School age childcare: progress report

The school age childcare progress report captures what we have learned over the past year since our public consultation and sets out the steps we are taking to move closer to our vision for school age childcare in Scotland whilst considering the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pre-pandemic – A Draft Framework for consultation

Over the course of 2018/19 we engaged with children and young people, parents and carers, and those delivering school age childcare services, to better understand the school age childcare landscape in Scotland. 

We conducted a range of research and engagement activities – such as surveys, interviews and events/workshops, speaking directly to children and families to find out about the childcare and activity needs they have around the school day and during the holidays, and the benefits school age childcare services provide. We found that families all over Scotland rely on childcare and organised activities for their school age children, using a wide range of providers – from after school clubs and childminders to arts activities, sports clubs and outdoor learning centres. These services provide children with opportunities to play, socialise, learn and develop with their peers, while giving parents and carers the time they need to work, train, study or rest with the knowledge that their children are being well cared and provided for. We engaged directly with childcare and activity providers too, learning about the challenges and opportunities that exist in delivering these important services. 

A consultation on our Draft Framework ran from 30 August to 6 December 2019. This document set out our vision and 3 key aims for out of school care: 

"A rights based dynamic offer for all children and young people which supports choice and growth, enabling families and communities to reach their full potential". 

  • High quality services which provide children with life-enhancing experiences.
  • Out of school care is accessible and affordable and meets the needs of children and young people, parents and carers and communities.
  • Out of school care services are embedded in communities and enable children and young people to access a range of spaces including the outdoors.

We asked what the Scottish Government can do to ensure that school age childcare better meets the needs of children and families in Scotland. Questions focussed on the affordability, accessibility and flexibility of provision required to achieve this vision. 

The consultation achieved a high number of responses: 1,270 substantive responses were received in the online consultation with the majority of these (62%) coming from parents and carers. We also ran 18 face-to-face consultation events across Scotland (including visits to island communities) to reach children and parents and carers who may not otherwise have responded through the online forum. In particular, we sought to hear the views of families who may typically face barriers in accessing suitable school age childcare including lone parent families, families with a disabled child and those with lived experience of poverty.

Responses were independently analysed and a full report of the findings was published in November 2020. 

There was strong support from respondents for our vision and three key aims. Over 95% of those who answered the question agreed with the vision. Some responses suggested that the aims should include "flexibility" as a key concept, so we have decided to refresh our second aim to include this: 

  • Out of school care is accessible, affordable and flexible and meets the needs of children and young people, parents and carers and communities.

Affordability was highlighted as a key issue for parents and providers. This included affordability for low income parents, and financial barriers to providing sustainable services for children with additional support needs and in rural areas. 

Accessibility of services for some families was impacted by affordability, but also included challenges in some areas due to lack of available services or specialist provision. This presented particular challenges in rural communities.

Parents and those working in the sector highlighted the need to promote and value school age childcare recognising the vital service they provide for families and the positive outcomes for children.

As well as questions about our proposed vision and aims, the consultation included further questions about school age childcare. The findings can be broken down into 3 main categories:

  • range of services
  • accessibility
  • supporting the workforce.

Further detail of these findings is summarised in the image on the following page.

"...after supporting children and parents with funding for nurseries they go to school and suddenly you have to find £700/month school care for 2 children – my wife is about to go part-time as it no longer is viable for her to work with these costs." (Individual, Parent/Carer)

"...offering places at a reduced cost regardless of income so it is affordable for everyone." (Individual, Parent/Carer)

"All children regardless of disability should be given equal opportunities to receive this support." (Individual, Parent/Carer)

"Ensuring every school has access to a range of out of school options for parents to choose from e.g. local access to childminders, sports clubs etc." (Individual, Parent/Carer)

Range of Services

Parents, carers and children and young people think that a wide range of differenttypes of provision are necessary in order tooffer choice and meet the wide-rangingneeds and preferences of families.

The largest demand was for primary school age children, although there was still a perceived need of secondary school provision, especially for younger groups.

Services and activities should be age andstage specific, with fun nurturing environments being important for youngerchildren and services that are tailored toattainment and life skills being preferablefor older children.

Greater flexibility and reliability in schoolage childcare services was a key issue for many respondents.


Affordability was a key issue for parents and providerswho responded to theconsultation. This included affordability for low income parents, additional costs assosicated with meetingthe needs of some children who requireadditional support and/or in rural areas.

One third of respondents who answered therelevant question suggested subsidised provision for school age childcare wasneeded.

Other factors that were considered importantfor accessibility were increasng the capacity of existing services, more flexibility within services, raising awareness for parents andhaving accessible places for disabledchildren and children with additional supportneeds.

Respondents noted that rural areas faceparticular difficulty with accessible servicesdue to transport issues and lack of provision.

Supporting the Workforce

The consultation found there wasa slight preference for school agechildcare staff to have or be workingtowards formal qualifications. However,parents and carers were evenly split over theneed for qualifications or whether experience, skills and personal attributes were more important.

There was a relatively even split betweenrespondents who thought the standardchildcare qualification requirements shouldapply for staff across the range of provision, and those who felt different requirementsshould be accepted across different types of provision.

When asked to consider methods forpromoting the school age childcare sector asan attractive career and how to improve diversity within the workforce, respondents suggested: more attractive salaries and employment terms and conditions, clearer career progression routes, providing more support for staff to gain qualifications while also recognising transferable skills from other training or experiences.

Shared Care Scotland – Holidays or Isolation?

In addition to our consultation findings, we have gained a rich understanding of the current picture on holiday activity provision for disabled children and young people in Scotland, thanks to a report commissioned by Shared Care Scotland which was published in April 2020. 

The report found that disabled children and young people face significant isolation from their peers during the holiday period and that holiday activity provision, where it is available, plays a vital role in supporting both child and parental health and wellbeing. The research also tells us that holiday activity provision exerts a disproportionately powerful impact on the lives of disabled children and their families, which can be extremely positive when the system is working well, but problematic when it does not. 

The landscape of holiday activity provision for disabled children and young people encompasses a wide variety of planned activities including bespoke playschemes, sporting and cultural workshops, and regulated childcare services. The research notes that the scale and scope of this provision is not understood under one single system and is therefore difficult to quantify. There is, however, inconsistent provision of holiday activity programmes for disabled children and young people across Scotland, with rural areas badly affected largely as a result of geographical isolation and related transport difficulties. The report notes that some families may find it difficult to access provision as it is generally not well advertised, and children with 'hidden disabilities' run the risk of losing out on accessing activity provision as they may not be seen as a priority. 

The consultation findings and Shared Care Scotland report provide rich insight into the needs and preferences of families and providers, and we will give further consideration to these findings as we develop the new strategic framework for school age childcare and activities. 

However, we know that there are still some gaps in our knowledge on the views of particular groups. This includes childminders, activity organisations, and older children and teenagers. It is also important that we better understand the views of families most likely to experience poverty, as they stand to benefit most from accessible, affordable childcare provision. As we progress our policy development, we will seek to engage with these groups to better understand their views and needs in relation to school age childcare. We will also continue to engage with the school age childcare sector about support for the workforce and with our Reference Group, made up of key stakeholder organisations, to inform future policy decisions and design.



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