High quality early learning and school age childcare plays a critical role in our society. It helps to give children the best possible start in life, supports families to thrive, and enables parents and carers to work, train or study.
Our vision, outlined in the Best Start - strategic early learning and school age childcare plan 2022 to 2026 is that, through access to rich and nurturing early learning and school age childcare experiences, children, families, and their communities are enabled to reach their full potential and the poverty-related outcomes gap narrows.
Inspection plays a crucial role in contributing to this vision. Effective and meaningful inspection helps 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 also supports improvement in the quality of services, including through self-evaluation, and provides assurance to families and to those responsible for commissioning services about the quality of experience that children receive.
However, we recognise that the current system of inspection in place for Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) settings feels burdensome and bureaucratic for too many providers. Professor Muir was clear in his report Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education, published in March 2022, that many in the ELC sector feel disproportionately subject to external accountability in comparison to the other parts of the education system. Professor Muir recommended that “as a matter of urgency the new independent Inspectorate should re-engage with the Care Inspectorate to agree a shared inspection framework designed to reduce the burden on Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) practitioners and centres.”
The Scottish Government accepted Professor Muir’s recommendation in relation to ELC inspections and launched the consultation in July 2022 with the aim of gathering views on:
- the strengths of existing arrangements;
- where improvements can be made; and,
- specific proposals to streamline and improve the inspection of ELC and school age childcare services through the introduction of a shared quality framework.
The Scottish Government commissioned an independent analysis of the consultation responses from an external research agency, Wellside Research, following the closure of the consultation in October 2022. We are pleased to be able to publish the full analytical report which can be accessed on the Scottish Government’s webpages, alongside the Scottish Government’s response to the consultation findings.
We are encouraged that so many people took the time to respond to the consultation, whether through a formal written consultation response or by giving their views at one of our events. Combined, this evidence provides us with a rich source of information that reflects the reality of providers’ current experiences of inspection. Many of you have provided examples of good practice, as well as examples of real and profound challenges within the current system that need to be addressed.
We want to ensure that our national framework for the 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.
The consultation responses make clear that there is a strong desire – and need – for change if we want a system that fully embodies our vision and achieves our aspirations. This is a crucial time for us – the Scottish Government, the Care Inspectorate, His Majesty’s Inspectors of Education (HMIE)/Education Scotland, partners in local authorities and other key agencies - to look at the messages in the consultation and consider how we can support professionals in the sector more effectively. Our response to the consultation findings outlines some areas where work is already underway or developing in terms of improving the landscape. It also sets out where we will act with others to respond to the consultation findings in the coming months.
The responses indicate that rapid progress is required, in tandem with the wider reforms to Scotland’s education system that are currently in train. We are committed to ensuring that the findings of this consultation, alongside those of the National Discussion on Education, are reflected in the work to establish the new national education agency and education inspectorate.
We are also clear that our response to the consultation findings marks a stage in this process, rather than its conclusion. We will collectively continue to review what can be done to streamline and improve inspection in light of the findings, and will provide a further update on progress in summer 2023.
The Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland are in the early stages of developing a shared inspection framework, and are committed to doing so in partnership with each other and in consultation with the sector. We are pleased that the Care Inspectorate and the new education inspectorate will be ready to implement the new framework at the start of their 2024 inspection years. This means that the Care Inspectorate will implement the framework from April 2024 and education inspectorate from September 2024. They will provide regular updates as the work progresses and we welcome the commitment that they have given to taking forward this work as a matter of priority.
Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills
Clare Haughey, Minister for Children and Young People
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