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.

Purpose of the Guidance

Why is this guidance important?

Already, children spend considerable time within early learning and childcare settings. The current entitlement is for all children aged three and four years olds and eligible two year olds to have 600 hours of funded early learning and childcare per year. The expansion means that children will be entitled to receive 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare per year from August 2020. Children therefore will be spending more time in early learning and childcare settings, and as such, the environment needs to be of a high quality to support positive outcomes for children. Research confirms that the environment can have both a positive impact on child development[4] and improve learning outcomes for children.[5] Early learning and childcare and out of school care settings must be provided from an environment which is fit for purpose[6] and positively supports children to access play and learning opportunities that will impact on their development, health and well-being and happiness. The environment is also important to both parents[7] and providers.[8] This is a view which is supported by a recent survey carried out by the Care Inspectorate, where 69% of parents said the environment was one of the main factors when choosing the service for their child.[9] It is also supported by the Scottish Government's Play Strategy:

'High quality play opportunities, and provision of a physical and social environment that supports play, increase the likelihood of improved outcomes for children and lessen the impact of factors that lead to poorer outcomes.'[10]

and Health and Social Care Standards:

'I experience a high quality environment if the organisation provides the premises'.[11]

This guidance aims to maximise the positive experiences for children and improve the quality of care and learning by helping settings to think about innovative design through adopting a child centred approach.

This guidance will act as a tool for providers, planners and architects when planning or extending early learning and childcare and out of school care settings. It should help to inform any new infrastructure created or refurbished as part of the expansion. It will provide parents, children and members of the public with information and standards about the positive impact that the environment can provide. The guidance will also inform the Care Inspectorate in their duty of scrutiny and improvement to support innovation and to propagate good practice.

Although the guidance provides insights into what constitutes good design - it acknowledges that all environments are different and diverse. The focus should remain on the impact the environment has on improving outcomes for children.

Finally, it is understood that good design continuously evolves, with innovative solutions constantly being sought as to how to enhance environments in areas such as: space; maximising finite resources; the best use of outdoor space; sustainability; and how the physical environment can help contribute to the best outcomes for Scotland's children. As such, it is anticipated that this guidance will also evolve as new solutions and new approaches to innovative delivery of settings are identified, allowing these to be incorporated and shared across the sector.


What is an early learning and childcare setting?

Early learning and childcare is defined as a service, consisting of education and care, of a kind which is suitable in the ordinary case for children who are under school age, regard being had to the importance of interactions and other experiences which support learning and development in a caring and nurturing environment.[12]

Lainshaw Early Childhood Centre, Kilmarnock
Lainshaw Early Childhood Centre, Kilmarnock

What is an out of school care settings?

Out of school care is the provision of a safe, caring environment offering a range of active, stimulating and restful activities for school age children before and after school, and during holidays.[13]

What will you find in this document?

The guidance is written with a focus on achieving positive outcomes for children and families through high quality environments. It is underpinned by the following international and national legislation, policy and guidance:

  • Health and Social Care Standards[14]
  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child[15] (UNCRC)
  • The Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision[16] (2013)
  • Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC)[17]
  • Building the Ambition: National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare[18]
  • Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014[19]
  • Birth to Three: Positive outcome for Scotland's Children and Families, National Guidance, Learning and Teaching Scotland (2010)[20]
  • Curriculum for Excellence (early stages) (2008)[21]
  • My World Outdoors (2016)[22]

Broomhill Out of School Care, Glasgow
Broomhill Out of School Care, Glasgow

The document is structured into two sections.

Section One provides both national and international examples of aspects of good or innovative design of indoor and outdoor space. The Care Inspectorate, The Scottish Government and Scottish Futures Trust carried out a significant level of engagement prior to developing this resource. The case studies reflect the interests of those who were part of this process, and include examples of: the use of and quality of outdoor space, modular builds, extensions to existing accommodation, new builds, use of mezzanine areas and new uses of existing assets to demonstrate the range of high quality settings already available in Scotland.

Of course each setting has its own unique circumstances and challenges and the case studies are not designed to provide definitive answers or to be replicated directly. The intention is that they stimulate and inspire thinking, give some examples of ways to consider any challenges presented whilst incorporating standards and best practice. Additionally, alongside examples from Scotland's current practice in early learning and childcare there are examples of innovative international design.

Section Two relates to all areas of the environment that would support individual settings. This section describes good practice with reference to standards, practice documents, legislation and research alongside case studies and illustrations. This section also includes some environment input standards for good design e.g. space standards, natural light, toilets and hygiene facilities and outdoor play space. It is anticipated that those who provide settings and those who are involved in designing/planning settings will be familiar with much of the detail in section two. However, the guidance provides an opportunity to carefully consider why certain elements are important to the positive outcomes for children's care, learning and health and wellbeing.

The Care Inspectorate and other bodies can provide you with guidance and advice to support you in the development and planning of the design of settings.

When making an application to the Care Inspectorate to register an early learning and childcare or an out of school care setting, vary an existing setting or update a current setting you should take account of this guidance. When developing a new setting or adapting an existing one it is advisable to contact the Care Inspectorate to provide support and guidance at an early stage in the process.

There are a number of other agencies and regulatory bodies that you may need to contact regarding the environment e.g. Environmental Health, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Building Control and Planning Departments. It is advisable to make contact with these agencies at an early stage of the design process as this may avoid any time consuming and expensive alterations later on in the build process.


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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