall analysis. Single parents however, were considerably more likely to report that none of the possible reasons given reflected barriers important to them, and did not volunteer alternative barriers within the space allocated.

Household Income and benefit status

Those within low income households were somewhat less likely to report using the current free entitlement (80%) compared to medium income (87%), and high income households (88%).

Among those who reported not using the free entitlement, lack of availability of places was cited as a barrier for 36% of those within low income households, 24% within medium income households, and 25% of those within high income households. The need for private child care in addition to the entitlement was also reported as a major issue within low income households with 32% of those reporting this as a barrier to their use of the free entitlement. However, this was less of an issue within medium and high income households.

Households that claimed benefits reported broadly the same barriers as those that did not, with the same three barriers as the overall picture being the most cited reasons. One aspect that differed between the two groups were that considerably more non-benefit receiving households than benefit receiving households reported still needing private child care beyond the entitlement.

Urban/rural classification

Those living within rural and small town communities were more likely than those within urban areas to report using the child care entitlement.

The sample sizes for those who did not use the current entitlement within some of the sub groups, particularly small town and rural, was extremely low. Caution should be exercised when discussing the results of such a low number of respondents.

The main barriers given by each of the urban/rural subgroups broadly reflected the general picture with few exceptions. The main differences were among those within large urban areas, where a higher than average proportion (46%) reported lack of availability of places, and lack of flexibility among child care providers (24%). Those within remote rural areas were considerably more likely to report preferring themselves or a partner to look after their child, however it is important to note that this is a result reflecting a sub sample of only 22 respondents.

Current use of childcare, reasons for the choice in child care, and reasons for using child care.

Overall, on a weekly basis, the most used child care providers (table 2) were local authority nurseries (54%), Private or non-profit nurseries (42%), and a family member or a friend (44%). Of the other providers only childminders (15%), playgroups (8%), and preschool (10%) were reported with a high frequency, though their use tended to be within specific subgroups.

Table 2: Summary of weekly childcare use.

Base: 4485 respondents %
Local Authority Nursery 54
A family member, friend, or neighbour 44
Private or non profit provider 42
Childminder 15
Preschool 10
Playgroup 8
Out of School Club 2
Breakfast Club 2
Creche 1
Children/Family Centre 1
Sitter Service 1

The most often cited reasons for the respondents choice in child care (table 3) was the reputation or recommendation of the provider (55%). Trust in the provider was also reported with high frequency both at an overall level (54%), and within all of the groups analysed. While the overall third most frequently cited reason for the choice in childcare was educational opportunities (50%), convenience was cited as a reason almost as often (50%) and was a main reason within some of the groups analysed.

Table 3: Reasons for choice of childcare provider.

Base: 4465 respondents %
Reputation/recommendation 55
Trust 54
Convenience 50
Educational opportunities 50
Social opportunities for child 44
Good quality/inspection report 42
Qualifications of staff 30
Reliability 28
Affordability 27
No other options were available 9
Availability of subsidies 5
Not Applicable (I do not use Child Care) 2
I don't know 1
Other 6

By a large margin, the most often given reasons (table 4) for using child care was so that the respondent could work (68%), for their child’s educational development (72%), and so that their child could interact with other children (67%).

Table 4: Reasons for using childcare.

Base: 4479 respondents % Non user %
n=187
Low user %
n=2636
Medium user %
n=730
High User %
n=772
For my child’s educational development 72 39 79 66 61
So that I could work 68 49 57 91 92
So that my child could meet and interact with other children 67 47 73 60 56
Because it was available/offered to me. 26 7 35 13 9
Because my child likes spending time with the provider 24 18 25 23 18
So that I could look after the home/other children 12 12 14 9 5
So that my child could take part in a leisure activity 9 12 10 5 6
So that I could study/train 6 8 5 7 7
So that I could go shopping/ attend an appointment/socialise 5 9 5 4 2
Because my child asked to spend time with the provider 4 4 4 3 2
So that I could look for work 3 5 4 2 2
Not applicable (I do not use Child Care) 2 24 1 * *
Don’t know * * * * *
Other 2 3 2 2 2

* Above zero and below 0.5%

Low, medium, high, and non-users of formal childcare.

Almost all of the non-users of formal childcare used some combination of a family member, friend or neighbour, a child-minder, and playgroups for their child care on a weekly basis.

Of those groups that used formal child care the main providers reflected those found in the overall analysis. Where they differed was in the proportion of use. While low formal childcare users predominantly used local authority providers, this declined for medium and high users of formal child care.

In contrast to this, private and non-profit nurseries, were the principal providers of childcare among high and medium users of formal child care, with relatively few low users of formal childcare utilising these providers.

Trust in the provider was one of the primary reported reasons given for each of the levels of formal child care user as well as for non-users. The proportion that selected trust as one of their main reasons increased as level of formal childcare increased. Likewise reputation was important among all groups, though this was less often reported as a main reason for their choice among non-users of formal child care.

Low users of formal child care were most likely to report educational opportunities as a reason for their choice, with non-users being least likely to report this as an important factor. Non-users of formal childcare were most likely to report affordability as a main reason for their choice. Convenience was more likely to be reported as a main reason for their choice among medium, and high users, than low users, and non-users of formal child care.

As with the overall analysis, (table 4) each of the user groups reported socialisation of their child, educational development of their child and so they could work as the most frequent reasons. Where they did differ however was in the proportions. Almost all high and medium users of formal child care reported their use of child care being so they could work, while low users and non-users cited this reason considerably less.

Within the focus group research, there was a perceptions of non-users, while recognising there are benefits from using early learning and childcare provision, felt that they were able to offer the same benefits to their child at home. Some non-users reported that they intended to send their child to nursery at the age of four to benefit from the early learning offered and to meet other children with whom they would subsequently attend primary school.

Household composition

The majority of respondents reported using local authority nurseries regardless of the number of working adults within the household. However, those with no working adults or 1 working adult, were more likely to report using local authority nurseries, and less likely to use informal child care such as family and friends. Households with 2 working adults tended to rely more on private and non-profit providers, and family members and friends for regular child care. The majority of households with 2 working adults reported using a family member or friend as child care on a weekly basis.

Educational opportunities was one of the main reasons cited across households regardless of composition. Both households with 1 working adult, and 2 or more working adults, reported reputation/recommendation and trust as being two of their main reasons. Households with no working adults were more likely to report social opportunities and convenience as the main reasons for their choice in child care, however.

With the exception of households with no working adults, the main reasons cited for using child care reflected the overall analysis. Households with 1 working parent and 2 or more working parents both reported a primary reason for using child care was so that they could work. Only around one in five households with no working adults, however, reported using child care so that they could seek work. Households with no working adults were considerably more likely than those with working adults to report using child care simply because it was offered to them.

There was little difference between single parent and 2 parent families in their choice in child care: the main providers chosen reflected those found in the overall analysis and the differences in proportions were very slight, typically varying between 1 and 4%.

Regarding the reasons for their choice in child care, there was little variation found between 2 parent, and single parent households. Both reported trust, educational opportunities, and reputation/recommendation as the main reasons for their choice. Likewise, the reasons for using child care were broadly similar to the overall analysis regardless of whether the respondent was from a single parent or 2 parent family.

Parents in the focus group research reported that local authority provision is not flexible enough for many of them, in particular those who work – or who wish to work – full time or even part time.

Those parents who reported using private nursery services tended to be working full time, although a few worked part-time. Their key reason for choosing this form of early learning and childcare was that they needed the flexibility offered by private nurseries. The advantages reported included early opening, extended hours and year round coverage.

Household Income and benefit status

Choices in providers of weekly child care did not differ a great deal across income groups. The same three main providers were reported, although the frequencies differed across the income groups. Those within high income households were more likely to select private or non-profit providers (55%), than medium (36%), or low income households (24%).

Those within low income households were more likely to report using local authority nurseries (64%), than medium income households (58%), or high income households (46%). The use of a family member or friend was reported by a fairly large proportion of respondents in all categories ranging between 39% for low income households, and 46% for medium income households.

Those within households with low, medium and high incomes gave the same main reasons for their choice of child care, reflecting the overall pattern. This was also true for both those households that were in receipt of benefits and those that were not. Trust in the provider, reputation, and educational opportunities were the most often given reasons by those in each of the household income groups, as well as both households in receipt, and those not in receipt of benefits.

The main reasons reported for using childcare are the same across the income groups. Educational development and interaction with other children was reported by each group in similar proportions to the overall analysis. The proportion that reported ‘so I could work’ as a reason varied considerably depending on household income, with those within low income households reporting it as a main reason less frequently (49%) than medium (66%) and high (76%) income households.

There was little difference in choice of child care between households that received benefits and those that did not. A slightly higher proportion of respondents that received benefits reported using local authority nurseries, and family or friends for child care. Those that did not receive benefits were slightly more likely to report using private or non-profit providers.

The reasons for their particular choice in child care and for choosing to use child care were broadly similar to those reported in the overall analysis with only very slight differences in the proportions.

Urban/rural classification

The three main providers of weekly child care were the same across all classifications, both urban and rural. The proportions of those that used local authority nurseries were lowest within large urban areas and highest within remote rural areas. The use of private and non-profit providers was inversely proportionate to local authority providers, with those within large urban areas being most likely to report using these providers and those within remote rural areas being least likely.

Family members and friends were used to a similar degree across most areas. The exception to this were those living in other urban areas where the majority of respondents reported using this form of informal child care on a weekly basis. While those from remote rural areas were least likely to report using private providers they were most likely to report using a child-minder.

Trust in the provider, and educational opportunities were reported as main reasons for the respondents choice in child care across all urban/rural classifications to a similar level as the overall analysis. While reputation of the provider was reported as being an important factor in all regions, those living in remote rural areas were more likely to report convenience as being an important reason for their choice.

The three main reasons for using child care were the same across all levels of urban/rural classification. Those within small towns and rural areas however, were less likely to report using child care so they could work. The proportion of those reporting educational development and interaction with other children increased as the location moved from urban to rural areas.

Parents in the focus group research, that lived in rural areas felt that those living in urban areas would have more choice in child care. Regardless of location, parents felt they were offered a relatively limited choice in early learning and childcare services.

Views, attitudes and perceptions to issues in child care provision.

Overall, the majority of respondents reported that they either strongly agreed or tended to agree (table 5) that they found it difficult to afford the child care they need, with only one in five disagreeing that this was the case. The majority of respondents also either strongly agreed, or tended to agree, that they would like to be able to access more child care hours, and that they would like more choice in the type of child care available to them.

There was a fairly even split between those who agreed, or disagreed (either strongly or tended to) that they felt they placed too much of a burden on family and friends. While more either strongly or tended to agree both that child care providers were not flexible enough about hours, and that they would like access to formal care outside working hours, this was less than the majority of respondents.

Table 5: Attitudes towards childcare provision.

Base: 4485 respondents %
Agree
%
Neither
%
Disagree
%
Don’t know
I would like to be able to access more childcare hours to allow me to work/train/study. 67 12 20 1
I would like more choice in the type of child care available to me. 60 20 18 2
I find it difficult to afford the child care that I need. 59 18 21 2
Child care providers are not flexible enough about hours of use. 49 21 29 4
I would like to access formal care such as nurseries, outside normal working hours. 44 21 33 2
I feel that I place too much of a burden on family and friends for child care. 42 16 41 1

Low, medium, high, and non-users of formal childcare.

High users of formal child care were most likely to either strongly or tend to agree that they found it difficult to afford the child care that they need. The tendency to agree with this reduced as the level of formal child care reduced, with non-users of formal child care being least likely to agree. This pattern was also evident when asked if whether they agreed that they would like to use formal child care outside working hours, with the majority of high users of formal child care either strongly or tending to agree with this statement.

The majority of medium users of formal child care either strongly, or tended to agree that child care providers were not flexible enough about hours of use, however the proportion was lower among high and low users, and lowest among non-users.

Within each category of formal child care use, as well as non-users, the majority of respondents agreed that they would like to be able to access more hours of child care to allow them to work, train or study.

Within the focus group research parents felt that the cost of early learning and childcare could be very expensive, with some non-users noting that it is prohibitive. Some users claimed that this was a key reason why they were not accessing more than the funded 16 hours of childcare a week.

Household composition

The responses to the attitudinal statements broadly matched the overall analysis regardless of the number of working adults in the home. The exception to this was that a higher proportion of those within households with no working adults either strongly, or tended to agree, that they would like access to more child care hours to allow them to work, train, or study. Almost three quarters of those within such households responded in this way. This suggests that within households with no working adults, the low number of hours of free entitlement is a strong barrier preventing employment.

Those within single parent households were more likely to strongly, or tend to agree with all of the attitudinal statements than those within 2 parent households. The majority of single parents also either strongly or tended to agree that they felt they placed too much of a burden on family and friends for child care and that they would like to be able to access formal child care outside of normal working hours. The majority of single parents also strongly agreed that they would like to be able to access more hours of child care to allow them to work, train, or study.

Household Income and benefit status

While the majority in each category of household income either strongly or tended to agree that they found it difficult to afford the child care they needed, the proportion reduced as the level of income increased. The same pattern was evident when asked if they agreed or disagreed that they would like to access more hours of child care, and that they would like more choice in the types of childcare available.

The majority of those within households with a low income either strongly or tended to agree that they felt they placed too much of a burden on family and friends for child care. The proportion that responded in this way reduced as income increased, and was not a majority in any other category of household income. The statements that were agreed with by the majority of respondents in the overall analysis was consistent regardless of whether their household was in receipt of benefits or not. The proportion of respondents within households that received benefits however, were slightly more likely to either strongly or tend to agree with the statements.

Urban/rural classification

The majority of respondents either strongly or tended to agree that they found it difficult to afford the child care they needed, this was true for all urban/rural areas except for those within remote rural areas.

For each of the three statements that were agreed with by the majority in the overall analysis, a lower proportion of those within remote rural areas either strongly or tended to agree.

Preferred pattern for increased hours, and effect on work/life pattern.

When respondents were told that the Scottish Government were proposing an increase in the free entitlement and then asked which option they would most likely consider (table 6), only 15% stated that they would not use all of the hours offered. Overall, the most frequently selected option was year round over 50 weeks (41%). This preference was true for almost every group analysed, suggesting that year round child care was a common need. The second most frequently preferred option was term time only, covering the 9 am - 3 pm school day (21%).

Table 6: Preferred option for increased hours.

Base: 4465 respondents %
Year round – e.g. 22.8 hours a week over 50 weeks 41
Term time only - 6 hours/day, 5 days a week (covering the school day, 9am-3pm) 21
Term time only but a different pattern of hours to suit your needs (e.g. 3 or 4 days per week but longer days) 18
I do not think I will use any of the free child care hours 5
I would only like to use some of the additional hours offered 10
I don't know 3
Other 2

When asked how the increase in free child care entitlement would affect their work/life pattern (table 7), the most popular option overall was that they would use the time to work more hours (38%). The second most popular option however was that their work/life pattern would not change (31%).

Table 7: How increased hours would change their work life pattern

Base: 4230 respondents %
I would use the time to work more hours 38
My work/life pattern would not change 31
I would use the time to seek out part time work 10
I would use the time to study 4
I would use the time to seek out full time work 4
I would lower my hours at work 2
I would use the time for voluntary or community work 2
I don’t know 2
Other 7

Low, medium, high, and non-users of formal childcare.

When asked which future pattern of use would appeal to them, when the free child care entitlement was increased, uptake was higher among groups with higher current formal child care use (Figure 1). Only 4% of high users and 6% of medium users reported that they would use none, or only some of the free hours offered, compared to 19% among low users and 28% of non-users. The most preferred response among all categories was year round child care. This option was selected with higher frequency as the level of formal child care use increased, with 32% among non-users of formal child care, 31% among low users, rising to 58% among medium users and 63% of high users of formal child care.

There was some variation between groups on which option was second most frequently selected. Those who were currently medium or high users of formal child care were more likely to select term time with more flexible hours to suit their needs.

Figure 1: The Scottish Government is proposing to increase the provision of free early learning and child care for 3or 4 year olds by 2020. There are a number of ways this can happen. Which of the following would you most likely to consider? (n=4465)

Figure 1: The Scottish Government is proposing to increase the provision of free early learning and child care for 3or 4 year olds by 2020. There are a number of ways this can happen. Which of the following would you most likely to consider? (n=4465)

Low users of formal child care were more likely to select term time covering the 9am -3pm school day than the other remaining options. Non-users of formal child care were more likely to report that they did not wish to use any of the free child care hours than the remaining options available.

As shown (figure 2), all levels of child care use except high users were most likely to report that they would use the time to work more hours. High users of formal child care were more likely however to report that the increase in child care hours would not lead to any change in their work/life pattern. This may be because their already high use is due to them working full time hours.

Figure 2: If you were to take up the increased hours of early leaning and child care provision for your 3 or 4 year old, how would this effect your own work/life pattern? (n=4230)

Figure 2: If you were to take up the increased hours of early leaning and child care provision for your 3 or 4 year old, how would this effect your own work/life pattern? (n=4230)

Within the focus group research, those who were currently using the 16 hours of funded care considered they might take up additional hours to enable them to work longer. These respondents however expressed concern that many of the logistical issues already highlighted would still exist, albeit to a lesser extent. Parents currently using private nurseries that are not registered with local authorities and therefore do not offer funded childcare, were unlikely to change usage of their existing nursery, and thus would not be taking up the full funded early learning and childcare hours.

Focus group participants who were non-users of early learning and childcare services in Glasgow were unlikely to take up any early learning and childcare until their child reaches the age of four, at which time they felt their child would benefit from the early learning element of childcare provision. This would also allow them to meet other children with whom they would be starting primary school and to get used to a school environment. These participants were unlikely to take up any additional hours over and above the current 16, when their child reaches the age of four.

Household composition

Households with 1 working adult and those with 2 or more working adults were most likely to select year round child care as their preferred option. Those households identified as having no working adults however, were most likely to report term time covering the 9am - 3pm school day as their preferred option.

There were differences found between households with 1, 2 or no working adults, in the second most frequent options selected. Households with no working adults had year round child care as their second most frequent choice, while those households with 1 working adult had term time covering the school day as their second most frequently reported choice. The second most likely option selected by those households with 2 or more working adults was term time with flexibility in hours to suit their needs.

Those households identified as having no working parents were most likely to report that they would use the time to seek out part time, or full time work, or that they would use the time to study. Less than one in ten living in such a household reported that the proposed increase would not affect their work/life pattern.

Those in households with one working adult were most likely to report that they would either use the time to work more hours, or that they would use the time to seek out part time work.

Those living in households with 2 or more working adults were more likely than those with 1 or no working adults to report the proposed change not affecting their work/life pattern. However, they were also more likely to report that they would use the time to work more hours.

When asked which pattern of use they would prefer when the proposed increase in hours were to go through there was little difference between single parent and 2 parent families. Year round child care was the first choice, with term time covering the 9am - 3pm school day as the second most chosen option.

Both those living in single parent, and 2 parent households were most likely to report that they would use the time to work more hours. Those living in single parent households however reported being more likely to use the time to seek out part time, or full time work, or to use the time to study. Single parents were also less likely to report that the increase in child care hours would not lead to any change in their work/life pattern.

These findings are supported by the focus group research, and those participants who are currently in full or part time work welcomed the additional hours. For example, some of those who were currently using 16 hours of funded care and working part time considered they might take up the additional childcare hours to help make their working hours easier, to enable them to extend their current working hours or to change their working hours.

Household Income and benefit status

Reported uptake of the proposed increase for each group was similar to that reported in the overall analysis. Each of the three income groups selected year round child care as the preferred option. Term time covering the school day was the second most selected option by both low and medium income households. Within high income households, term time with flexible hours was the second preference.

Those on low incomes were most likely to state that they would use the time to work more hours, or that they would use the time to seek out part time work. Households with a medium income were also most likely to report that they would use the time to work more hours, those in high income households however were most likely to state that their work/life pattern wouldn’t change. This may reflect those within high income households being more likely to consist of families with both parents working full time, or that those with higher incomes had less incentive to work longer hours.

Regardless of whether a household was in receipt of benefits or not, the pattern reflected the overall analysis with year round child care being the preferred option, and term time covering school hours being the second most preferred.

Those who received benefits were slightly more likely to report that they would use the time to work more hours, and less likely to report the increased hours having no effect on their work/life pattern. This may be explained by the possibility that those not in receipt of benefits are likely to have higher incomes, and may have less incentive to work more hours.

Urban/rural classification

While uptake of the proposed increased hours was high across all areas there was a considerably higher proportion of those in rural areas reporting that they would only take some or none of the proposed increased hours.

Year round child care was the most popular choice that was reported across all groups except for remote rural areas, where it was the second most popular option, with term time covering the school day more likely to be the preferred choice. All other groups reported term time covering the school day as the second most popular choice.

Across all urban/rural locations the most frequently selected effect of the proposed increase in free child care entitlement was that they would use the time to work more hours. This option was slightly more likely to be selected by those within remote small towns or remote rural areas. Those in remote areas were also more likely than those in accessible or urban areas to report that they would use the time to seek out more part time or full time work, and less likely to state that the proposed increase would not affect their work/life pattern.

Caveats, limitations, and mitigating actions

Every effort was made to be as inclusive as possible in terms of the survey sample. The organisations contacted included local authority nursery schools, private and non-profit nurseries, and various organisations who had contact with families who were both users and non-users of child care across Scotland. However, with any voluntary survey there is a risk of self-selection bias, whereby the people who participate in the survey possess characteristic differences to those who do not.

In the case of this survey it is important to note that there are potentially two levels of selection bias. Firstly, the organisations, schools, and nurseries, contacted participated on a voluntary basis, and the decision to do so may have been influenced by the individual characteristics of the managers and head teachers. Secondly, there is a risk that those parents who participated did so because they had stronger opinions, or that they had specific issues with the current provision of child care.

The use of snow ball sampling, while useful in attracting more participants, also opens the survey to the possibility of bias, as those parents who use social media will have an unknown but higher chance of selection. Those who have more social connections on social media will also be more likely to see the message through multiple sources, and thus selection favours such parents.

The latest ‘Digital participation in Scotland’ review[2] (2011) puts the proportion of those who do not have personal internet use at 29%. While the figure is quite old and more recent ONS figures for the UK as a whole[3] suggest that the proportion of those without internet access is now considerably lower (16%). There are a number of reasons someone might not have internet access. The evidence suggests that lack of internet access is more likely for those who are old (60+), live in deprived areas, are disabled, those who are not working, those with lower levels of education, and those with lower incomes.

While those that are over 60 will not likely be primary carers for children of 3 or 4 the other factors listed may have a relevant bearing on the efficacy of the online survey. The primary mitigating action taken to reduce the influence of this was the inclusion of the Scottish Book Trust in the distribution strategy. The Scottish Book Trust run regular ‘Bookbug’ events within libraries across Scotland, where pre-school children are read stories and sing songs. Any parents at these sessions who wished to complete the questionnaire would have the opportunity to use the library’s facilities to do so.

While it was not felt that it was necessary to gather information on the respondents gender, given the nature of the survey it can be expected that there is over representation of female respondents. Actions were taken to mitigate this, and an organisation which represents fathers was contacted to help with distribution of the link to the online questionnaire.

As a result of this, there were a number of underrepresented groups. Single, widowed, and divorced parents made up only 9.6% of the surveys sample, although the 2011 census has the proportion of one parent families with children between 0 and 4 at 27.2%. Geographically there was also some disparity between local authorities response rates and their population. Shetland for example provided 3% of the survey responses, and represents less than 0.5% of Scotland’s total population[4]. A table that compares the number of responses by local authority with the populations of those local authorities is included (Appendix 2).

Contact

Email: Orlando Heijmer-Mason

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