Publication - Research and analysis

Scottish Study of Early Learning and Childcare: Phase 1 Report - Updated 2021

Phase 1 of the Scottish Study of Early Learning and Childcare (SSELC) aimed to gather a robust baseline of child and parent outcomes for a cohort of eligible two-year-olds who were receiving 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare provision.

Scottish Study of Early Learning and Childcare: Phase 1 Report - Updated 2021
Characteristics of ELC

Characteristics of ELC

To gather information on the characteristics of ELC settings, inspectors from the Care Inspectorate (acting as observers independent of their regulatory roles) conducted observations of 146 settings using the most recent version of the Infant / Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS-3). The ITERS, alongside the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), were developed in the United States by the Environment Rating Scale Institute and are widely used in English speaking countries. In the United Kingdom, ECERS has been used in both the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) study and in the more recent Study of Early Education and Development (SEED) in England[28]. In Scotland, ECERS was used as long ago as 1994[29].

Both environment rating scales have a positive international reputation as a way of assessing the quality of provision in a ‘snap-shot’ observation and as a tool which gives researchers access to the everyday experiences of children in their educational settings. The scales have high reliability at indicator and item level when used by trained observers[30]. Validity is also high in terms of their relationship to other ways of assessing quality and to measures of children’s outcomes. Further, in conjunction with academics and the Care Inspectorate, some minor amendments were made to ensure that the ITERS-3 was reflective of the aspects of quality that are expected in Scotland (e.g. that rainfall should not prevent outdoor play).

ITERS-3 was used for a number of reasons: it centres on the experience of the child in the setting; it allows for the effect of setting quality on child outcomes to be controlled for; and it is relatively easy to administer given that only one three hour observation is required. This tool can also be used to see if particular characteristics of settings contribute to differential outcomes in children. Further, ITERS-3 is designed for use in settings where most children are aged under 36 months and and, as such, it was deemed suitable for use with the cohort of two-year-olds involved in Phase 1 of the SSELC. Although many settings observed did not have a specific two-year-old room, using ITERS-3 allowed for age-appropriate criteria to be observed.

It is important to note, however, that these tools are not the only method of assessing setting quality in Scotland. Indeed, the Care Inspectorate ratings provide a broader measure of the quality of practice and policy within settings that have also been found to be related to children’s outcomes in Scotland.

As with the Care Inspectorate methodology, the setting observations focussed on outcomes. However, the methodology differed in that the ITERS-3 tool was used to observe for three hours, with no consultation with setting staff and no professional dialogue or explicit feedback provided. This was because the observations were to be a snapshot to inform the SSELC and control for the effect of setting quality on child outcomes, rather than serving as an assessment of an individual setting’s quality. During the ITERS-3 observations, observers looked at the six domains specifically for two-year-olds. In contrast, during a formal inspection, Care Inspectorate inspectors consider a range of areas that impact on experiences for all children attending the setting, not only the two-year-olds. The key areas covered during a formal inspection are likely to include some or all of the domain areas but can also cover other aspects of the provision to evaluate the overall quality of the setting.

The ITERS-3 scale comprises 33 items across 6 different subscales: space and furnishings; personal care routines; language and books; activities; interaction and program structure.

  • Space and furnishings includes observation of: indoor space; furnishings for care, play, and learning; room arrangement; and display for children.
  • Personal care routines includes observation of: meals and snacks; toileting; health practices; and safety practices.
  • Language and books includes observation of: talking with children; encouraging vocabulary development; responding to children’s communication; encouraging children to communicate; staff use of books with children; and encouraging children’s use of books.
  • Activities includes observation of: fine motor; gross motor; art; music and movement; blocks; dramatic play; nature and science; maths and number; appropriate use of technology; and promoting acceptance of diversity.
  • Interaction includes observation of: supervision of gross motor play; supervision of non-gross motor play and learning; peer interaction; staff-child interaction; providing physical warmth and touch; and guiding children’s behaviour.
  • Programme structure includes observation of: schedule and transitions; free play; and group play activities.

In line with ITERS-3 guidance, each subscale is scored from 1 to 7, and these scores are calculated by averaging the score for each item within the subscale. Each of the 33 items are also scored from 1 to 7, and these scores are calculated using the indicators contained within each individual item. Indicators are grouped under scores of 1 (inadequate), 3 (minimal), 5 (good), and 7 (excellent), with each indicator providing an example of what should be observed relevant to each score. Indicators themselves are scored as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending on whether the indicator has been observed. In some cases, observers are able to record indicators or items as not applicable; these are then excluded when calculating item or subscale scores. A score of 1 is given if any indicator grouped under 1 is scored yes. For an item to score a 7, each indicator grouped under 7 must be scored yes.

In addition, background data was collected during obsrvations on the structure of the setting, including: the number of children and staff present at the time of observation; whether there was a dedicated room for two-year-olds; and whether there was freeflow[31] access to outdoor space. Three-quarters of the settings (78%) had a dedicated room or rooms for two-year-olds. On the day of the observations, just over a third of settings (37%) had no more than five children in the rooms where two-year-olds were observed, around a third (30%) had between 6 and 8 children in the room, and another third (33%) had 9 or more children in the room. In every one of the settings, children had access to outdoor space, although this was freeflow in one in six of the settings (16%).

Table 11: % of settings with score 1 to 7 by ITERS-3 subscale

ITERS Score

Base: All settings observed

1 < 2*

2 < 3

3 < 4

4 < 5

5 < 6

6 < 7

7

Space and Furnishings

%

-

2

7

29

41

19

2

146

Personal Care Routines

%

1

8

15

27

32

14

2

146

Languages and Books

%

-

3

16

28

35

17

1

146

Activities

%

8

27

40

19

5

1

-

146

Interaction

%

-

3

10

23

29

29

6

146

Programme Structure

%

1

3

5

14

22

34

21

146

* Settings’ mean score for each subscale was categorised based on the highest score fully achieved e.g. if a setting scored 4.5 for the ‘Space and Furnishings’ subscale, they would be categorised as ‘4 < 5’ rather than rounding up to 5. This decision was made in consultation with academic colleagues and the Care Inspectorate.

Table 11 summarises scores across the ITERS subscales. Settings scored highest on the Programme Structure subscale, with 77% of settings scoring 5 or above. Settings also scored higher on the Interaction and Space and Furnishings scales, with slightly under two thirds of settings being ranked 5 or above (64% and 62% respectively). It is worth noting that with a maximum possible score of 7 on each item, an average score of 5 is still likely to indicate room for improvement on multiple items within the subscale.

On the Personal Care Routines and Language and Books subscales, 48% and 53% of settings respectively scored 5 or above. The Activities subscale stands out as an area where many settings were performing less well. Thirty-five percent of settings scored below 3 for activities, with only 6% ranked scoring 5 or above.

In this first report, only top level analysis of the ITERS-3 scores have been provided. These data will be analysed in more detail, considering the impact of setting quality on child outcomes, alongside the longitudinal data collected in Phase 3 of the SSELC. Further, the settings observed during Phase 1 of the SSELC are not representative of the whole ELC sector in Scotland, and results should not be taken as such.


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