The Scottish Government warmly welcomes Professor Siraj's thoughtful and comprehensive independent Review of Early Learning and Childcare Workforce and Out of School Care Workforce.
We commissioned this Review in recognition of the vital role played by the workforce in delivering high quality early learning and out of school care to Scotland's children. The last National Review of the Workforce was conducted in 2006  and we felt that the time was right to commission an independent expert to look afresh at a range of issues - from the qualifications and training of all those within the workforce, to the career paths available, and, vitally, the status of this most skilled and challenging work.
We considered this to be particularly timely in the context of the introduction of the Scottish Government's ground-breaking Children and Young People Act in 2014, which increased the number of funded hours of early learning and childcare to 600 hours per year: the highest number of hours available anywhere in the UK. The First Minister has since announced that we will go even further and almost double this entitlement, to 1140 hours per year by the end of the next Parliament. I am clear that quality will be at the heart of this expansion, and that the workforce is fundamental to ensuring we deliver that quality of provision.
That is why we accept Professor Siraj's recommendation that we must have a strategic group looking at issues around quality and workforce. This group will have a key role in examining and advising on a range of issues around workforce development and workforce planning for the forthcoming expansion of early learning and childcare.
The group will consist of the same membership as the Core Reference Group of cross-sectoral experts which supported the independent Review. In this group, we have a wealth of experience from across the early learning and childcare and out of school sector and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all members for their constructive and valued contribution to the Review process.
Professor Siraj has set out clearly that we must have a workforce that is highly skilled and trained to work with young children, so that the foundations are laid for their future social and emotional wellbeing and their future attainment. The benefits of high quality early learning interactions with skilled practitioners have been shown to be particularly marked for those children who face particular barriers or challenges in terms of their socio-economic background, and Professor Siraj highlights this in her report.
The Scottish Government agrees that children must have access to highly qualified staff with expertise in early childhood learning and development - and that this is particularly vital for those facing particular disadvantages. That is why the First Minister recently announced in October 2015 that we will ensure that all nurseries in the most deprived areas in Scotland will have an additional graduate working with children by 2018, whether this is a teacher with early childhood expertise or a graduate holding the BA Childhood Practice degree.
In addition, as set out in the responses to the individual recommendations, we will work with the strategic group on quality to look at the existing suite of qualifications, to establish if there is a need for any change to both the content of those and the range of qualifications and routes into the sector which are available.
We will also work with partners including the Care Inspectorate, SSSC and SCMA to develop a quality framework for childminders, including a suggested training pathway from induction onwards. This is in recognition that they are a vitally important part of the workforce delivering early learning and childcare to children of all ages, and should be encouraged and supported to undertake career long learning, as do those practitioners working with children within centres.
The need for high quality childcare provision does not end when a child starts school and, in recognition of the vital role played by out of school care, we will also work with partners to develop an updated Framework for out of school care.
Professor Siraj made a number of important recommendations on the status and pay of the early learning and out of school care workforce and the Scottish Government strongly endorses those. In their role nurturing and supporting the early development and learning of children, practitioners at all levels have the genuine potential to transform lives. This should be reflected in the status afforded to the workforce, and in the remuneration they receive.
Scottish Government strongly supports the Living Wage campaign and encourages all organisations, regardless of size, sector and location, to ensure all staff receive a fair level of pay. We will work with the early learning and childcare and out of school care sectors to promote the benefits of the Living Wage, both in terms of social justice and for them as individual employers.
Professor Siraj also recognised that early learning and childcare is a highly gendered workforce - indeed; the most recent SSSC workforce statistics show that only 4% of the early learning and childcare nursery sector, and 0% of childminders, are male. That is why I am committed to doing more to promote early learning and out of school care as a fantastic career for young people, considering, in particular, what more we could do to attract more males into the sector.
This would bring a number of benefits, including increasing gender equality, providing children with positive role models of both genders within early learning and childcare settings, and attracting a wider group of individuals with the right skills and aptitudes to nurture children's growth, learning and development.
We will work with key partners on this, including Skills Development Scotland and Scottish Funding Council.
This is an exciting time for early learning and out of school care, as we plan for the most significant expansion in provision ever seen in Scotland, and the actions we will take in response to Professor Siraj's independent review will be essential to ensure that high quality is at the heart of this transformational change.
Angela Constance MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning