The Consultation Process
Overall, the consultation achieved a high response rate, both in general and to each individual question posed. A high number of service users and service providers responded, as well as a wide range of other stakeholder groups. There was also significant consistency in the range of issues discussed by respondents, both between questions and across respondent groups.
It should be noted, however, that many respondents were largely focused on after-school clubs and, to a lesser extent, holiday clubs. Even less attention was given to childminding and activity clubs (perhaps due to the nature, interests or experiences of the respondents). As such, responses may not reflect or fully explore the situations or desired future provision for these services.
Similarly, various groups appear to be under-represented within the consultation. This includes childminders, activity group providers, young people of secondary school age, and children with disabilities and additional support needs. As such, more work may be required with these groups in order to ensure that their views are fully considered. Likewise, while questions were asked about the out of school care needs of rural communities, and for disabled children and those with additional support needs, the consultation did not record respondents' background in this respect, and so it is not possible to know how many respondents were commenting based on direct experience or real need.
A difference in views was also noted between the parents/carers who responded to the consultation via Citizen Space and some of those who attended the events. The events largely targeted those living in more deprived areas, while the Citizen Space responses appear to have attracted a large volume of responses from parents/carers who were in work. As such, there was a difference in the extent to which respondents utilised the different out of school care provisions discussed and the reasons for use, although many of the key issues (such as cost and accessibility) were consistent between the two groups. As each event constituted only one response each, (despite representing the views of a greater number of individuals), there is a risk that the needs/views of parents/carers from deprived areas have been under-represented within this analysis.
Answering the Core Questions
Extensive detail was provided at each of the consultation questions. The key points related to each of four core questions are outlined below.
How can national policy support and enhance out of school care?
Many welcomed the draft Framework and the opportunity to have an input to its development. Many respondents were generally happy with the terminology/name 'out of school care', noting that it was suitably descriptive and accurate, and currently well understood by parents/carers, children and the sector at large. Others, however, thought it sensible to move away from including the words 'school' and/or 'care' and place a greater emphasis on 'clubs' or 'activities' in order to be more inclusive.
Respondents were also overwhelmingly supportive of the three key aims outlined for a future out of school care framework. Providing accessible and affordable services was considered to be the most important aim, and was considered vital in supporting parents/carers to work, train or study. Respondents generally believed in the provision of high quality services, staffed by high quality staff who can provide a caring and nurturing environment. They were also supportive of services that can support children to try different activities, and develop life and social skills. Similarly, respondents were generally supportive of out of school services using/accessing community facilities and spaces so that children integrate with and feel part of the community. Having access to the outdoors was also considered important to promote health and wellbeing among children and young people. A common theme throughout, however, was that additional funding would be needed to allow the Scottish Government to achieve what were seen as somewhat 'aspirational' aims.
With 95% of respondents supportive of the aims, it would seem appropriate for these to be retained and implemented.
What sort of out of school activities do families want/need?
Most respondents felt that regulated out of school care and activity based clubs and programmes were needed, and over half of all respondents suggested childminders were needed. Indeed a wide range of different provision was seen as necessary to meet the different needs of parents and children, as well as to offer choice to families.
Provision was also considered necessary for a wide range of age groups, although the largest perceived demand from those responding to this consultation appears to be for primary school aged children, as it was typically felt that older children would be more independent and more capable/trusted to be home alone. While secondary school provision seems less in demand, the issue for the older age group seems to be about providing more diverse and tailored offerings that help with the development of life skills and support the focus on attainment at secondary level. Allowing older children to have independence and be more actively involved in shaping their 'care' experience was also seen as key by respondents - although it should be noted that there was a lack of identifiable responses from young people of secondary school age so it is difficult to be certain about what they would like.
Considerable flexibility was required by families, including accommodating various needs in timings and uptake of sessions, being able to access sessions/change bookings at short notice, access fairer payment terms, and transporting children between school, activities and care services. However, providing this degree of flexibility could be challenging for service providers within their current models of delivery, and costly. Reliability was also highly valued with parents/carers needing to be certain that space(s) could be accessed as required.
The preferred location for out of school care services appears to be in or co-located with schools, largely for convenience (for both the children and parents/carers) and because these are typically considered to have suitable facilities. Several, however, felt it was important for services to be located elsewhere so that children get a change of scene. This was especially true for rural and remote communities.
Most respondents felt that food should be provided as part of after-school and holiday clubs, although there were mixed views as to who should provide this (the service or parents/carers). Service based food provision was, however, considered important in tackling food insecurity for some families/children. It was also felt that activities should be age and stage specific, and that the type of provisions should be different by age - with older children requiring a more informal and hands-off approach from staff compared to younger children.
How can we make out of school care accessible to all families and children?
Financial support was considered important for the sector in general, and specifically for rural/remote services, community based approaches, and to assist services in delivering the best care for disabled children and those with additional support needs. It was felt that subsidies and help with the costs (for both parents and service providers) were necessary to make out of school care more affordable.
Increasing the overall capacity of out of school care was also important, along with the accessibility of services, transport provision (where necessary), the provision of trained staff, better advertising of services, and providing more joined up services.
Capacity issues were noted in relation to urban and rural areas, as well as for those seeking services suitable for disabled children and those with additional support needs. For more urban areas, respondents highlighted issues in accessing services due to long waiting lists, while the lack of any suitable service provision was discussed in relation to rural, remote and island communities, as well as for disabled children and those with additional support needs.
Accessibility was again important across all settings. The location of services was important both to facilitate easy transitions for children between school and out of school care services, and to fit with parents'/carers' routines. The accessibility of the service was also crucial to ensure that services are inclusive for disabled children and those with additional support needs.
While transport provision was universally considered important in order to support the safe transition of children between school and services, this issue was particularly acute in rural and remote areas. Likewise, the provision of trained staff was particularly important for disabled children and those with additional support needs, while also being relevant to all services more generally. The need for better advertising and more joined up services was also raised.
Other, practical supports for community based approaches were also identified, including the provision of guidance, advice and support on how to set-up an out of school care service, as well as capacity building and mentoring for those interested in providing such a service.
How can we support the out of school care workforce to deliver high quality services?
Around half of the respondents supported the need for out of school staff to have, or be working towards, formal qualifications, however a notable proportion (around a third) suggested that skills, experience and personal qualities were more important. Parents/carers and other individuals were more evenly split, while all other groups were typically in favour of the need for formal qualifications. Those in favour of requiring qualifications suggested this was needed to ensure high quality care, to professionalise the sector, to promote the sector as a viable career, and to ensure greater respect for workers. Others, however, felt this requirement may be too restrictive and felt that existing high quality and experienced (but non-qualified) staff may be lost and potential staff put off. Others suggested that the ability to achieve qualifications didn't always translate into suitable staff members.
Views were also split on whether requirements should be the same or different for the various provider types. On the whole, those working in the out of school care sector tended to favour the need for the same requirements across all provider types, the third sector/charities tended to advocate for different requirements, while most other groups provided a reasonably equal split in views.
In addition to formal qualifications, other elements that were considered to be important in promoting the sector as a viable career option included:
- improvements in salary and conditions;
- staff being supported to undertake training;
- creating a career path and/or career progression; and
- raising the value and recognition of the sector.
These elements were also considered as important to increase diversity of the workforce, along with challenging wider societal stereotypes and providing more joined up childcare roles to facilitate full-time positions.
Informing Future Provision
The consultation provided significant and valuable feedback to assist the Scottish Government in taking forward the Out of School Care in Scotland Framework. It has highlighted what type of provision is preferred by service users, as well as identified elements that are important in accessing provision, both across the sector and specifically in remote/rural areas and for specific user groups. Methods to support the profession were also explored.
However, as outlined above, more work (perhaps utilising different approaches) may be required with specific groups to ensure their preferences and needs are fully considered and accounted for going forward.
This report will be considered alongside the Scottish Government's continuing engagement and the findings from other external research in the area to deliver the Framework before the end of this parliamentary term in May 2021.