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.

Future School Age Childcare Policy

As we begin to plan for an economic rebuild, childcare – and particularly access to school age childcare for families – will be an important part of the future economic infrastructure in Scotland. We have developed a bold vision and set of aims which will continue to drive progress and guide our work as we look to the future.

Our vision and aims clearly arise from the National Performance Framework which sets out the Scottish Government's purpose, values, and the national outcomes that describe the kind of Scotland we want to create. 

Diagram showing links between school age childcare vision and aims and the National Performance Framework

Our vision focuses on positive outcomes for children, recognising article 31 of the UNCRC – a child's right to play, and the importance of feeling included and part of a community. These are all aspects of children's lives that have been tested during the pandemic and so our vision must remain fit for purpose in a post-COVID-19 world.

Policy Direction – Future Approach

Supporting Children's Outcomes

The health, needs and wellbeing of the child continue to be central to developing school age childcare policy. 

We know that high quality school age childcare and activities can benefit children by promoting positive social interactions and relationships, building social and emotional skills and confidence, and providing the opportunity for play in a safe environment, particularly for younger children and those from the most socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.[14]

Accessing affordable school age childcare could help enable families to lift themselves out of poverty and enable more children and young people to benefit from a range of activities and experiences which will deliver positive outcomes.

Access to holiday programmes and youth work provision can deliver a range of potential positive impacts for the children and families who attend, including tackling food insecurity, and wider health and wellbeing, educational, and financial impacts. For families on low incomes, school holidays can increase financial pressure and may lead to food insecurity and missing out on opportunities that are available to children in families with higher income. The cost of childcare and extra meals during school holidays may also put pressure on family household budgets or make sustaining work difficult, particularly for lone parents. There is some research that suggests that circumstances experienced during the school holidays – including poor nutrition, social isolation and stress within the family – can negatively impact on children's readiness to learn, cognitive functioning, health and wellbeing.

There is also some evidence showing that school age activities and programmes can have positive impacts on a range of children's outcomes and indicate that they could play a role in reducing the attainment gap.

Scotland's curriculum is defined as all the experiences that are planned for learners wherever they are being educated. It takes account of the experiences that children and young people have through learning outwith school and in activities that would previously have been thought of as extra-curricular. The purpose of the curriculum is to enable every child or young person to be a successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor. The curriculum aims to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to flourish in life. 

Outcomes for children are therefore linked not only to the learning that takes place during school hours but also to the range of life enhancing experiences and opportunities that are available to children outside of school hours and during holiday times. We know that for many children this range of positive experiences is often out of reach under normal circumstances and for others, access to these experiences will have been compromised during the pandemic.

Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) has become part of our culture and our way of working to support families. It provides a consistent framework and shared language for everyone who works with children, young people and parents. Having a common approach that spans all children's services enables everyone including children, young people and their parents, to work together to make a positive difference for individual children and young people. 

Promoting and supporting the wellbeing of children and young people, and preventing additional stresses on families at this time have been, and will continue to be, paramount. 

The Scottish Government is committed to recognising, respecting and promoting children's rights, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation)(Scotland) Bill was introduced to Parliament on 1 September 2020. Incorporation will ensure that children's rights are afforded the highest protection and respect possible within the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

There are many articles contained within the UNCRC which are hugely relevant to school age childcare including Article 31 which describes a child's right to culture, leisure, rest and play. For many children their access to play opportunities will have decreased as a result of the pandemic and we should consider how our future policy can help support increased wellbeing and improved access to those opportunities.

We know that children thrive and develop through interaction with their peers and the Scottish Government firmly believes that play is key in facilitating this interaction. As families are spending an increased amount of time together, play is also important in building and maintaining positive relationships. It encourages interactions between all members of the family and allows free time for children to express themselves and work through their emotions. While the effects of all COVID-19 restrictions are yet to be fully revealed it is clear that we will need to support children to reintegrate and that play is a good facilitator for that. 

Supporting Economic Recovery

While the pandemic has surfaced real challenges for school age childcare providers, it has also thrown a spotlight on the importance of childcare in underpinning the economic recovery work that we, as a society, are undertaking. 

The Scottish Government's Economic Recovery Implementation Plan focuses on jobs and employment at the heart of its actions. School age childcare has a crucial role to play in ensuring that parents and carers have the right support to access the labour market, help rebuild the economy and improve outcomes for their own families. 

It is important that school age childcare continues to be considered across national, regional and local policy conversations. Building on the work we started with the draft framework, we will continue to ensure that school age childcare policy is considered appropriately in decision making at a time of social and economic renewal.

In recent years, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the commitment to achieve a wellbeing economy was already a central priority for the Scottish Government. Scotland is a founding member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) alliance, in which member countries collaborate to understand the key priorities for a wellbeing economy. The broad aims of the wellbeing economy are to create a society that is thriving across economic, social and environmental dimensions and that delivers sustainable and inclusive growth for the people of Scotland. There is little doubt that the current economic crisis induced by COVID-19 has made these aims harder to achieve in the short term, however it is integral that a focus on achieving the foundations of the wellbeing economy is at the heart of Scotland's economic recovery plans. The recovery will be an opportunity to do things differently – and crucially, to rebuild Scotland's economy with wellbeing, sustainability, and fair work at its heart.

Without accessible, flexible and affordable childcare options, many parents and carers may struggle to access employment which could deliver improvements for them and their families. Well supported working parents will be vital in the economic recovery and a well-positioned school age childcare sector that can react to their needs will prove valuable not just for parents and families, but for wider society too.

During the pandemic, Scottish Ministers set up an Independent Social Renewal Advisory Board to make proposals that can renew Scotland once we start to emerge from the pandemic. The Board was set up as a short-term group to come up with transformational ideas on how to deliver real change as Scotland embarks on its journey of renewal. The final report "If not now, when?" was published in January 2021. It contains 20 calls to action across 4 sections:

1. Money and Work

2. People, Rights and Advancing Equality

3. Communities and collective endeavour

4. Closing The Gap Between Promise and Practice

The Money and Work section focuses on ensuring everyone has enough money to lead a decent life and within that there is a call to:

Extend free early learning, childcare and social care so all parents and carers can access the childcare they need, when they need it.

This recognises the link between the cost of childcare and tackling child poverty as noted in our draft framework. Any reduction in the cost of childcare will increase disposable income for parents and can improve quality of life for families.

Ministers will publish a response to the report by end March 2021.

Continuing to Engage

We are committed to working collaboratively with children and young people, and parents and carers to co design our future policy. Over the past two years, we have engaged directly with a wide range of stakeholders to understand people's views and first-hand experiences of school age childcare in Scotland. 

Following the principles set out in the Scottish Approach to Service Design, we want to continue to ensure that children and families themselves are empowered to actively participate in the definition, design and delivery of new policy on school age childcare. This means continuing and strengthening citizen participation in our policy development and delivery.

This year, we will establish a diverse and inclusive public panel of parents, carers, children and young people from a wide range of communities across Scotland. 

We will work collaboratively with the panel, listening to their insights and ideas, and making sure that as we design future policy we do so in a way that supports the needs of all families in Scotland.

We will continue to work with partners such as the Poverty Truth Community, One Parent Families Scotland, National Parent Forum Scotland and others to ensure we include a wide range of parent and carer voices from different communities across Scotland. We know there's no one size fits all solution to childcare and we need to develop and test models to meet the needs of as many families as possible. We will take a tailored approach to engaging with the public panel, using the most suitable forum for each group or individual as appropriate. With COVID-19 restrictions easing gradually, face-to-face meetings we will instead draw on a mix of approaches that may include online surveys, focus groups facilitated on digital platforms, and one-to-one conversations over the telephone. We will also consider the use of online dialogue platforms which can be used to generate ideas and discussion between panel members.

Children and young people have a right to be heard and involved in decisions that affect them as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The children and young people who make up our public panel will be involved in our school age childcare policy design and decision-making process, in line with Article 12 (right to be heard) of the UNCRC

The participation of children and young people will be an ongoing process, rather than a one-off event. We will work with the children and young people involved, and experts from the third sector, to agree an engagement approach that builds ongoing conversation between Scottish Ministers, government officials and the children and young people themselves. Considerable evidence supports the view that such participative approaches bring about effective policy and decision making, improved service design and opportunities for action on the part of children and young people. 

We will ask children and young people to develop their own charter for school age childcare in Scotland. 

The charter will reflect the views of children and young people across Scotland providing recommendations outlining how they could better access childcare, activities and wider support round around the school day and during the holidays, and the changes they would like to see in the school age childcare landscape. It will provide them with the opportunity to make recommendations – based on their own priorities and reflecting the communities they live in – for improving access to school age childcare in order to better meets their needs and aspirations.



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