In June 2021 we announced Professor Ken Muir's appointment as an independent adviser on education reform. When we asked Professor Muir to undertake this work, we encouraged him to recommend the transformational changes that would be needed to deliver an improved education experience for all children and young people. The response to that exercise has been significant and we are heartened by our collective commitment to all stages of education. The significant reforms being taken forward are designed to improve outcomes and build trust in Scotland's education system, putting learners at the centre, supporting our teachers and practitioners and instilling integrity, fairness and accountability throughout our national education bodies.
Professor Muir published his report, Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education, in March 2022. At the meeting of the Parliament on 9 March 2022 we welcomed the specific recognition of the importance of early learning and childcare (ELC) in his findings.
We know that provision of high quality ELC, which includes childminding, makes an important contribution to children's outcomes and life chances, particularly when they are growing up in disadvantaged circumstances. It is central to our national mission to tackle child poverty and help close the poverty-related attainment gap, increasing family resilience through improved health and wellbeing of children and parents, and supporting parents into work, study or training.
That is why we put quality at the heart of the delivery of the expansion of funded ELC entitlement from 600 to 1140 hours, with over 111,000 children benefitting as of January 2022. During this Parliament we have set out our commitment to go further, expanding funded ELC to one and two year olds, starting with children from low income households, and building a system of school age childcare, providing care before and after school and during the holidays, which is free for those on lowest incomes.
As part of Professor Muir's work, we asked him to consider the implementation of improvements to the inspection of all stages of education. During the development of his report, Professor Muir was ably supported by ELC representatives on his advisory group and carried out extensive engagement with the sector. He regularly heard of the challenges faced by ELC providers as a result of the current approach to inspection, whereby some settings providing funded ELC hours are inspected by both Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) and the Care Inspectorate. In response to concerns raised that this approach results in duplication of effort, complexity and unnecessary burdens on ELC providers, Professor Muir recommended that a shared inspection framework for ELC be developed between the Care Inspectorate and the new education inspectorate, expected to be operational in 2024.
This recommendation has created an important opportunity for a wider debate about the role of inspection in supporting the delivery of high quality provision across all ELC and school age childcare services (recognising the value of the diversity in the sector across local authority, private, voluntary and childminding providers) and how inspection of these services contributes to our national vision for the future of education and childcare in Scotland.
The primary focus of inspection must continue to be to ensure that children are safe, secure and protected from harm; that they are well cared for and able to flourish; and that they are offered high quality learning and development opportunities and experiences to ensure positive outcomes. It must support improvement in the quality of services, including through self-evaluation, and provide assurance to families and to those responsible for commissioning services about the quality of experience that children receive. It must align with our commitment in Scotland to recognise, respect and promote children's rights.
We want to ensure that our national framework for inspection of ELC and school age childcare services is fit for purpose; promotes collaboration between providers, practitioners, teachers and staff working in settings, inspection bodies and local authorities; and supports providers to deliver consistently high quality provision while eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication.
This consultation sets out our vision for the inspection of ELC and school age childcare services and the guiding principles that underpin our approach. It seeks to gather views on the strengths of existing arrangements, where improvements can be made and on specific proposals to streamline and improve the inspection of ELC and school age childcare services through the introduction of a shared inspection framework. The proposed framework recognises that different approaches are required for different parts of the system, for example, school age childcare services are childcare services provided out-with broad general education and so do not require HMIE inspection of education provision. This framework should provide clarity and consistency for service providers about what they will be inspected against and by whom, and help to simplify and streamline the existing approach to inspection.
Changes to the regulations that govern ELC and school age childcare may be required over time as we develop and deliver on commitments to expansion over the course of this Parliament (for example, as we build a new system of school age childcare). That is not the purpose of this consultation, which focuses on how we can make the current system work better based on the existing two inspection bodies. Whilst the inspection function is being removed from Education Scotland, we expect this consultation to help set direction and inform how the new independent education inspection body carries out its duties with regard to ELC.
Through this consultation we want to hear from everyone who has an interest in the ELC and school age childcare sectors. That includes practitioners, childminders, teachers, staff working in or managing settings, parents and carers, staff working in inspection bodies and local authorities. This will support us to fully understand the benefits and challenges of the current system, and to get the next steps right.
Finally, we would like to express our particular thanks to all of the hardworking ELC and school age childcare practitioners, teachers and staff, as well as inspectors, who go above and beyond every day to secure these vitally important experiences for children, particularly in the exceptionally challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are committed to improving the system to support the vital work that you do with children and families, and help meet our aspiration that children in Scotland grow up loved, safe and respected, so that they realise their full potential.
Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
Minister for Children and Young People
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