Early learning and childcare - parents' views and use: survey findings 2022

Findings from a survey undertaken to explore use of, and views on, early learning and childcare (ELC) services among parents and other primary carers of children in Scotland who have not yet started school.


This report presents the findings from a survey undertaken to explore use of, and views on, early learning and childcare (ELC) services among parents and other primary carers[3] of children who have not yet started school.

Background and study objectives

From August 2021 the funded ELC entitlement in Scotland increased from 600 to 1,140 hours per year for all three and four year olds, as well as for eligible two year olds (that is, those with experience of care, children of care‑experienced parents, and those from those who have a parent(s) on qualifying benefits)[4]. This is equivalent to 30 hours per week over a 38-week term, but can be used as wished across the whole year. Families are able to access their funded ELC entitlement through local authority settings as well as providers in the private and third sector, including childminders; and are not restricted to using a single supplier. For example, they may use a both a local authority nursery and a childminder[5].

This is a significant increase in funded hours for eligible children and aims to deliver three main benefits for children and families:

  • children's development improves and the poverty-related outcomes gap narrows
  • parents' and carers' opportunities to take up or sustain work, training, or study increase
  • family wellbeing improves[6]

A programme of evaluation and research on the increase to 1,140 hours is being undertaken. This will inform work both to realise the benefits of 1,140 hours of funded ELC for children and families, and to progress the expansion of the Scottish Government's childcare offer, including a new ELC offer for one and two year olds. As part of this work, Scottish Government appointed independent researchers, Progressive Partnership, to undertake a survey of parents in Scotland to provide up-to-date information on parents' use of and views about ELC, particularly accessibility, flexibility, affordability and quality, with a focus on funded ELC. This builds on a previous survey undertaken in 2017 (and published in 2018)[7] which explored parents' views, use and experiences of ELC prior to the expansion.

The key requirements of the study were to provide:

  • up-to-date information on parents' use and experiences of the 1,140 hours entitlement across Scotland, including: drivers of and barriers to use of 1,140 hours, views on accessibility, flexibility and quality of funded ELC, affordability/costs of childcare
  • analysis of differences in use and views of both funded ELC and paid-for childcare for different groups of parents
  • comparisons with the 2017 ELC parents' survey where appropriate

Study approach

The study sought the views of parents in Scotland with children aged under six years who were not yet in school (referred to as 'pre-school children' in this report). A number of possible options for sampling this population were considered but our scoping concluded none was possible, or possible within the timeframe or budget, of the study.[8] However, information from the Scottish Household Survey indicated that 79% of households with a child aged two to five years used some form of childcare (including a relative or friend) in 2019, rising to 88% for those with a three year old[9]. Data on registrations for funded ELC for children aged three to four years old indicate that around 97% are registered[10].

It was therefore concluded that accessing parents of pre-school children via the range of ELC settings was a reasonable approach. It was important, however, to ensure that parents who were not accessing ELC or were using a childminder were recruited, so parents were also contacted via a range of intermediaries and using Scottish Household Survey re-contact data as follows:

  • Online survey with parents who have pre-school children. The survey link was primarily promoted to parents through ELC providers. Further promotion of the survey was undertaken by local authority early years leads and other key stakeholders with a focus on reaching parents who were not using ELC or were using childminders.
  • Telephone interviews with parents who have pre-school children drawn from the re-contacts database of the 2020 Scottish Household Survey[11].

The survey data was collected using a questionnaire based on that used in the 2017 survey and further developed drawing on the insights of a dedicated stakeholder workshop. The questionnaire contained sixty questions, including sixteen classification questions (e.g. participant's gender, age etc.). The general survey questions were mainly closed, a mix of categorical and interval questions. The multiple choice questions typically included an 'other, please specify' option; and there was a small number of open questions.

The main fieldwork took place between 25 April and 29 May 2022. Further detail on the survey approach and a copy of the questionnaire are provided in the methods appendix or as a supplementary document respectively (note the same questionnaire was used for the online and telephone versions of the survey).

Profile of the response to the survey

A total of 8,181 valid responses were received to the main survey: 8,103 online responses and 78 telephone responses[12]. This is a good response and is large enough to provide the opportunity to examine sub-samples of respondents. It should be noted that respondents to the online survey were self-selecting. We cannot therefore provide statistically precise margins of error or significance testing as the sampling type is non-probability. The margins of error outlined below should therefore be treated as indicative, based on an equivalent probability sample. The survey dataset has a margin of error ±1.1%, calculated at the 95% confidence level (market research industry standard). This means that if 50% said they were satisfied with their provider, we can be 95% confident that the result lies between 48.9% and 51.1%.

The age distribution of children within the sample will reflect the survey sample distribution approach. Most commonly the parents in the survey had children aged three or four years old (33% and 41% respectively). As the table shows, a broad coverage of parents with younger children was also achieved.

Table 1: Profile of survey response, by child's age (unweighted)

Child's age

Survey respondents

Under 1










5 (not at school)


Base: All Respondents, 8181 (multiple responses possible)

Table 2: Profile of survey response (unweighted)

Survey respondents

Scottish Population[13]

Children in funded ELC

2 year olds



3-5 year olds




1st Quintile



2nd Quintile



3rd Quintile



4th Quintile



5th Quintile



Urban rural classification*




Large town



Other urban



Small town



Accessible small towns



Remote small towns






Accessible rural



Remote rural



Base: All respondents: 8181

Note * Some postcodes, used for determining SIMD and rural areas, were unclassified/not known

Table 2 above compares the sample with the broader population. It shows that almost all of the three to five year olds, and around 15% of two year olds included in the survey, used funded ELC. This is in line with national data[14]. The Scottish Government Census of funded ELC[15], carried out by local authorities and their partner ELC providers in September 2021, indicated that 97% of eligible 3-4 year olds had registered for their place. Scottish Government estimate that around a quarter of two year olds are eligible for funded ELC, and the ELC Census suggests that around 13% of all two year olds are registered for funded ELC.

Table 2 also shows that the sample broadly reflected the relevant age and geography profile of the population, with some notable deficits in the 'larger towns' (as defined by the 6-fold urban-rural classification[16]), especially Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Fife and South Lanarkshire. Survey weighting was therefore used to redress bias in relation to urban rural areas (again using the 6-fold urban-rural classification).

It should be noted that the vast majority (95%) of survey respondents were women.

Profile of the survey respondents

The profile of the survey respondents was reviewed to establish the extent to which core analysis sub-groups (age of parent, working status, income, household type, etc.) were related. This highlighted important relationships between parents' age, work status and deprivation/income level.

  • young parents (those aged under 25) were more likely to be on lower incomes, to be single parent households, disproportionately not working, and disproportionately living in the most deprived areas
  • older parents (those aged 30-34), were more likely to be earning towards the higher income brackets, and more likely to be in two parent households, to have two working parents, and less likely to live in deprived areas (see Appendix B: Profile of Survey Respondents section for more details)

Analysis and reporting

Throughout this report, any reported differences (between sub-groups of the sample) are statistically significant at the 95% confidence level. Analysis has not been carried out on sub-groups that have a sample size of less than 50. Data have been analysed by the following sub-groups: (1) income and number of household earners (2) household type (3) urban/rural (4) deprived areas (SIMD) (5) number of pre-school children (6) age of pre-school children (7) ethnicity/ English as a first language (8) parent of a child with additional support needs (ASN).

For ease of reading the results, results below 4% have not been included in some of the figures. Where percentages in figures and tables do not total, this is due to rounding.

Comparisons with previous study

The 2022 questionnaire was designed to facilitate comparison with the 2017 survey as far as possible. However, a number of changes were made. Some questions were changed to reflect changes in the policy context, for example, to reflect the increased entitlement to funded ELC from 600 to 1,140 hours, to explore parents experience and perceptions of improved flexibility of provision, and to explore attitudes to potentially extending funded ELC for children aged one and two years. Some of the pre-coded response options were amended to improve data collection. And a number of additional questions were included, for example those to explore the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is stressed that any differences noted between the two surveys on parents' use and views on funded ELC cannot be solely attributed to the increase in entitlement. Patterns of work, use of childcare and the childcare offered by settings has changed over the last four years, in large part as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey does attempt to capture information on the impact of Covid-19 on use of ELC, but it is likely that further work on this issue may be required.

Limitations to the research

The online survey link could not be delivered directly by Progressive to parents, but was instead delivered to them via third parties. There were several potential limitations with this approach:

1. The primary route to promote the survey to parents was via ELC providers. The primary sample frame of providers was the Care Inspectorate Datastore. This contained a broad mix of providers, except for childminders, whose contact details are not included in the Datastore.

2. This meant Progressive had no control over the distribution of the survey to parents. However, there was evidence from the 2018 study that this approach was effective, and a high response could be achieved. This was borne out in the 2022 survey, with just over 8,000 online responses received.

3. The respondents to the online survey were self-selecting and completed the survey without the assistance of a trained interviewer. This meant that Progressive could not control sampling and this could lead to findings skewed towards the views of those motivated to respond to the survey.

Efforts were made to include parents whose children were cared for by childminders and those not in ELC by encouraging a wide range of other stakeholders such as Scottish Childminding Association, Care and Learning Alliance, Early Years Scotland, National Parent Forum Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, Scottish Refugee Council and Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities to circulate the survey link via their networks of parents/parents on their contact databases. The telephone survey, which was based on a sub-sample of parents from the nationally representative SHS sample, also provided an opportunity to include parents of children not in ELC in the research.

Key definitions used in the survey

The definition of 'early learning and childcare' (ELC) in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014[17] is: 'a service, consisting of education and care, of a kind which is suitable in the ordinary case for children who are under school age, regard being had to the importance of interactions and other experiences which support learning and development in a caring and nurturing setting'.

  • Funded ELC is used to describe the funded entitlement to up to 1,140 hours of ELC, for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds, as set out in the 2014 Act. Funded ELC is delivered by a wide range of providers including nurseries and playgroups, from across the public, private and third sectors and by childminders, and is regulated by the Care Inspectorate.
  • Eligible two year olds refers to those entitled to the 1,140 hours of government funded ELC. A two year old will be eligible if they are (or have been) looked after by a local council, are the subject of a kinship care order or a guardianship order, the parent receives certain benefits, or the parent is care-experienced.
  • Paid-for childcare/ELC refers to hours of regulated childcare purchased by parents from providers. This could either be additional hours of childcare purchased on top of the entitlement to 1,140 hours of funded ELC, or childcare purchased for children who are not yet eligible for funded ELC (e.g. those under three). This could include a nursery, playgroup, or childminder.
  • Informal childcare is childcare provided by friends or family that is not regulated. It can be regular or ad hoc.
  • Additionally, there are other forms of unregulated childcare beyond traditional models of childcare where parents leave children in someone else's care. These include opportunities for 'family learning' – where parents and children learn together for example 'stay and play' groups – and are likely to be an important part of an early learning offer for the youngest children (i.e. those under three years old) in terms of their potential to support attachment and family wellbeing.

Structure of the report

The report sets out the key findings from the research in the following chapters:

  • Use of childcare
  • Use of funded ELC
  • Flexibility of funded ELC
  • Accessibility of funded ELC
  • Quality of funded ELC
  • Perceived outcomes and impacts of funded provision
  • Effect of Covid-19 on use of funded ELC
  • Affordability of childcare
  • Childcare provision for younger children
  • Summary and conclusions

Further detail on the study method and study outputs, together with additional tables, is provided in the appendices. This publication is produced together with a suite of data tables in Excel format. These are referred to as 'supporting data tables'. These tables are presented in a file called 'ELC Parent Survey 2022– Supporting data tables' and are available from the Supporting Documents page of this publication.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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