Summary and conclusions
This report has provided an insight into findings from the initial baseline phase of the Scottish Study of Early Learning and Childcare. When interpreting these findings, it is important to note several points about the research design and methods. First, the cohort for Phase 1 consisted of children aged two who were eligible for receipt of 600 hours of funded ELC. As the eligibility for funded ELC at age two is based on criteria such as the parents being in receipt of certain benefits, the data reflect the circumstances and experiences of a particular group of parents and children; it is not representative of all two-year-olds accessing ELC in Scotland. In addition, because a higher than expected number of local authorities and settings were excluded because they were already providing government-funded ELC at an expanded level of more than 600 hours a year to eligible two-year-olds, settings were mostly included if they had eligible children and were willing to participate. Thus, the results should be considered as representative of those who took part, rather than as necessarily representative of all eligible two-year-old children attending funded ELC provision across Scotland, although there are significant similarities between the two. The cohort is also relatively small as a result and some sub-groups (such as parents with particular educational qualifications) are particularly so.
The results from Phase 1 will act as a baseline for assessing the impact of expanded ELC provision on eligible two-year-olds through comparison with data collected in later phases of the evaluation. As there is not yet any comparative data, this report has been descriptive in nature - summarising the data collected and identifying some basic relationships between variables. It has not attempted to provide a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between use of funded ELC and child or parent outcomes. Furthermore, the analysis has been bivariate – examining the relationship between two variables at a time. As such, the well documented and often powerful influence of socio-economic background on outcomes and experiences has not consistently been controlled for and some of the relationships described may be attributed to this effect. For these reasons, and those cited above, results should be interpreted with caution.
Despite these methodological caveats, the data nevertheless provide an important initial view of the characteristics, experiences and outcomes of eligible parents and children who are receiving 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare when the child is aged two.
The families of eligible two-year-olds in the cohort are, as may be expected given the eligibility criteria, were more likely to be experiencing varying levels of socio-economic difficulties. Half (49%) were in households amongst those with lowest 10% (decile) of equivalised household incomes (having an annual income of less than £9701) and a similar proportion (47%) lived in areas amongst the 20% most deprived in Scotland. In addition, parents in the cohort had lower levels of qualifications than parents of two-year-olds in the general population. Each of these are known to be key factors associated with poorer child development outcomes.
For most parents, the ELC setting attended by their child was accessible – almost two-thirds could make the journey within 10 minutes. Whilst settings were less accessible for parents in rural areas, half of these parents were still within 10 minutes’ travel. Parents were routinely engaging with settings. The most common forms of engagement were those perhaps most expected: visiting the child’s room and/or discussing the child’s progress with staff. However, a small number of parents – a little more so amongst those living in more deprived areas - are also engaging in other ways including receiving advice about money and learning useful new skills – each potentially important in achieving greater parenting efficacy. Parents also recognised the benefits of ELC for their children including through supporting their social and educational development.
With the exception of gross motor development, only a minority of children were deemed to be on schedule in relation to the developmental domains covered by the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. Levels of expected development were lowest in relation to problem solving skills. As is commonly found in a wide range of research on child health and development, boys consistently fared worse than girls and children living in more deprived areas had poorer development than those in less deprived areas.
The pattern for social, emotional and behavioural development, as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, was similar. Overall, using the total difficulties scale, less than half of children scored in the close to average range. This was also the case for the hyperactivity and peer problem domains. However, in relation to emotional symptoms and conduct problems, upwards of two-thirds of children had scores close to average. Again, boys and children from more disadvantaged circumstances had poorer outcomes on this development measure, though not consistently across all domains.
As may be expected, there was a clear relationship between ASQ and SDQ scores. Children whose development was deemed as requiring further assessment on the ASQ tended to have higher SDQ total difficulties scores. Although largely evident across all ASQ domains, the relationship was particularly strong for communication and personal-social. This suggests that children with poorer development experience this across multiple domains. Therefore, to improve such outcomes, ELC settings need to be equipped to provide a range of support addressing these multiple needs.
Regular engagement in home learning activities such as parent-child reading is known to have a positive influence on children’s development. Participation in such activities was common for almost all children in the cohort. However, not all children had been engaged in these activities to the same extent with boys, children from more deprived areas and those in single parent households being slightly less likely to have done so.
For many parents, the expansion appears to offer a firm opportunity to take up employment or increase their hours. Around one-third of parents who were not working agreed one of the reasons for that was a lack of affordable, convenient, good quality childcare. Similarly, a little over a third of parents who were working agreed they would work more hours if they could afford good quality childcare which was reliable, convenient and affordable.
Parents also identified a range of other benefits from having their child in ELC including feeling happier, less stressed and being able to think about what they might do in the future. Many also indicated it had allowed them to look for work or undertake study or training. As these latter activities are key parent outcomes of the expansion programme, this presents an already positive position upon which to build.