Early learning, childcare and out of school care services: design guidance

Guidance on good design for supporting the delivery of high quality early learning, childcare and out of school care services.


In October 2016, the Scottish Government launched the consultation; 'A Blueprint for 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland'. The consultation set out a vision for increasing the entitlement to free early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours per year by 2020, for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds. This supports the Scottish Government's national priorities of giving all children the best start in life and making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up.[1] The provision of universally accessible and high quality early learning childcare establishes the skills and confidence children need throughout their care and learning journey, and as such is a cornerstone for closing attainment and inequality gaps.

A key principle underpinning the expansion of early learning and childcare entitlement to 1,140 hours is the considerable increase in the quantity of funded early learning and childcare hours will not be delivered at the expense of quality.[2]

The priorities of early learning and childcare provision are to:

  • Improve outcomes for children, especially those who are more vulnerable or disadvantaged; and
  • Support parents to work, train or study, especially those who need routes into sustainable employment and out of poverty.[3]

These priorities align with the Scottish Government early learning and childcare expansion programme objectives of Quality, Flexibility, Affordability and Accessibility.

  • Quality - the expansion will ensure a high quality experience for all children, complementing other early years and educational activity to close the attainment gap, and recognises the value of those we entrust to give our children the best start in life.
  • Flexibility - the expansion will support more parents and carers in work, training or study, through greater choice of provider and patterns of provision that are better aligned with working patterns whilst delivering this in a way that ensures a high quality experience for the child.
  • Accessibility - early learning and childcare capacity is sufficient and is as conveniently geographically located as possible - particularly in areas of higher deprivation and in rural communities - to support families and enable parents and carers to work, train and study, while also appropriately meeting the needs of children who require additional support and parents who request ELC through the medium of Gaelic.
  • Affordability - the expansion will increase access to affordable ELC which will help to reduce barriers to participating in the labour market which parents and carers face.

The design guidance was initiated as a result of the expansion in early learning and childcare, but should also be useful for out of school care settings. This acknowledges and recognises the important part out of school care has in providing care, play and learning opportunities for school-age children and also supporting their parents to work, train or study.

This resource delivers on the Scottish Government's Programme for Government commitment to develop good design guidance which will support the delivery of high quality early learning and childcare as part of the expansion.


Email: Jeff Maguire, jeff.maguire@gov.scot

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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