Independent review of Scotland's early learning and out of school care workforces

An independent review of the skills and qualifications essential for the Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) and Out of School Care (OSC) workforces in Scotland.

5. What does the Scottish and International research literature reveal about supporting young children's learning?

5.1. Introduction

This Section considers the international and Scottish research literature in the context of the Review's questions (see Section 3) in order to provide an evidence-base against which comparisons of current Scottish processes and practices related to the workforce could be made, and to support possible future directions.

Consideration is given, first, to the more generic evidence base around quality in Early Childhood Education and Care ( ECEC). This includes discussing the links between structural and process quality and children's learning outcomes, the relationship between them and how this impacts on quality. Further sections examine effective practice, the role of professional development and a gendered workforce, while others consider the specialist positions of childminders and OSC practitioners.

The term ECEC is commonly used within most European Countries. It is, however, no longer used in the Scottish policy context and has been replaced by the term Early Learning and Childcare ( ELC). Further discussion of ELC can be found within the section Using policy to build understanding, a united identity and support professionalisation.

Within this Literature Review, the term ECEC is retained where research and reports are discussed that use this term. ECEC is commonly associated with practices and settings caring for children aged from birth to 5 years. Although some ECEC research has included childminders working with children of this age, this Review also has one section which considers quality in relation to childminders specifically, recognising the extended age group with whom they work. It also has another section which looks at the OSC sector and its work with school age children.

Recent policy in Scotland, as in many other developed countries, has been informed by the growing body of evidence which suggests that supporting children's learning and wellbeing while they are very young can serve as a foundation for lifelong learning. It also can result in more equitable child outcomes, a reduction in poverty, increased intergenerational social mobility, and better social and economic development for society as a whole ( OECD, 2012).

Evidence from around the world has shown that such benefits are dependent upon the quality of the experiences and opportunities offered to the young children (Sylva et al, 2004; OECD, 2012). This, in turn, relies heavily on the skills, dispositions and understandings of the adult workforce providing those experiences and opportunities (Geddes et al., 2010; Pianta, 2012; OECD, 2012; DfE, 2015).

Quality can be defined in a number of different ways, and different interpretations of quality will be considered throughout; but the evidence base is clear: children benefit when the adults around them interact with them in sensitive, responsive and stimulating ways. Further, where this type of care and experience are lacking, the benefits of early learning and education do not materialise and may even damage children's prospects (Melhuish, 2004; Gambaro et al., 2014). If the goal is to support and enhance children's learning and development, what happens in the ECEC settings is crucial.

The benefits of ECEC are most marked for children who come from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds (Ruhm and Waldfogel, 2012). There are a number of possible reasons for this. For example, children from higher income homes may be more likely to have access to books and educational toys, and to be taken on trips to parks, educational places of interest, museums and so on. This may stimulate their interests and thinking, and help them to make sense of the world. They may also be exposed to a more language rich environment, and have parents/carers who are able to give them more time because they are not stressed by financial pressures and/or cramped and unhealthy living conditions.

The early Home Learning Environment ( HLE) has been recognised as a powerful predictor of future educational and career success (Sylva et al., 2004; Siraj and Mayo, 2014). An ECEC setting could offer children from disadvantaged backgrounds added advantages both while they are in the setting and through partnership work with parents to enhance the early HLE. Finally, although family characteristics are known to have a greater impact on children's outcomes than pre-school factors; the effect of attending pre-school on developmental progress can be greater than the effect of social disadvantage (Geddes et al., 2010).

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's ( OECD) education survey, the Programme for

International Student Assessment ( PISA), also indicated the value in investment in ECEC. In nearly all OECD countries, 15 year olds who had attended pre-school provision for a year out-performed those who had not. Even after controlling for socio-economic status, one year of pre-school was associated with an improved test score of 33 points ( OECD, 2011). Mostafa and Green (2012, in Gambaro et al., 2014) estimated, using the same database, that the UK would have been 12 places higher in the 2009 OECD PISA league table if it had had universal free pre-school provision in the early 1990s.

The evidence of high quality ECEC's impact is strong and international. Some of the most robust evidence comes from the longitudinal study Effective Provision of Pre-school Education ( EPPE which later became EPPSE) project in England, in which children were observed and assessed while in a variety of pre-school group settings. And, following this, their progress was tracked through compulsory schooling. Children who attended pre-schools had higher cognitive and socio-behavioural outcomes at primary school entry than those who did not (Sylva et al., 2004). Follow-up studies found that positive pre-school effects were still apparent at the end of primary school (Sylva et al., 2008). Further, attendance at higher quality pre-schools continued to predict higher achievements in mathematics, science and socio-behavioural outcomes at 14 years of age (Sylva et al., 2012b) and at age 16 in their GCSE results (Sylva et al., 2014).

Investing in ECEC from a governmental perspective can offer solutions to a number of socio-economic issues, especially for families living in disadvantage. First, when provision is offered flexibly with sufficient hours, it can support parents, particularly mothers, to work in the paid labour market. Second, children can gain from high quality education and care. Therefore, in the short term, ECEC could ameliorate the effects of poverty (and, potentially, gender inequality), and improve the life chances of the children by preparing them for their future lives in the long term ( OECD, 2012). The second potential benefit - the improvements to children's learning and development - relies strongly on the quality of the provision, and is, therefore, more costly. This is why some governments have prioritised the quantity of provision over the quality of provision (West, 2006).

Much evidence, however, suggests that this is a false economy; investing in high quality ECEC is seen to support increased educational attainments, provide better employment prospects, and improve heath and general wellbeing - especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds ( UNICEF, 2008). It is also seen as more cost effective and yields better results than investing in compensatory programmes in later life - such as job training programmes for the unemployed (Carneiro and Heckman, 2003). Further, greater social equality produces multiple positive effects including better health outcomes for the population, greater social cohesion, lower crime rates, and greater levels of productivity and economic competitiveness (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009 in Cohen and Naumann, 2014). In the long term, investing in high quality ECEC is the cost-effective direction.

The following section considers quality and the constituents of quality. It details some robust research and then highlights some of the issues which are particularly pertinent to this Review - namely, what is known about early childhood education and care and children's outcomes.

Finally, it considers some specific aspects which relate to the transformational change towards which the Scottish Government is working: what constitutes effective practice, how professional development may support this and the specific positions of some of the workforces involved. Please note: the policy levers linked to some of the processes involved in achieving change - including monitoring, regulation and standards - are covered in other sections.

5.2. What is quality early learning and childcare?

Donabedian (1980, cited in Munton et al., 1995) divided the term 'quality' into three dimensions:

  • structure
  • process
  • outcome

These dimensions have been used repeatedly and universally in the field of ECEC to assess the quality of provision (see Phillipsen et al 1997; Dunn, 1994; Holloway & Reichhart-Erickson, 1988).

Structure refers to 'the resources used in the provision of care, to the more stable aspects of the environment in which the care is produced' (Munton et al., 1995, p14). These are, for example, the adult: child ratio, group size, staff education and training, space and materials.

Process refers to 'the activities which constitute provision' (Munton et al., 1995, p14). These include the less stable elements of provision such as staff-child interactions.

Outcomes are 'the consequences to health of care provision' (Munton et al., 1995, p4). In the context of ECEC, and in this Review, children's outcomes relate to the cognitive, social and emotional development of the children in childcare. These are the aspects of intellectual development such as oral and pre-reading skills, problem solving, ability to concentrate, and of socio-emotional development such as attachments, ability to share, make friendships and self-regulate their emotions.

Most international research to date, considering the quality of ECEC, looks at the relationship between these three dimensions. Structural variables are easy to identify in a setting as they are tangible and countable; while process variables often include an element of subjectivity (for example, when making judgements around adult-child interactions).

When comparing settings, to allow for comparisons across studies and to support objective observations, structure and process variables are usually measured using agreed observational rating scales. The most widely used observational rating scales is the family of Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales ( ERS). Some of these are described in Table 2, together with some other quality measurement tools which have been designed to look at process quality in more detail.

The ERS are included because they have an international reputation for measuring important aspects of quality which relate to children's outcomes. In addition, there is robust evidence about their standardisation, reliability and validity which was gathered initially during their development and subsequently through their continued international use in research.

Table 2: Commonly used Environment Rating Scales when assessing the quality of the provision

Quality Measurement Tool

Brief description of aspects of quality covered

Provision in which it is designed to be

Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales-Revised ( ECERS-R) (Harms, Clifford & Cryer, 2004)

Considers structural and some process quality with an emphasis on global aspects of quality. Includes: space and furnishings; personal care routines; language-reasoning; activities; interaction; program structure; parents and staff.

ECEC for children aged 2½ to 5 years

Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales-Extended ( ECERS-E) (Sylva, Siraj-Blatchford & Taggart, 2010

Considers the curriculum and educational pedagogy. In the following areas: language and literacy; maths and number; science and the environment; diversity (meeting and planning for the needs of individuals and groups). ECEC for children aged 2½ to 5 years

ECEC for children aged 2½ to 5 years

Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale-Revised ( ITERS-R) (Harms, Clifford & Cryer, 1990)

Considers structural and some process quality with an emphasis on global aspects of quality. It covers the same aspects as ECERS-R but with items relevant to a younger age group.

ECEC for children from birth to 2½ years

Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale- Revised ( FCCERS-R) (Harms & Clifford, 1996)

Considers structural and some process quality with an emphasis on global aspects of quality. Includes: space and furnishings; basic care; language-reasoning; learning activities; social development; adult needs; supplementary items: provision for exceptional children.

Childminders with children from birth up to and including school age. (Note: items are delineated by age)

School-age Care Environment Rating Scale ( SACERS) (Harms, Vineberg Jacobs & Romano White,1996)

Considers structural and some process quality with an emphasis on global aspects of quality. Includes: space and furnishings; health and safety; activities; interactions; program structure; staff development; special needs supplementary items.

OSC settings with children aged 5-12 years

Caregiver Interaction Scale ( CIS) (Arnett, 1989)

Considers process quality looking at the interactions between the adult and child(ren).The adult interactions are typically rated on dimensions such as:

1) positive interaction

2) punitiveness

3) detachment

4) permissiveness

ECEC for children from birth to school age

Classroom Assessment Scoring System ( CLASS) (Paro, Hamre, and Pianta, 2012)

Considers process quality including: positive climate; negative climate; teacher sensitivity; regard for child perspective; behaviour guidance; facilitation of learning and development; quality of feedback; language modelling.

ECEC and schools with different versions for different age ranges

Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional Wellbeing ( SSTEW) Scale (Siraj, Kingston & Melhuish, 2015)

Considers aspects of process quality including:

1) Building trust, confidence and independence

2) Social and emotional wellbeing

3) Supporting and extending language and communication

4) Supporting learning and critical thinking

5) Assessing learning and language

ECEC for children aged 2-5 years.

As research into quality has progressed, discussion around the relative importance of these dimensions and how they impact upon one another has become dominant. It is recognised that structural quality is important because the characteristics it identifies ( e.g. adult-child ratios, training and qualifications) impact on process quality.

Aspects of process quality, particularly interactions between adult and child, are increasingly recognised as the key to supporting children's outcomes. In Wales, for instance, during the pilot of the Foundation Phase, ratios were lowered across all provision for 3-5 year olds to 1:8, yet the quality of interactions and early literacy fell (Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2006). This was largely because trained graduate teachers, who were expensive, were replaced with lower qualified or unqualified individuals in larger numbers who were paid less. So while improving adult:child ratios (a structural variable) could potentially improve quality it does not do this if the extra adults fail to provide the skilful adult-child interactions (process quality) necessary to support learning. This showed that structural and process quality are linked, and that policy around this has to be devised carefully - and implemented even more carefully.

5.3. Links between structural and process quality

Clear links have been shown between professional development, including qualifications, and quality. A growing evidence base demonstrates the importance of the structural aspect of qualifications of staff, including both the general level of the qualifications gained and their specific nature (National

Research Council, 2001; Zaslow et al 2010; Rhodes and Huston 2012; OECD, 2012). Typically, studies report that both the levels of qualification which staff have achieved generally, and the relevance (content) of those qualifications to the sector, are highly associated with quality.

Unfortunately, this has led to some studies adopting only one of these two measures - the level or the relevance of qualifications and education. Phillipsen et al. (1997) measured process quality using ITERS, ECERS and the CIS (see Table 2), and reported that, in the pre-school rooms observed, the quality was higher when the adults working in the room had more education (education was measured using three distinctions; secondary school education, college education and degree). Other studies also found significant positive relationships between the level of formal education and quality (Blau, 2000, cited in Mathers et al 2011; de Kruif et al., 2000; Honig & Hirallal, 1998 cited in Tout et al (2005); and Howes et al, 1992).

The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education ( EPPE) Project was the first major longitudinal study in Europe which looked at children's development between the ages of 3 and 7 (Sylva et al., 2004). The researchers looked at a range of variables and their effects, one of which was qualifications. The findings showed a strong relationship between the qualifications (measured using the Levels 2 ( NVQ) - 5 ( QTS)) of the setting manager and staff and the quality of the setting.

Statistical analysis revealed a significant effect of the qualification level and the mean ECERS-R and ECERS-E scores: the higher the ECEC qualification, the higher the quality score. The number of trained staff also seemed to play an important role, with teachers in particular supporting higher quality. Further, the work of Siraj-Blatchford et al. (2006) showed that the higher the proportion of staff in the setting with a formal level of education, the higher the quality as measured by the ECERS-R, ECERS-E, & CIS.

In another piece of research, pre-school settings were evaluated to see how well they implemented the Foundation Stage Curriculum ( DfEE, 2000) - the guidance framework for use with 3 to 5 year olds at that time in England. The settings which had made very good advances had some common characteristics, one of which was well-trained and qualified staff with a good understanding of child development and pedagogy (Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2006).

Further, care-givers with more formal education and training had less authoritarian child-rearing beliefs and worked in settings rated as safe, clean and stimulating. Interestingly, a negative correlation was found with child care experience; less experience was related to more positive care giving (Vandell, 1996). The author, however, does not mention whether training was controlled for as a variable with this finding.

There appear to be some discrepancies concerning the type and content of qualifications and education. Some studies have found the specific content of the qualifications of the staff to be linked to the quality of the setting (Blau, 2000, cited in Mathers et al., 2011; Philips et al., 2000 cited in Tout et al., 2005; Howes et al., 1992.).

Burchinal et al. (2002) analysed data from the Cost Quality and Outcomes study and found that training (a structural variable) contributed to environmental quality and the process quality of adult-child interaction. They looked at three types of training: in-service workshops, workshops in the community and workshops at professional meetings. Training typically focused on practice and supported practitioners/teachers in the implementation of policy within their settings. They also made some distinctions between training and formal education, and suggested that a degree in a childcare-related subject was the best predictor of quality. Although professional training did raise quality, it did not reach the same level as academic qualifications with a childcare focus.

Most studies considering qualifications look at the level of education and/or training, and whether it is higher or lower. Only a few consider whether there might be a minimum level of qualification needed to support good quality. The general consensus is that the higher staff's level of education, the higher the pedagogical quality - which in turn leads to better child outcomes ( OECD, 2012). Studies focusing on whether staff members hold degrees - and many countries now recognise the importance of this level of education - found them to be less authoritarian, less detached, more engaged in positive interaction with the children (Arnett, 1989; Siraj-Blatchford, 2010), and staff with lower qualifications were associated with less favourable children's outcomes (Melhuish, 2004; Siraj-Blatchford, et al 2006; 2010).

Other studies, however, such as Early et al. (2007) emphasised that staff quality is a complex issue and that there is no simple relationship between staff level of education and quality within the setting or children's learning outcomes. They found contradictory relationships between child outcomes and staff qualifications, and concluded that increasing staff qualifications alone would not be sufficient to improve setting quality or maximise children's learning and development. They argued, as have many others since, that raising effectiveness in ECEC is likely to require a broad range of professional development activities and support for staff. In particular, qualifications and training need to impact on practice within the setting and on the opportunities and experiences offered there to the children. There also needs to be an emphasis placed on pedagogical practices. In short, staff need support to develop their competence in communicating and interacting with the children in a shared, meaningful and sustainable manner (Sheridan et al., 2009; Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2003). Further discussion about the content and purpose of qualifications and training is considered below.

No single quality indicator is solely responsible for the quality of the setting - though some indicators are more important than others. Research which considered other structural variables, such as group size and adult: child ratio, unsurprisingly, found both to have significant positive effects on quality (Howes & Smith, 1995).

High staff turnover has long been recognised as an issue within ECEC, as it is associated with a lower quality service. In centres with high staff turnover rates, the adults and children are less likely to develop stable relationships, and nurturing and stimulating interactions are less likely to take place (Cassidy, Lower, Kintner-Duffy, Hegde, & Shim, 2011; Mims, Scott-little, Lower, Cassidy, & Hestenes, 2008). Goelman et al., (2006) considered predictors of quality in pre-school rooms and reported that the direct predictors of quality were: wages, education level and the number of staff in the room. The quality of the environment, in group care, was found to improve with every additional adult in the room, as this provided the opportunity for supervision, consultation and problem solving together. A general finding around structural quality was that those staff who experienced their working conditions as pleasant tended to engage in more caring and stimulating behaviour with their children (Huntsman, 2008; Burchinal et al., 2002). The context and conditions in which staff work are strongly related to stable, sensitive and stimulating interactions with children ( OECD, 2012).

One further structural variable which warrants mention, as it is important to the Scottish context, is the amount of time children spend within ECEC settings during a week. Sylva et al. (2004) did not find a relationship between the amount of time children spent in group settings and their learning and developmental outcomes. They did, however, find that duration was important: children attending daily sessions 4-5 times per week yielded the same in outcomes as those who attended full-time, while those who attended just one or two days did not do as well. The Growing up in Scotland report (Scottish Government, 2014g), looking specifically at Scottish provision, reported that the number of hours a child attended pre-school per week was not associated with the child's social or cognitive development at age 5. It is worth noting that neither of these studies included children under the age of 3 years.

Many interesting and valuable findings have emerged from the large and growing body of research examining quality. There is a distinct pattern of higher quality care being associated with a well-trained and qualified workforce, and a clear relationship between structural variables and process quality. Many of these relationships, however, are not simple, and there is the possibility that other variables are contributing to these effects. For example, Melhuish (2004) found that adult: child ratio combined with staff qualifications to produce larger effects in terms of quality. Also, staff with higher levels of education, training and salary combined with lower levels of staff turnover produced measures of higher quality care. The quality of a setting depends on many structural and process variables.

5.4. Quality and Child outcomes

The research base considering children's outcomes is somewhat smaller than the previous section due, possibly, to the longer time-span and greater expense in research terms involved in capturing such information. There are few studies which specifically take staff education and training as a variable to examine whether this has an influence on the child in later life. Some studies have included this measure along with a host of others ( e.g. adult:child ratio, groups size) and developmental outcomes have been considered. One study (Burchinal & Cryer, 2003) took both structural and process variables into account, including training, and found that measures of ECEC quality were positively associated with cognitive and social development up to school age.

Mathers & Sylva (2007) looked at developmental outcomes of children in the Neighbourhood Nurseries Initiative. They found that the presence of a qualified teacher was the strongest predictor of children's behavioural outcomes. Children showed higher levels of cooperation, conformity and sociability.

Another large UK piece of research, the Millennium Cohort Study (Mathers, Sylva & Joshi, 2007) followed the lives of nearly 19,000 babies born in the UK between 2000 and 2002. Quality was assessed using ECERS-R, ECERS-E and CIS; results showed that the childcare qualifications of staff were a predictor of the quality of provision, especially related to language development, interactions and academic progress. The number of unqualified staff was also important and had a negative effect on quality.

An interesting study, comparing 3 year old children who had attended 'high quality day care' with those who had not, was conducted by Ackerman-Ross and Khanna (1989). In this case, no significant language performance differences were found between the two groups, suggesting that some effects of child care could be short-lived. More recent research, however, has shown that adults with a degree were more responsive to children, and that those children cared for by a member of staff with a child related degree had higher scores on a receptive language comprehension test (The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test - Revised PPVTR) (Howes, 1997). Clearly, more research needs to be conducted in this area to clarify the child outcomes in relation to language development.

Holloway and Reichhart-Erikson (1988) were interested in looking at children's reasoning in social issues, in their interaction with peers, and their solitary free-play behaviour. To measure process quality, the Early Childhood Observation Instrument ( ECOI, Bredekamp, 1985) was used. The results show that higher quality settings (as measured by the ECOI) allowed children to engage in more focused solitary free-play, suggesting a relationship between quality and children's behaviour.

The research to date demonstrates clear influences on the quality of early childhood learning, with an inter-play of many factors. The qualifications of staff working in this field seem to have an impact on the interactions between the adult and child, on the responsiveness and warmth shown by the adult, and on the child's social and language development. Many countries, including Scotland, have invested in developing and boosting the qualifications, education and professional development of ECEC staff, as part of a long-term strategy to improve the quality of experiences and opportunities the children receive - with the ultimate aim of providing better child care and learning for future generations.

5.5. Quality and under 3s

OECD (2012) suggested that, for very young babies and toddlers, the importance of practitioners having specialised and practical training is greater if pedagogic quality and improved social and cognitive outcomes are to be assured. Given that the first three years of life are often cited as the best and most cost effective time to reduce inequalities, and where developing cognitive and behavioural patterns profoundly affect ability to learn later, this seems particularly pertinent ( UNICEF 2008; Sylva et al., 2010).

Scotland's current commitment to extending ELC provision in the future means it is likely that existing provision for under 3s, including the new entitlement for eligible 2 year olds in Scotland, will increase within all ELC provision, including childminders and private settings. The current inequalities across the workforce makes this concerning: consider, for example, the recent Growing Up in Scotland report (Scottish Government 2014c), which found the quality in private nurseries to be lower than in local authority settings - and the current lack of requirements for qualifications and continued professional development for childminders (see the section Registration with Care Inspectorate).

While it is clear that there are potentially major advantages for the 3 and 4 year olds who attend high quality ECEC settings, and especially for those from areas of disadvantage, little research looks specifically at the effects for younger children. There is, however, a wide range of literature which looks at the results of maternal working on children under the age of 1 year. It is fairly consistent in reporting negative effects on their health, cognitive and socio-behavioural development, especially when the mother is working full time (Gambaro et al., 2014). Although the effects vary according to the quality of the alternative care, the quality of the maternal care, and the difference the income makes for the family (see Waldfogel, 2006).

Studies considering the effects of ECEC for children aged 1-2 years show mixed results and are, as yet, inconclusive. For some children, particularly boys, long hours in group care is associated with negative social and behavioural outcomes, while other studies show neutral effects or even small gains in cognitive outcomes (see Langlois and Liben 2003; Waldfogel 2006). Sylva et al. (2012a) found little evidence of a medium-term effect for disadvantaged children at the age of 11 who had started pre-school at 2 rather than 3 years.

A Sure Start mapping exercise in Scotland evaluating the effect of pre-school provision for vulnerable 2 year olds in a pilot programme, demonstrated no significant differences between the intervention and control groups (Geddes et al., 2010). On the other hand, Felfe and Lalive (2011), in Germany, reported that centre-based care for 0-3 year olds was associated with small developmental gains for the average child and larger benefits for children living with disadvantaged families. Geddes et al. (2010) suggested that starting 'school' between 2 and 3 years of age gave the greatest academic benefit compared with children who started earlier or later - and that negative behavioural effects are greater the younger the start.

5.6. The relationship between a higher qualified workforce and provision

In this section, consideration is given to the impact of qualifications and continued professional development on practice within settings. Before further discussion, it is important to clarify what the terms mean within this Review.

'Qualifications' typically refer to the type of formal education delivered by a specialist educational institution or body. It may mean that learners studying for their qualifications will need to travel to, or at least engage with, such institutions and they gain a nationally recognised and standardised award on completing their studies successfully.

Initial teacher training, such as a BA Education degree which allows registration with the GTCS, and other BA degrees, PDAs and SVQs which allow registration with SSSC, are included here. In contrast, 'continued professional development' is typically engaged with following, or alongside, qualifications by staff who are studying for, or who have already achieved, the initial award relevant to their current role. It may include some certification, but is not necessarily recognised nationally or internationally.

In the EPPE study (Sylva et al., 2003) the relationship between higher staff qualifications and higher quality of provision was identified as an indicator of quality provision. Staffing is a fundamental factor in the quality of the setting, and having higher quality staff has been found to have a positive impact on the quality of a setting (Campbell-Barr, 2009). Improving the quality of early years services and outcomes for children requires a highly skilled workforce - one which offers reflective practice, sound decision making and personalised care (Cooke and Lawton, 2008). It is important to recognise that the quality of education and care does not depend on physical resources such as buildings and schools, and that the most important ingredient for quality provision is the quality of the practitioners who work with the children and families (Abbott and Rodger, 1994). According to Fukkink and Lont (2007) there is ample evidence that training early years staff improves children's learning and wellbeing. They say: 'the training of caregivers is a cornerstone for quality in early care. Caregivers with high educational levels provide better personal care...are more sensitive...are more involved with children...and have more knowledge of developmentally appropriate practice...Furthermore, more educated early educators offer richer learning experiences...provide more language stimulation...and stimulate the social and physical skills of children more often than other educators.' (p294).

5.7. What makes effective qualifications and professional development?

Fukkink and Lont (2007) reviewed studies published between 1980-2005 considering training and professional development, and suggested the need for caution when considering the success of projects. They reported that results 'were significantly smaller for settings with no fixed curriculum content, delivery of training at multiple sites....results were also smaller when tests were used which did not align with the content of the training...' (p294). They noted, however, that it was not the qualification per se which effected the quality; rather, it was the staff's ability to create a high quality pedagogic environment which made the difference for children. The critical element is the way in which staff involved children, stimulated interactions with and between children, and used diverse scaffolding strategies ( OECD, 2012). With this in mind, three questions were considered in the rest of this section:

  • What skills and attributes should effective ELC and OSC staff possess to enhance quality and support children's learning and development?
  • What does effective professional development look like?
  • How are the early learning and childcare practitioner's professional identity and confidence affecting the provision for children and their outcomes?

i. What skills and attributes should effective ELC and OSC staff possess to enhance quality and support children's learning and development?

While reviewing the literature on important skills and traits of staff in facilitating high quality services and children's outcomes in ECEC, OECD (2012) produced the following list:

  • Good understanding of child development and learning;
  • Ability to develop children's perspectives;
  • Ability to praise, comfort, question and be responsive to children;
  • Leadership skills, problem solving and development of targeted lesson plans;
  • Good vocabulary and an ability to elicit children's ideas (p146)

Further, the Scottish Government's (2014a) Building the Ambition: National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare, Children and Young People (Scotland) Act

2014, outlined the skills and qualities seen within staff in high quality settings as identified in the EPPE study (Siraj-Blatchford et al., 2002; Sylva et al., 2004) and endorsed by the recent Growing Up in Scotland report (Scottish Government, 2014g). They were:

  • The quality of adult-child verbal interactions - this is also called shared sustained thinking. It is when the adult and child work together to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate an activity. It is when the practitioner asks the I wonder if we… type of question.
  • Initiation of activities - the extent to which staff members extend child-initiated interactions is important and includes interventions to extend the child's thinking. It is allowing children to take the lead and not providing adult directed activities which have little meaning for children.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the curriculum - practitioners' knowledge of the curriculum is vital. It is about taking on board the relevance and breadth of the curriculum and providing experiences which are developmentally appropriate.
  • Knowledge about how young children learn - the knowledge of child development underpins sound practice. The most effective pedagogy combines both 'teaching' (in its widest sense) and providing freely chosen yet potentially instructive play activities.
  • Adult skills to support children - qualified staff in the most effective settings provide children with curriculum related activities and they encourage children to engage in challenging play.
  • There were more intellectual gains for children in centres that encouraged high levels of parent engagement in their children's learning - the most effective settings share child-related information between parents and staff. Parents are often involved in decision making about their child's learning programme (p75).

These lists demonstrate the importance of the adult's pedagogical approach that is their role in the setting. OECD (2012) stated that staff qualifications, initial education and continued professional development can contribute to enhancing 'pedagogical quality, which is - ultimately - highly associated with better child outcomes. It is not the qualification per se that has the impact on child outcomes but the ability of better qualified staff members to create a high quality pedagogic environment. Key elements of high quality are the ways in which staff involve children, stimulate interaction within and between children, and use diverse scaffolding strategies' (p143).

Increasingly, the complex nature of the role of the adult in ELC and OSC is being recognised. Evidence supports moving away from historically inaccurate views of the workforces; namely, the ideas that the knowledge and skills required by practitioners/teachers is merely common-sense and that mothers could teach young children equally as well, or that play is simply the work of children and the adults (mostly women) need only to provide resources for play and supervise children's experiences.

Effective practitioners/teachers in ECEC need to be able both to engage children in meaningful activities that promote their conceptual understanding of the world, and to construct positive adult-child relationships (Howes et al., 2008; Pianta et al., 2007). Positive relationships provide children with a secure and safe base for exploring the interpersonal and the intellectual aspects of ELC. Effective practitioners/teachers combine positive relationships with meaningful activities so that they can integrate explicit instruction with sensitive warm interaction. They also provide responsive individualised feedback and intentional engagement while maintaining a setting that is orderly and predictable, but not overly structured or formal (Howes and Tsao, 2012). For the OSC workforce, many of these attributes are equally important if the children are to feel safe and happy to play and explore within their settings.

Supporting children's learning and development in an early years setting is particularly complex and challenging because of the huge disparity in achievements of the young children (aged 2-5 years) who attend them. Siraj and Kingston (2014) noted that, in settings with large intakes from areas of deprivation in Wales, children started at the early years setting with less vocabulary and language, poor social-emotional development and lacking independence and self-help skills, such as toileting. Siraj-Blatchford et al. (2005), while considering early years provision, again in Wales, found that the quality of teaching and learning in maintained schools (where qualified teachers worked) was higher than in the non-maintained settings (where there were few staff with appropriate qualifications). In the maintained schools, the teachers were more likely to nurture both children's intellectual development and their social-emotional wellbeing.

The professional development and support given to teachers in Wales appeared to support their understanding of child development and developmentally appropriate practice better than the training given to other staff. This diversity of age and achievements among the children is even more apparent when considering the age ranges of children attending childminding services, private and third sector provisions, and OSC provision. It suggests that the understanding of child development among the different professionals, and the related understanding of appropriate practice, is equally pertinent - but that it needs to be more extensive and cover a greater age range.

High quality initial qualifications in aligned and relevant areas of study, such as child development and early education, increased the likelihood that practitioners/teachers were successful in enhancing the educational, socio-emotional and healthy development of children (Sylva et al., 2004; OCED, 2012). When trained on matters relating to development and care, staff could better develop a child's perspective (Sommer et al., 2010) and support learning through play (Pramling Samuelson and Asplund Carlsson, 2008). They could also problem-solve and develop appropriate and targeted planned activities for the children - while also augmenting their oral and early literacy development through their own improved vocabulary ( NIEER, 2004). Staff with a higher specialised education engaged in more positive adult: child interactions - including praise, comforting, questioning and being responsive to children (Howes et al., 2003). While highly qualified staff undoubtedly make a difference to the quality of a setting, it does not seem necessary or achievable in many countries for all staff to possess those high qualifications. OECD (2012) suggested that, while not all staff need those higher qualifications, those with lower levels of education should work alongside staff with higher qualifications.

Specialised qualifications and continued professional development do not, on their own, guarantee greater effectiveness (Hyson et al., 2009 in OECD 2012). The quality of the trainers/educators and the programme itself are also important if they are to impact on practice. Elliott (2006) reported the need for good initial staff preparation and greater consistency across initial professional preparation programmes. There is also a need for high quality ongoing professional development, as well-trained practitioners/teachers need to ensure that the effects of their initial qualification and studies do not 'fade out' (Fukkink and Lont, 2007).

Ongoing professional development can ensure that any identified gaps in knowledge and skills, which become apparent in practice after initial training, are filled, and that practitioners/teachers are kept up to date. This is particularly important in ECEC where there is a growing body of research and discussions on 'what works'. The recent shift in emphasis to a more developmental perspective illustrates this point well ( OECD, 2012). The Scottish context, where Froebel training supplemented teacher training, is a case in point.

ii. What does effective professional development look like?

Before discussing the current literature on effective professional development, it is important to consider what is known to be lacking and what is needed in today's ECEC workforce at an international level - as this is likely to have resonance within Scotland. Unfortunately, large scale studies of ECEC suggest too few adults have the necessary skills to provide optimal learning support and emotional support for young children's intellectual growth (Howes et al., 2008), particularly in the curriculum areas of science, mathematics and numeracy. This is important as Duncan et al. (2007) suggested that meaningful instruction in numeracy and science is a very good predictor of future academic success. The importance of good foundations in language development and literacy to support later learning is also well documented (Sylva et al, 2004; Coghlan, 2009).

Practitioners/teachers need guidance on supporting speaking and listening skills, emergent literacy, numeracy and science, linking learning to interests, and allowing children to understand the purpose and function of their learning. They need guidance on how best to support language, literacy, numeracy, exploration and science, and physical development - through both independent and focused learning activities. They also need to understand how to organise the environment to provide numerous opportunities for children to practice their newly learnt skills at an appropriate level. In addition, they need to feel confident to teach aspects of literacy, numeracy and science at the appropriate levels and to support parents/carers in developing their children's literacy, numeracy and scientific exploration in the home learning environment (Siraj and Kingston 2014).

Further researchers, such as Raver et al. (2008), are beginning to recognise that the kind of effective adult-child interactions which are expected in effective settings are the kind of interactions in which many practitioners/teachers have never participated themselves - either as practitioners /teachers, or as children within their families, or in the settings and classrooms they attended as children and young people. This recognition has led to the development of professional development programmes which include a mixture of the academic skills and knowledge necessary to assess children's interests and achievements, and to inform planning, etc., together with relationship-building between the student on the course and the tutors running them. Typically, such professional development involves modelling, providing exemplars of sensitive and responsive interactions, and providing support for challenging behaviour - and the results have been good (Erickson and Kurz-Reimer 1999; Toth et al., 2011).

This is challenging for a country like Scotland, where some ELC and OSC settings are geographically remote. If, however, improving the quality of the adult-child interactions is a key goal, it suggests that distance learning is less likely to be effective - as relationship-building between tutor and student would be difficult to achieve. The current model used to disseminate the ideas within Building the Ambition (Scottish Government, 2014a) is designed specifically to overcome difficulties of access to professional development for all practitioners/teachers.

Professional development is being disseminated through a mixture of local authority trained facilitators, national partners such as Education Scotland, and third sector organisations such as SCMA and NDNA. Research comparing professional development with a focus on relationship-building, rather than written elements or those that are mostly web-based, has shown that the former approach leads to better gains in terms of increased adult-child positive interactions and children's gains in literacy, language and social and physical behaviours (Downer et al., 2009; Mashburn et al., 2010; Pianta et al., 2008; Archer & Siraj, 2015).

In Scotland, Stephen (2012), while examining the place of theory in professional development, pointed to the need for emphasis here. Theoretical understandings of children's learning and development were often marginalised within and limited to qualifications, and often only to initial qualifications. This led to the inability of practitioners within Scotland to answer 'why' questions in relation to their practice - and to them acting predominantly as providers and facilitators (Stephen and Brown 2004). While this is not unusual, and similar findings have been reported internationally (for example Pramling-Samuelsson and Fleer, 2009), it is concerning in the light of new research and the importance of practice, including intentional engagement with children and their learning, if enhancing the achievements of all children is desired. Further, it is especially important for those living in areas of disadvantage and/or with learning difficulties.

Stephen (2012), put forward a strong argument to move practitioners forward from their current over-reliance 'on consensual notions of practice and tacit understandings' (p236) of theory in pre-school education. A lack of such understandings left practitioners unable to defend their own practices, incapable of considering contradictions and alternatives or engaging in critical thinking, and ill-equipped to evaluate 'policy change and challenge, resulting in naive or inadequately conceptualised amendments to practitioners' methods (Stephen et al. 2010)' (p236). Without an underpinning knowledge of the theories, histories, constructions and beliefs which underlie pre-school practice, practitioners were unlikely to respond appropriately to new ideas or develop them themselves, which is fundamental to a professional workforce (Stephen, 2012). Audain and Shoolbread (forthcoming) suggested that this was equally important for the OSC and childminding workforces.

Howes and Tsao (2012) suggested that the lack of an established pathway for early childhood practitioner/teacher preparation is one major issue contributing to the international dearth of effective practitioners/teachers. There is little standardisation of content across degrees (both initial teacher training and specific ECEC degrees) which has led to them being poor predictors of effective practice, as defined above (Early et al., 2007). An additional reason for the lack of correspondence between formal qualifications and effective practice is the accompanying finding that young children spend relatively small proportions of their days engaged in learning activities, and even smaller proportions of their days working with an adult (Chien et al., 2010; Phillips et at., 2009). Fortunately, there is a growing body of evidence which identifies effective literacy and language practices and, to a lesser extent, numeracy and science teaching practices associated with gains in children's learning (See Howes at al., 2012; Pianta, 2012; OECD, 2012).

Zaslow et al., (2010) conducted a literature review entitled 'Toward the Identification of Features of Effective Professional Development for Early Childhood Educators'. In it they identified six strategies that they suggested could serve as a starting point when considering education and professional development that is likely to impact on ECEC practitioners'/teachers' knowledge, practice and children's outcomes.

First, there should be specific and articulated objectives for education and professional development. The meta-analysis of studies conducted by Fukkink and Lont (2007) showed that when training was specific, rather than open in content, the effects on practice were greater. In particular, they found training that was 'specialised caregiver training with a focus on interaction skills with children' (p27) made the largest differences to practice and to children's outcomes. QUINCE research team (2009) suggested the use of observational quality measures (as outlined earlier, see Table 2) to support the development of the specific and articulated objectives for professional development, with care given to choosing the measure(s) that reflected the areas of practice and the children's outcomes in which improvement was sought. Zaslow et al. (2010) discussed the curriculum areas of language, literacy and early mathematics and the importance of equipping practitioners/teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to develop these curricula, and how to approach and implement them appropriately with young children (National Reading Panel, 2000; Pianta, 2012).

Second, there should be a focus on practice with attention given to linking ECEC knowledge with practice. Zaslow et al. (2012) found stronger and more long lasting effects where professional development coursework or training was combined with opportunities for practitioners/teachers to use newly learnt knowledge, understandings, approaches etc. within ECEC settings. Basically, they suggested that all professional development should not only consider strengthening early educator knowledge, but should also focus directly and explicitly on practice. Dickinson and Brady (2006) outlined their view of effective timings between training on instructional approaches with opportunities to apply them shortly afterwards. Zaslow et al. (2010) discussed the value of individualised professional development and, while they recognised that not all individualised professional development showed positive effects on practice, they suggested there was promising evidence for such approaches.

Third, there should be collective participation of practitioners/teachers from the same settings or schools in professional development. Such joint participation, Zaslow et al. (2010) suggested, would help to support a professional culture and ensure the sustainability of new techniques and skills. Professional development which includes the managers and supervisors helps to ensure that settings' staff do not receive contradictory messages about which practices to implement or emphasise. Also, including practitioners working across age phases can support continuity and progression in children's experiences (Burchinal, Hyson and Zaslow, 2008; Bierman et al., 2008).

Fourth, the intensity and duration of the professional development should be matched to the content being conveyed. The length of time that a professional development exercise lasts would depend on the goals of the activity. If, for example, the goal of the education and professional development is to convey the theory and practice designed to support various aspects of language skills ( e.g. dialogic reading, focused stimulation, rich extended instruction, inferential questioning, self-questioning, clue words - see Sittner Bridges et al., 2012). This requires considerably longer than a session designed to model and support interactive book reading. Zaslow et al. (2010) noted, however, that, generally, single workshops of professional development are not as successful, even if they are narrowly targeted, as more lengthy extensive professional development and education models (Donovan, Bransford and Pellegrino, 1999; Raikes et al., 2006).

Fifth, the practitioners/teachers should be prepared and able to conduct individual child assessments that they subsequently analyse to monitor progress and plan for future learning. Knowledge of the 'observation, assessment and planning cycle' of learning and teaching supports the practitioners/teachers in understanding their children's outcomes, and how their children are progressing in relation to them. It also supports planning for both the group and the individual child (Garet et al., 2008; Gettinger and Stoiber, 2007).

Sixth, the professional development should be appropriate for the workforce and organisational context in which they work. It should include guidance and research provided by experts and professional organisations specific to the area of the participants and be aligned with the relevant standards for practice. Specialised professional development is associated with better child outcomes and improved staff competences to provide suitable pedagogical learning opportunities ( OECD, 2012). The effectiveness of professional development approaches is associated with differences according to such features as the organisational context - as well as the standards of practice and their particular monitoring and supervision structures (Vu, Jeon and Howes, 2008; Fulgini et al., 2009). Professional development should focus on the frameworks and guidance materials relevant to the workforce (Zaslow et al., 2010), so some materials will be specific to the individual workforce. For ELC practitioners working with 3 and 4 year olds in Scotland, it would be likely to include the Curriculum for Excellence ( CfE) and for OSC practitioners the study of The Playwork Principles.

Other discussions regarding the content of qualifications and continued professional development are beginning to emerge around ECEC practitioners' relatively new but extremely important role of enhancing the learning and development of children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. As such, they are subject to working in increasingly complex social environments and encounter a multiplicity of family backgrounds and experiences.

Training in intercultural approaches, approaches to second languages, working with children with special needs, working with children at risk, and focusing on language acquisition are among the topics identified as important in the future (Eurydice, 2009).

Practitioners/teachers will need to be supported in their understanding of poverty and its effects, and on the power of supporting the home learning environment. Both EPPE (Sylva, et al., 2004) and the Growing Up in Scotland study (Scottish Centre for Social Research, 2009) demonstrated the importance of the early home learning environment. Both studies suggested that the home learning environment is more important for intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income. Activities (educational games, visits, events, reading etc.) have an influence on children's cognitive development and can moderate, but not eradicate, the effects of disadvantage. The Scottish Centre for Social Research (2009) reported that the extent and range of activities in which children partake is more important than specific or expensive pursuits.

iii. How does the professional identity and confidence of early learning and childcare practitioners affect the provision for children and their outcomes?

While the importance of ELC and OSC staff qualifications and continued professional development lies mainly in the process quality it produces, it is important to note that structural quality impacts here too. Fives (2003) noted the importance of staff believing in their ability to organise and execute the courses of action necessary to support and nurture the children in their care. How practitioners see themselves and promote themselves will undoubtedly affect public opinion. Practitioners working in the early years in settings other than schools, who are not qualified as teachers, are typically seen with less regard, and this is reflected in their low pay (Osgood, 2004). The ECEC workforce has been recognised as an under-qualified, under-paid group of working-class women, and the training for many has been minimal (Vincent and Braun, 2010).

In Scotland, work has already started to redress some of the inequalities in qualifications and training. Most notable has been the introduction of graduate managed ELC and OSC services (apart from childminding services). The new BA Childhood Practice and PDA SCQF Level 9 Childhood Practice, developed from the Standard for Childhood Practice (The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2007) has begun the process of professionalising and developing a group identity for the workforce.

There have been a number of identified aims for these new qualifications:

  • To improve leadership within the sector:
  • 'The Standard is an important step in ensuring managers in early education and child care sector have the necessary leadership skills to take forward excellent practice in centres that children and families use' ( SSSC, 2008, p1). Recent research (Siraj and Hallet, 2014; OECD, 2012) noted the importance of leadership within the early years to support improvement.
  • To support the status and retention of staff
  • These structural aspects of quality were discussed earlier
  • To professionalise the ELC workforce

Davis et al. (2014) noted practitioners' perceptions during and after studying for the awards. The ECEC staff reported increased confidence, leadership and management abilities and the ability to develop others as teams. They reported greater skills of reflection and a better understanding of how theory connects to practice. They also reported positive impact on their practice, particularly in participatory approaches in day-to-day practice. Finally, they asserted they had a joint identity and that Childhood Practice had become a profession in its own right. The OSC workforce did not report such positive outcomes, and called for a greater focus on aspects that were particularly important to their sector. The sample of OSC practitioners, however, was small so it is not clear whether this was a representative view.

No research to date has been able to evidence what impact these new qualifications might be having on children's outcomes. Education Scotland (2012b) matched inspections undertaken by Education Scotland to the qualifications of staff within the settings, but their research was inconclusive. While they found an association between degree level qualifications generally and higher inspection ratings, they stated that 'Given the information is held only for 336 centres inspected, it is too early to identify a conclusive correlation between staff who are GTCS registered and staff who have the BA Childhood Practice Award' (p10).

Further research specifically considering children's outcomes, as defined in this Review, would be useful - especially in the light of the Growing Up in Scotland findings (Scottish Government, 2014c), which reported no correlation between Education Scotland inspections and children's socio-emotional and cognitive outcomes. They did caution that this may be a flawed finding due to the low numbers of inspections. These reports are revisited later.

5.8. A gendered workforce

Historically, the early years workforce is gender and social class specific, comprising predominately white and often working-class women, undertaking the role of caring for children under 5 years of age (Kay, 2005). Traditionally the occupation of childcare is associated with the role of mothering, the characteristics of nurturing and caring, and a tenuous understanding of child development.

Due to the nature of this relationship, caring for children is traditionally associated with women's work (Vincent and Braun, 2010). Gender is inextricably tied in within the early years workforce (McGillvray, 2008); the workforce in England is, for example, comprised of approximately ninety-eight percent women, few practitioners from ethnic minorities, fewer with disabilities, with the majority of practitioners holding a qualification at or below NVQ Level 3 (Kay, 2005).

While the OSC workforce within Scotland includes more men and a slightly more diverse workforce (responses to the out of school worker survey 2013 included responses from 14% males and people with registered disabilities and of different ethnic backgrounds) the largest proportion of the workforce is female. Most work is part-time and low-paid, with many supplementing their income with another job, particularly at the support worker level (Scottish Out of School Care Network, 2013).

5.9. Qualified Teachers in Early Years

A strong body of research demonstrates the importance of higher qualified staff impacting on the quality of provision. The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education ( EPPE) project (Sylva et al., 2004) showed that there was higher quality provision in those pre-school settings with a qualified graduate teacher. The quality of the learning environment increased with early years leaders' qualifications, and there were improved educational outcomes at Key Stage 1 when children's pre-school experiences combined care and learning experiences (Sylva et al, 2010).

In ECEC centres where there is a culture of integrated working, there needs to be a strong teacher presence to provide a pedagogical lead and support for other practitioners (Whalley, 2009, House of Commons 130-11: 11). The Childhood Practitioner role, although important in Scotland, does not replace the teacher role. Although they learn about Curriculum for Excellence, the focus of their qualification is more on aspects of leadership, management, collaborative working and the skills necessary to support quality improvement processes - rather than on the curriculum and the pedagogy and practice of teaching and learning. This appears to be well recognised within Scotland: Scott, ( SSSC, 2015) speaking as SSSC spokesperson about the new BA Childhood Practice online on the SSSC workforce solutions site, stated that it is '…not about the pedagogy of teaching or the praxis of teaching'. Training with a focus on education, children's learning and working with families to support their children at home is necessary (Siraj-Blatchford, 2009, House of Commons130-11:23). Further discussion around the current training for teachers, and whether it is fit for purpose, is in the section Qualified Teachers in ELC.

5.10. Childminders

Childminding is a unique and important part of the ECEC system. A childminder is the preferred choice of many parents for reasons including:

  • A preference for a small, home-like setting
  • A desire to have the same person look after their child for the whole childcare day
  • An appreciation of the opportunity provided for children to interact with those of different ages
  • A perception that childminding is better suited to their child's temperament (Britner & Phillips, 1995; Doherty, 2003)
  • The low adult to child ratios, with one-to-one for children under the age of 1 year in Scotland

Additionally, childminders can often provide a more flexible service to suit parents; for example, parents who work shifts require evening and weekend care. In addition, in the more remote and rural areas of Scotland, childminding is often the only viable option for parents.

Childminding has unique aspects which are worth noting:

  • The family home is shared by the provider's family
  • The provider is usually self-employed
  • The job involves multiple roles including running the business, practitioner, mother of some of the children present
  • Care for children across a broad age range from birth to 14 years or so: caring for children aged birth to 5 years, before they start school, for school aged children before and after school and during school holidays

There is a developing evidence base regarding the quality of the care and education childminders offer, including characteristics of the provider (with their training and qualifications, and use of support networks as strong indicators) and the caring environment (with the adult-child ratios and children's ages linked to quality). Most of these structural aspects of quality have been considered in relation to ECEC generally and apply here. The network indicator is relatively new, and research suggests that childminders who belong to networks tend to be more sensitive and responsive to the children's needs and score higher on environment rating scales (Bromer, Van Haitsma, Daley & Modigliani, 2008; Doherty et al., 2006). The quality of the networks is key. Networks which are staffed with trained co-ordinators who regularly communicate with providers, visit their homes, provide training, and give formal feedback support quality well (Bromer, Van Haitsma, Daley & Modigliani, 2008).

A particularly interesting scheme, community childminders and working for families services, offered through the Scottish Childminding Association ( SCMA) has been established across Scotland. This is designed to support the recruitment, retention and quality of childminders and also to support quick responses and offers of childminding placements for parents/carers with challenging family circumstances, such as mental or physical ill-health and/or those in need of guidance and support with parenting and childcare routines. Such placements are typically part-time over a period of six months and avoid the need for families to be referred for social work assessments to access help for their needs which might be low-level and short-term. The scheme builds on existing good joint working practices between the childcare, education, social work and health visitor services. Stephen and Minty (2012) conducted a short review of this work and concluded that a community childminding placement:

  • Helps to develop resilience in children and parents.
  • Offers a service that is accessible, flexible and in proportion to needs.
  • Gives the home-based, small group and 1:1 care that many parents prefer for young children, particularly those under 3 years old.
  • Is universally available on the basis of recognised need - a key characteristic of a service designed for early intervention.
  • Is delivered in a simple and streamlined manner but gives access to warm and supportive relationships for adults and children.
  • Helps families to help themselves and their children.
  • Supports local employment directly and indirectly.
  • Contributes to family and community wellbeing. (p3&4).

Stephen and Minty (2012) pointed to the need for excellent multi-agency working and flexible approaches to decision making and administration, and noted the need for sustainable funding in order for the service to flourish. Importantly, they recognised the high quality of childminders needed to ensure such successes, and the need for specialised and ongoing professional development.

5.11. Out of School Care ( OSC)

While robust research in this sector is limited in comparison to the ECEC sector, there is a growing evidence base and research is beginning to analyse what high quality OSC provisions contribute to children's health, wellbeing and academic success. In the past, and to some extent still today, there is a reliance on comparative data from aligned sectors such as school education, youth development and ECEC (Palmer et al., 2009). While there is overlap, it is recognised that further, specific and more rigorous research is required.

Huang et al. (2008) undertook a literature review considering quality in after-school provision in the USA. Similar to other authors (for example Munton et al., 2001 in the UK), they noted the complexity and accompanying difficulty in making true comparisons across provision - due to the diversity of programmes within the after-school/playwork/ OSC sector. Even the sector labels, for example after-school, playwork and out of school, can include different provision. Programmes which have been included in research under such headings vary in multiple ways - including differences in goals, approaches and desired outcomes, as well as with the children and young people they serve (who may vary by age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, vulnerability and so on).

Within Scotland, the definition of OSC services include services which provide care for school aged children:

  • Before school starts in the morning (breakfast clubs)
  • After the end of the school day (after-school clubs)
  • During school holidays (play schemes or all-day care)

Some services are available at other times, for example, during in-service teaching days and at weekends. Some services are only for older children or young people and may not be called 'care' (Scottish Executive, 2003 p9). The Scottish Executive (2003) reported the benefits of OSC as multiple, stating that there was evidence that Out of School Care and study had positive effects, particularly for disadvantaged children. They saw them as integral to their childcare strategy, and contributing to the tackling of child poverty by enabling parents to go out to work and lift their families from poverty.

'Most services in Scotland, providing play, including free and spontaneous play, as set out in the Playwork Principles (Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group) are also concerned with children's care, development and learning' (Audain and Shoolbread, forthcoming).

A few recurrent themes have emerged from within the current international database. OSC settings are recognised as providing specific benefits in a number of ways:

  • They provide children with the opportunity to play (SkillsActive, 2011)
  • They provide children with safety through adult supervision before and after school hours, a time where research reports high rates of juvenile victimisation and crime (Snyder and Sickmund, 1995; Huang et al., 2008; Afterschool Alliance 2008)
  • They support the children's social skills development and wellbeing (Fashola, 1998; Huang et al., 2008; Little et al. 2008)
  • They can enhance children's intellectual achievements and children's school-work related habits through enrichment activities and tutoring (Fashola, 1998; Huang et al., 2008; Little et al., 2008)

High quality OSC can bring all these benefits to children - and provide them with additional opportunities to acquire new skills and broaden their educational experiences generally (Huang et al, 2008).

While these benefits are noted, the quality of the provision is the determining factor - as research suggests that they are not realised by all settings. Little et al., (2008) related the variability of success, as measured by the outcomes most closely related to children's learning and development, to factors such as the level of supervision and structure of the programme, the quality of staff training and the degree to which the activities were matched with the programme's specific goals and objectives and then suitably evaluated. Bodilly and Beckett (2005) indicated that variability in quality and outcome was linked to other aspects of structural quality, including who participated in the programme (the age and other personal characteristics of the children/young people), the length of time they spent in the programme, frequency of attendance, programme content (specific activities, mentoring and support strategies). Other studies noted the importance of the adult:child ratio, age appropriate activities and the accessibility of the provision (Beckett et al., 2001).

One interesting finding related specifically to children's outcomes (as defined in this report) was that settings successful in one domain also appeared to be successful in the other. That is, successful settings were likely to impact on socio-emotional development, wellbeing and learning/school related performance (for school aged children).

Palmer et al., 2009 conducted a meta-analysis of the major research available at that time and suggested six domains were important to quality:

  • Supportive relationships
  • Intentional activities linked to children's achievements and any goals set for them
  • Strong community partnerships (for example with parents/carers/schools/other local groups)
  • Promotion of children and young people's active engagement
  • Physical safety
  • Continuous quality improvement

The similarity between the areas identified here and within the earlier ECEC literature is striking.

5.12. Full Day Care

Little current literature considers the impact of full day care, either in one centre or from a mix of providers (see Stephen, 2002; Geddes et al., 2010). In the US, Early Head Start was one of the few large-scale programmes which took into account the programme approach that the family had been offered (centre-based, mixed or home-based) and differing implementation patterns in their evaluation. The Early Head Start programme included parent support and day care. They found that children accessing their groups showed improvements in cognitive and language development, better social-emotional development, higher emotional engagement with the parent in play, and higher sustained attention with play objects. They also displayed less aggressive behaviour than children who had not attended their groups. They reported the best results where families and children attended either the centre based or home based provision rather than mixed provision.

There is a debate about full versus half-day. As mentioned earlier, the EPPE study (Sylva et al. 2004) reported that, in high quality settings, a full-day is as good as a half-day - so long as the children attended 4-5 daily sessions per week; and that those who attended only one or two days did not do as well. The US National Center for Educational Statistics suggested that a full-day for highest risk, and a half-day for medium and low risk children, was best.

Geddes et al. (2010) recommended that Scotland should consider full-day programmes for children who are particularly disadvantaged, because they would gain cognitively from more intensive pre-school. They also suggested that high-quality full day care did not show strongly the negative behavioural consequences associated with the additional hours. Further, they recommended half-day programmes as sufficient for children of middle or higher socio-economic status or income. They concluded that such children benefited from 15 to 30 hour weeks, but that the cognitive benefits diminished with more than 30 hours and negative social-emotional effects then intensified.

5.13. Initial implications of the Research Literature for Scotland

Geddes et al. (2010) suggested it was important that Scottish public policies and programmes should be based on what has been shown to be effective elsewhere, and, following this, any changes should be evaluated rigorously wherever they are implemented for the first time. Effective evidence should be considered from countries which have similar inequalities and levels of poverty as Scotland, and it was suggested that studies in the USA and England may therefore be more pertinent than studies from countries of the OECD with less pronounced inequalities such as Sweden and Norway.

Quality appears to be highest in those settings which integrate care and education, where education and social development are viewed equally, and in traditional nursery schools (as opposed to day care and playgroups) (Sylva et al., 2004; Geddes et al., 2010). It is important to remember that high quality pre-school experiences enhance all-round development in children, whilst poor quality may lead to worse outcomes than no pre-school. Disadvantaged children particularly benefit from high quality pre-schools - especially if the children attending are from mixed social backgrounds. This has implications for the positioning of centres in deprived areas. Staff with higher qualifications, a trained early childhood teacher as the manager, and good teacher-child relationships, are also indicators of good quality (Geddes et al., 2010).

While there is a large evidence base, particularly in the USA, which relates to studies where ECEC has been targeted at children and families living in areas of disadvantage or with children with identified development learning needs, care needs to be taken not to limit policies solely here. The Marmot Inequality Review (2010) stated, 'focusing solely on the most disadvantaged will not reduce health inequalities sufficiently. To reduce the steepness of the social gradient in health, actions must be universal, but with a scale and intensity that is proportionate to the level of disadvantage. We call this 'proportionate universalism' (p9).

Geddes at al., (2010) recommended that Scotland reflect this evidence in their policy development, and outlined a 'progressive universal programme' and progressive interventions from pregnancy to five years of age (see p 62). In tandem with this, they suggested that Scotland invest in rigorous and robust evaluations of any changes made. Cost-benefit research comparing and calculating the average improvement in the children's learning and development linked to the level of intervention offered (both in terms of parenting support and ELC) would help inform future directions.

As this research literature suggests, whilst ECEC and OSC cannot eliminate disadvantage due to social backgrounds, it can lessen some of its effects, reduce social exclusion, and improve children's and families' lives. The ELC and the OSC sectors are important drivers for Scotland's national vision of transformational change and for Scotland's aspiration 'to be the best place in the world to grow up' (Scottish Government, 2015a). The complexity of the work, however, coupled with Scotland's wish to increase entitlements to high-quality provision, suggest that this is likely to be a long process. UNESCO (2004) considered transformational change and quality improvements of this type across the world and concluded that they require not only a strong lead from government with a robust long term vision, but also a sufficiently motivated and well-supported staff. Further, they noted that the impact of policy may not be apparent until several years after its implementation, and that one policy can never be viewed in isolation to others.

Many individual practitioners and stakeholder institutions who responded to the Review recognised both the complexity and time likely to be involved in workforce reform within Scotland.

'From our experience of involvement in the development of policy on qualifications for other elements of local authority workforce, we know that it takes time to change and develop qualifications…' ( COSLA in their initial response to the call for evidence)

'Time is also needed to develop the workforce, with the increase to 600 hours..' (Head of Nursery School response to first call for evidence)

'…to offer a workforce with this range of skills and experience… (to meet the OSC needs of the families/carers and children with learning disabilities and complex needs)… there needs to be thought given to recruitment, training, career development and retention of workers.' (The Learning Disability Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service Scotland Network response to the first call for evidence)

The scope of this Review is far reaching, and the recommendations involve different services, stakeholders, institutions and both the ELC and OSC workforces. The process of implementing the recommendations will require careful planning and negotiation - if they are to be fully realised. Among other aspects, there will need to be more graduate level initial qualifications and opportunities for ongoing professional and career development. While Scotland has begun addressing these issues, some issues remain unresolved. A further expansion in the workforces will also require more time if quality is not to be sacrificed. The need for additional time and planning will become more apparent in the discussions in the following sections.

Establishing a strategic group with the relevant agencies and staff with clear objectives and Terms of Reference associated with the recommendations of the Review, with an implementation period of 15 years, should ensure that change and improvements take place in a timely manner. The strategic group may also establish a development group or groups to take forward specific recommendations or objectives. This is the approach that was taken successfully in Scotland when the BA Childhood Practice degree was developed by the Childhood Practice Development Group ( CPDG) convened by SSSC. Using a similar process for the continued improvements that Scotland wishes to follow seems judicious, given the complexity and diversity of the tasks involved.

The Scottish Government would be in a good position to lead the group, to ensure that key stakeholders and decision makers are engaged, that there are good communication and dissemination mechanisms in place, and that the group is as representative as possible.

This first recommendation has been written with the full Review findings in mind and not just the research literature, but it needs to sit early in the Review to contextualise the other recommendations within the timeframe.

1) Given the scope, ambition and policy direction, with its strong Scottish identity; for ELC and Out of School Care, there is a strong probability that the workforce will need to continue to be developed substantially both in size and especially in terms of quality. In order to achieve the necessary workforce reform a reasonable timeframe should be set.

The Scottish Government to convene a strategic group to oversee a maximum 15 year vision and development plan for workforce reform. Specific subgroups to consider and implement changes across aspects of practice and provision, such as those outlined in the following recommendations (2-31), could then be supported and steered by the strategic group.

This research literature was compiled to serve as an evidence base against which comparisons of current Scottish processes and practices related to the workforce could be made. It includes information supporting the understanding of quality in ELC and OSC, and indicates the changes which could be made to structural and process quality that support quality improvement.

A suggestion for the further use of such research literature came in many conversations during the Review process, as well as within the hub responses. Both practitioners and stakeholder institutions suggested that an evidence-based summary of the research literature relating to quality within ELC and OSC could support practitioners' engagement in improvement planning - and inform qualifications and professional development and so on. They suggested that it should be made available for all those interested in quality improvement within the ELC and OSC sectors. The Scottish Government's Early Years Division could then extend and amend it as their experiences and research informs.

2) Share the international and Scottish research literature in this Review, which summarises relevant literature about effective practice in ELC and OSC, with interested partners, stakeholders and practitioners. Over time, this should be extended, monitored, evaluated and updated.

Several stakeholder bodies and individual practitioners raised concerns, through responses to the consultations, about the levels of knowledge of practitioners - particularly those working with the youngest children - and about the importance of ensuring high quality work with the most vulnerable children.

For example, the Care Inspectorate wrote: 'In general the levels of staff knowledge, training and support tend to be better for the 3-5 age range and the statutory sector than for the 0-3 age range and the private sector' and 'The implementation of the expansion in childcare hours to vulnerable 2s means an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the variability of development in children for the first three years of their life is critical in ensuring improved outcomes and a reducing inequality. Early child development in social, emotional, language and cognitive areas is significant.' (Care Inspectorate Response to the call for evidence).

In addition to training and professional development with a focus on education and children's learning at and beyond these ages, practitioners will need to be supported in working with families to support their children at home (see Siraj-Blatchford, 2009, House of Commons130-11:23). Geddes at al., (2010) noted that improvement in children's learning and development is linked to the level of intervention offered, both in terms of early learning and childcare provision and parenting support (see research literature).

Feedback from a Core Reference Group member suggested that: '…If we are to make the most of this opportunity (referring to the increases in entitlements to ELC)…there needs to be a new and significant emphasis on how to work effectively with children and parents as part of initial and ongoing professional development programmes.'

The Scottish and international research literature points to the critical importance of understanding and supporting the youngest children. Scotland has been innovative in its consideration of children pre-birth to 3 and in its aspirations to provide universal services for younger and younger children. The Early Years Framework, (Scottish Government and COSLA, 2008), for example, called for a renewed focus on the 0-3 year age group as the period of a child's development which shapes future outcomes. It is, therefore, imperative to ensure that the ELC workforce is ready and able to meet predicted increased demands, especially with younger children, with high quality provision. The workforce needs to be equipped with the knowledge, skills and understandings necessary to support very young children and their parents/carers. Both these aspects of practice need to be strong, especially if the goal is to close the gap of disadvantage. Geddes et al. (2010) noted that this combined, two generational approach, makes the most impact on children's outcomes.

Supporting parents' confidence in nurturing and enriching the environment and experiences that they provide for their children at home is possibly more important than supporting the parents back to work. Although initial investments to ensure this will be high, the returns over the long term can be much greater. Impacts on child development, school achievement, delinquency and crime prevention, and life success have been demonstrated, with the greatest effects seen in those at the highest social risk (Geddes et al., 2010).

3) Consider the specific needs of 2, 3 and 4 year olds in relation to their free entitlements (which could be extended to 30 hours in the future), to inform initial training courses, postgraduate courses and continued professional development in relation to both the children and their parents/carers.


Back to top