Early learning and childcare and school age childcare services inspection: consultation analysis

The analysis report of the consultation on inspection of early learning and childcare and school age childcare services in Scotland.

Vision and Guiding Principles of Inspection

The consultation document and events set out the draft vision and guiding principles for the inspection of all ELC and school age childcare services (both are provided at Appendix C for reference). Feedback was sought on both these elements, including the extent of support for the draft versions, and any suggestions on elements that may be missing or how these could be improved.

The Vision

Q1.1 To what extent do you support, or not support, the Scottish Government’s overall proposed vision for the purpose and aim of inspection of ELC and school age childcare services? Can you tell us why you think this?

Event Q1. Can you tell us your views on the proposed vision for inspection of ELC and school aged childcare services?

Q1.1 To what extent do you support, or not support, the Scottish Government’s overall proposed vision for the purpose and aim of inspection of ELC and school age childcare services?

Number of respondents Percentage of respondents Valid %[1]
Fully Support 145 57% 59%
Partially Support 89 35% 37%
Don’t Support 10 4% 4%
No Response 10 4% -

Base: 254

Over half of the respondents to the main written consultation (and who answered the question) fully supported the proposed vision for the purpose and aim of inspection of ELC and school age childcare services (n=145, 59%), with around a third indicating partial support (n=89, 37%). Only a few respondents (n=10, 4%) stated that they did not support the proposed vision.

The main perceived benefits were largely consistent between those who responded to the main written consultation and those who provided comments at the events. It was felt that the vision offered greater consistency, clarity and reduced bureaucracy for practitioners:

ELC staff have so many different standards and evaluation tools at the moment that streamlining this and having clear goals would be welcomed by all.” (Individual)

Respondents also commented on improving collaboration between inspectors and stakeholders, including children and families, and some (notably at the events) suggested that the vision would improve support to managers and practitioners alike. A few also suggested the process would be less “scary” and reduce scrutiny (although this was refuted by other respondents, as noted below).

Similarly, those who attended the public and other events (except arguably the event for trade unions) were overall very supportive of the vision because it offered greater collaboration between organisations (such as HMIE and the Care Inspectorate, local authorities, providers (across the childcare, ELC and SAC sectors), and children and families/carers) and was seen as more supportive of management and staff within the various stakeholder organisations.

The vast majority of respondents and event attendees who commented further on the vision, whilst being fully or partially supportive of it, also gave numerous caveats to that support. Similarly, those who did not support the vision, or who gave no answer to the quantitative question, suggested its limitations and gaps. The negative, or more problematic aspects of the vision related primarily to elements that respondents felt had not been thought through adequately in the consultation, as discussed below.

Two Systems, One Framework

The main issue for many respondents (across all response formats) was the lack of credibility afforded to joining two organisations together for inspection purposes whilst still retaining their other distinct functions. In support of the Muir Report, many respondents argued for one system, one framework, which they took to mean a single body, and despite the consultation document not consulting on it, that notion of one body nevertheless dominated responses:

“The vision is fine. The notion underpinning this consultation that we carry on with two inspection bodies in the interests of quick progress, is not. Efforts to develop a workable joint inspection framework have been discussed for at least a decade with little progress being made… Work is underway to decouple the education inspectorate from Education Scotland. This will most likely require legislation which would need to be laid soon to drive that work forward on schedule. This is an opportunity to properly simplify the inspection landscape for ELC rather than tinker around the edges in ways that create time-consuming change rather than reduce burdens on the sector.” (Trade Union)

“We are disappointed that the proposals outlined in the consultation document do not go further. Local Government would have liked to see the establishment of a single body responsible for the inspection of ELC included within the scope of the consultation. It is our belief that establishing a single inspection body would be the most effective way to overcome the burdens, bureaucracy, and pressures that many in the sector experience under the current system. Creating a shared inspection framework may be a helpful vehicle for making some improvements, but even with this, the ability to resolve current challenges will be limited while the dual-system approach is retained.” (Sector representative body/membership organisation)

Many respondents and event attendees, whether or not they supported the proposed vision, commented that attempts were also being made to bring together (whilst remaining separate entities) two distinct types of setting, i.e. SAC (or out-of-school clubs (OSC)) and ELC settings. They were seen as very different in that the former were independent and play based and the latter were statutory and educational. It was argued that there needed to be a focus on the different role of play in learning, but some were concerned that combining the sectors for the purposes of inspection may dilute their distinctive principles and objectives:

“Out of school care must be recognised as its own provider and stop being grouped with ELC. We are not learning environments, we are play based, we often don't have our own spaces and must share with schools so I'm unsure how you can make judgements. School age children and children under 5 are very different, out of school care is fast paced and often just a place for children to completely relax and play, we are not here to teach children.” (Individual)

Inconsistencies of Approach

Again, irrespective of whether the vision was supported or not, many respondents and event attendees commented on inconsistencies within and between the various organisations and systems involved. In particular, HMIE and the Care Inspectorate were singled out as being very different, legally, culturally and professionally. It was noted that HMIE and the Care Inspectorate gave inconsistent messaging, that inspectors in both organisations gave inconsistent inspection feedback (and it was alleged by one respondent that council settings were less rigorously scrutinised than private settings), and that the Care Inspectorate was more scrutinising/less supportive than HMIE:

“All staff currently fear inspections rather than looking at it as a support as it is heavily based around scrutiny; on past experiences, the outcome of inspections can be based around inspectors’ personal/professional opinions which can cause confusions between settings; [and] further to the previous point, inspections can be dependent on the inspector. Inspections can [bring] high levels of scrutiny and we can feel a lower level of support.” (Private or independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider)

A Potential Lack of Collaboration

Respondents felt that collaboration was crucial between HMIE and the Care Inspectorate, and between inspectors and stakeholders (and that collaboration was dependent on a certain level of empowerment and less of a focus on ‘scrutiny’):

“…there is no evidence that Education Scotland [HMIE] and the Care Inspectorate are going to work together to create a streamlined approach. The whole point of review is surely to create a better function - not simply tinkering with an approach that is not working, and is, because of the duplication and over inspection, incredibly expensive. One inspection body is adequate.” (Individual)

“[M]embers felt overwhelmingly that it is highly unlikely that two differing inspection bodies working under one framework would make any difference to the way things are at present for joint inspections.” (Sector representative body/membership organisation)


It was also stressed (across both the written responses and event comments) that children’s rights should be seen as being paramount in the process. Others also highlighted the need to promote diversity and inclusion, particularly in relation to ethnicity, gender, for those with additional support needs (ASN), and between Gaelic Medium Education (GME) and English Medium Education (EME).

Q1.2 Do you think the proposed vision is missing anything or contains something that you think does not reflect the purpose and aim of inspection of ELC and school age childcare services? If yes, can you tell us what that is?

Q1.2 Do you think the proposed vision is missing anything or contains something that you think does not reflect the purpose and aim of inspection of ELC and school age childcare services?

Number of respondents Percentage of respondents Valid %
Yes 105 41% 44%
No 134 53% 56%
No Response 15 6%

Base: 254

Slightly less than half of the respondents to the main written consultation (who answered the question) indicated that they thought the proposed vision was missing something or contained something which they felt did not reflect the purpose and aim of inspection of ELC and school age childcare services (n=104, 44%).

Of those who provided qualifying comments, many highlighted aspects of the vision that they felt were missing - primarily related to ‘how’ any new/shared framework might work. As well as suggesting that a single regulatory or ‘shared scrutiny’ body should have been in scope for this consultation, other comments on what was missing are outlined below.


Whilst some commented that inspection was insufficient to identify and implement improvements, HMIE noted that the consultation did not address the benefits of having one inspection framework for ELC (and advocated the need to maintain clear links between ELC and school inspection requirements), and went on to stress the importance of inspection per se:

“Overall, there should be a greater emphasis on the role of inspection in system leadership. Inspection should in itself be an effective intervention that supports improvement, professional learning and capacity building. The structure and culture of the inspectorate must be agile and responsive while having the ability to re-adjust priorities and processes as the context demands.” (Inspectorate Body)

However, another respondent suggested that the proposed vision perpetuated a “top-down model of inspection” which had been discouraged in previous reports:

“[W]e would question the approach to reform which is being adopted. The narrow focus does not appear to respond to the criticisms levelled in the OECD and Muir reports by teachers, Early Years practitioners and professional associations about inspection and scrutiny processes more widely.” (Trade Union)

Reflecting Differences

A few respondents commented that the wide range of sectors and service providers needed to be reflected in the vision, and also consulted regarding the development of any new framework - not least because the context of any provision was important (home-from-home versus nursery provision versus those using shared premises, for example). It was also suggested that children and their families needed to be reflected and included in any further consultation activities:

“Whilst quality expectations for settings must be clear, consistent, evidence-based and proportionate, ensuring that the context of the service is taken into account service providers need to be reassured that standards are applied with equity across sectors; local authority, funded private and voluntary services and childminders.” (Local Authority)

OSC are often delivered from premises that are not purpose made and are in places such as gym halls, church hall or community centres, this proves to be difficult to display children’s art work, outcomes, planning or evaluation. Being downgraded for an environment that you have no control over is where we are let down and this is not taken into account… OSC are treated like baby sitters.” (Private or independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider)

It was also suggested that the vision needed to articulate the difference between different sectors, better reflect and take account of playwork, make links to the Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) principles, and ensure the voice of the child is included.

Funding and Training

Several respondents in both Q1.1 and Q1.2 commented on the lack of a focus on funding and staffing in the consultation document, for example the unequal staffing hours and pay, and the implications of these for increased funding where necessary:

“Support for PVI [private, voluntary and independent] practitioners in terms of remunerations must be equal to Council colleagues. They are doing the job contracted by the government, for the government and paid for by the government but being paid only 70% of their council counterparts.” (Private or independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider)

“As a Head Teacher in a Local Authority School with ELC provision it has become clear through discussion with private partner providers that there is a complete lack of parity in the service they can offer. Under funding means they struggle to maintain staffing and especially quality staffing. This impacts on children and families and is seen during transitions by my own staff. These private providers need more financial support if they are being inspected under the same expectations as local authority ELCs. It is very unfair.” (Individual)

A few also noted that training for practitioners in play work and increased training and skills for inspectors were also necessary, but what type of training and how it should be funded were unstipulated in the consultation.

Event Responses

While attendees at the events were not specifically asked Q1.2, several mentioned aspects that were missing from the vision. These included:

  • The need for greater teacher engagement in the process;
  • The need to address regulation now rather than at a later date; and
  • Greater emphasis on how to ensure consistency of inspectors in the proposed new regime.

Guiding Principles

Respondents were asked to comment on the draft guiding principles across three questions (Q1.3-Q1.5). For ease of reference, the guiding principles are outlined in Appendix C.

Responses to questions Q1.3, Q1.4 and Q1.5 tended to overlap and repeat those provided at Q1.1 and Q1.2. Indeed, the vision and the guiding principles were seen as inseparable, and where there were advantages and disadvantages about one, there were also similar benefits and concerns about the other. There was also considerable overlap in the issues discussed at each of the three questions related to the principles, and in order to avoid repetition and over-emphasising these, the information below combines the responses under relevant themes rather than dealing with each question in turn.

Q1.3 To what extent do you support, or not support, the Scottish Government’s draft guiding principles for inspection of ELC and school age childcare services? Can you tell us why you think this?

Q1.4 If you answered ‘partially support’, please can you tell us more about which principles you do and don’t support?

Q1.5 Do you think the draft guiding principles are missing anything? If yes, please can you tell us what you think we have missed?

Event Q2. Can you tell us your views on the principles for inspection of ELC and school aged childcare services?

Q1.3 To what extent do you support, or not support, the Scottish Government’s draft guiding principles for inspection of ELC and school age childcare services?

Number of respondents Percentage of respondents Valid %
Fully Support 142 56% 58%
Partially Support 91 36% 37%
Don’t Support 13 5% 5%
No Response 8 3%

Base: 254

Q1.5 Do you think the draft guiding principles are missing anything?

Number of respondents Percentage of respondents Valid %
Yes 84 33% 37%
No 143 56% 63%
No Response 27 11%

Base: 254

Consistent with views on the proposed vision, over half of the respondents to the main written consultation (and who answered the question) fully supported the draft guiding principles (n=58%). Just over a third indicated partial support (n=91, 37%), while a few did not support these (n=13, 5%). Meanwhile, just over a third (n=84, 37%) of all respondents suggested that they felt one or more aspect was missing from the draft guiding principles.

It should be noted that many respondents had already provided information on the principles in response to earlier questions, however, these earlier comments have been included under the relevant topics below, where possible.

General Comments on the Principles

Across the events, the most common feedback was that the principles were clear and consistent, followed by the importance of collaboration, listening, and the needs and rights of children. The avoidance of bureaucracy and duplication was also cited as important, helped in part by streamlining the inspection process. Practitioners and more than a quarter of attendees at the Care Inspectorate event also suggested that the principles reflected their own current aspirations, expectations and practices. However, the Care Inspectorate tempered its organisational level support by suggesting that the actions and values could be clearer and more distinct (they also outlined principle specific suggestions):

“It is clear [the values of the Care Inspectorate] align with the draft guiding principles. While we support the intention of the draft guiding principles, they slightly conflate actions and principles, and may benefit from being more values-based, concise and distinct from actions to ensure clarity and shared understanding.” (Inspectorate Body)

As well as being easily understood, the principles were also generally welcomed by respondents who provided written responses, in part because they would streamline and clarify the inspection process, and become a “catalyst for change”:

“I fully support the draft guiding principles and believe this will be more beneficial to services, inspectors and families and captures what the inspection process should embody. It is a positive move to include so many [and] to include support as I think this can often be forgotten when inspections are taking place. Collaborating and listening are essential components to an inspection process and certainly leads to those involved feeling part of this and valued.” (Individual)

“As this sector is disproportionately subject to external scrutiny, to a much greater extent than other parts of the education system, it is hoped that if this approach were to be successful, it could perhaps be a true catalyst for change in ELC.” (Sector representative body/membership organisation)

Whilst there was concern from several quarters about how these principles would be implemented, and in what timeframe, the general consensus was that the principles were necessary to improve the learning and care outcomes for children.

Consistency and Clarity

Across all response formats, the principles were seen as both being clear and consistent, and offering clarity and consistency in operation, especially with regard to maintaining a high-quality service for children and a constructive support network for professionals. However, some voiced concern about how consistency and clarity could be achieved while retaining two inspectorates, albeit one inspection framework. Some questioned how, for example, Principle 3 could be enabled given the current lack of consistency and clarity in both processes and outcomes within and between the inspectorates, and indeed between ELC and SAC systems:

“[T]he crucial point is that the inspection system and process must be designed and delivered in a way that can uphold and reflect these principles. Retaining the dual-body approach to inspection means that the ability of the system to do this successfully is limited… there will always be the risk of inconsistency when some ELC settings are subject to two separate inspection bodies, which can give different grades to a single setting.” (Sector representative body/membership organisation)

Two organisations also cautioned against the creation of too much consistency - or ‘uniformity’ rather than ‘consistency’. They were concerned that this could lead to an unwelcomed ‘one-size-fits-all’ mentality and not provide the flexibility required to reflect the differences between settings and types of providers:

“[T]his should be guarded against. Further explanation of consistency would be beneficial to make it clear that consistency in improving outcomes can vary depending on the uniqueness of each setting”. (Local Authority)

“Consistency is not the same as uniformity. [There] should be appreciation for different types or settings and different contexts so that there is not an expectation of the same shape fits all.” (Local Authority)

When asked if anything was missing from the principles, and in respect of Principles 2 and 3, several respondents argued for the need to ‘eradicate’ inspector bias, which was felt to currently drive a lack of clarity and inconsistency:

“Clarity for providers is essential to understand and deliver a high-quality service for children and families. It would be nice to see the bias of inspectors’ own personal likes and opinions eradicated from the inspection process. Consistency across sectors is essential, recognising partners as partners and not second class provision.” (Private or independent or third sector ELC or SAC provider)

It was also stressed that greater clarity was needed around the roles, remits and responsibilities of each inspectorate (and the local authority as the “guarantor of quality”), and that the principles should stress the impartiality of the inspectorates and inspection results:

“I cannot see how Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland [HMIE] can come up with a better approach or a shared framework until they/we are clear about what each inspectorate is supposed to do. No point in having the two inspectorates if they do the same thing.” (Individual)

Collaboration and Support

Inter-agency collaboration and stakeholder support were seen as crucial (across all response formats) to the principles and practice of inspection, not least given the seemingly competing demands of numerous scrutiny bodies in the recent past.

Inspection was rarely viewed by practitioners as being ‘supportive’, despite this being considered as a key element in successful inspections. However, it was noted that the draft principles currently did not include any provision for this, and so it was recommended that a principle which necessitated inspection being supportive of staff should be added. In terms of ELC provision, respondents cited PVI providers and childminders as needing more support, as well as needing to support the wellbeing and full potential of practitioners.

In terms of supporting children, the different sectors, and ensuring a joined up approach across the different and relevant policy frameworks, several suggested that links needed to be made to GIRFEC, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Realising the Ambition, the National Care Standards, the National Improvement Framework, and Out to Play. Suggestions were also made to further strengthen the focus on children. These included re-wording Principle 1 to include “all” children; that children’s rights should be respected “and upheld”; that the focus on children’s rights should be placed at the top of the list of principles; and that children should be at the heart of the principles, service provision and inspections:

“[T]here should be a clear principle in writing that ensures every child from every background especially those from deprived areas has the opportunity to share their views during an inspection freely without any pressure from staff.” (Individual)

“…we consider there should be a stronger focus on having learners at the heart of inspection. We propose children’s experiences, their learning needs and entitlements are prioritised as well as focusing on outcomes and impact.” (Inspectorate Body)

Again, a few respondents noted the need to incorporate greater support for diversity and inclusion, and for particular categories of provider and children within the principles. This included greater consideration of childminders; children with ASN; families as well as children; gender, race and inequalities; Gaelic Medium Education (GME)/English Medium Education (EME) provision; and better support for the workforce (covering the broad spectrum of early years staff).

Further, it was stressed that a greater emphasis should be placed on the involvement of children and families within the inspection process. Principle 6, it was suggested, should include the words: ‘to influence and drive change’ at the end. Several respondents also noted that Principle 6 should include listening to settings and staff, as well as to children and families. This principle depended, in their view, on inspectors primarily encouraging the user voice:

“If inspectorates want to genuinely consult with parents/carers and respect and accept their views and opinions that would be fantastic. The move to not putting parents’ comments in CI [Care inspectorate] reports currently suggests that this is not currently the approach.” (Local Authority)


One of the most common criticisms of the principles as they relate to the vision was that, whilst laudable, they were perhaps unrealistic and unachievable:

“Again the principles sound good on paper however current experience of the bureaucracy and duplication that providers currently face casts a doubt on whether or not this will be achievable. These principles are years from being achievable/implemented.” (Individual)

Indeed, some were sceptical as to the effectiveness of the principles in solving current problems.

One of the recurring concerns about the principles (across all response formats), as well as about the vision itself, was the fact that ELC and SAC/OSC have very different aims and objectives and so it was difficult/inappropriate to try to combine these. In addition, attendees at the Scottish Out of School Care Network (SOSCN) event highlighted the fact that OSC had less of a focus in the vision and principles compared with ELC and that they would have liked a greater focus on OSC and play. Some respondents also suggested that these principles (under a different guise) have been aspired to for years but have yet to be realised (OSC was seen as a case in point, having never truly been integrated to date).

The potential disruption to current systems, policies and practices was noted by several respondents, not least the anticipated upheaval of moving from the current system to two bodies/one framework, and then potentially moving to a new single regulatory body at a later date:

“If there is a move to change the inspection framework, [it] will create burdens on all ELC settings as they adapt to the change. If there is then a further move to a single inspection body, potentially when the new HMIE is established, this will create another change point which risks presenting the system with two significant additional administrative burdens in relatively quick succession.” (Trade Union)

Another significant criticism was that the inspection process, currently operationalised under a dual and somewhat overlapping system, went against the ethos of the principles, thus potentially making them unworkable. Principles 2, 4 and 5, in particular, were considered to be unrealistic due to inspection anomalies, while Principle 8 was singled out as being counterproductive whilst there were still two inspectorates creating both duplication and bureaucracy:

“Members said that when joint inspections happen anxiety was raised within the setting because of the inconsistency between inspectors. Collaboration between settings, inspectors and local authorities would improve this as there would be more clarity around what is expected in the inspection process.” (Sector representative body/membership organisation)

“I don't think a joint framework with additional oversight from local authorities is going to achieve Principle 8: Be efficient, avoiding duplication and eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy for providers.” (Childminder)

One respondent, who did not support the vision or the principles, argued that a shared inspection would be unrealistic, whilst another argued that a new model of inspection was required:

“The new model should be based on principles of collegiality, respect, professional trust and empowerment, and add value to teaching and learning in the setting. It should not lead to increased levels of workload or anxiety for the staff and children involved in the process.” (Trade Union)

It was noted by several respondents that the potential disruption to current systems would be resource intensive in furthering the principles, despite resources being crucial to the success of the principles. Several asked how the vision and its principles would be funded and over what timescale.

Other Suggestions

A range of other, specific comments were made, either in relation to particular principles, or relative to the principles or framework more generally, including:

  • That there was a role for the workforce regulator (i.e. the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC)) to support and guide Principles 2, 3 and 5 and to maintain compliance with regulatory standards/requirements;
  • The vision, principles or framework needed to take account of inspections being proportionate and responsive to the assessment of risk;
  • Provide a greater focus on the outcome of inspections, and explicitly reference the identification and promotion of good practice;
  • Provide clarity in relation to the quality indicators and how these will be proportionate, and designed to fit with the legislative element of the Care Inspectorate and the external scrutiny drivers of HMIE.

Finally, a few did suggest that, while there were no issues with the vision and principles, their success would depend on how they were implemented in practice by the inspectors, and whether consistency could be provided.


Email: elcinspectionconsultation2022@gov.scot

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