Early Years & Childcare

Jump to topics on this page:


The Scottish Government's stated ambition is for Scotland to be "the best place in the world to grow up in by improving outcomes and reducing inequalities for all babies, children, mothers, fathers and families across Scotland to ensure that all children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed".

Early Years Framework

The Scottish Government’s Early Years Framework (2009) is aimed at giving Scotland's children the best start in life and outlines the steps the Government, local partners and practitioners in early years services need to take to break negative cycles of inequality through early intervention. 

The Framework sets out 10 overlapping elements required to deliver a 'radical improvement' in outcomes:

  • A coherent approach.
  • Helping children, families and communities to secure outcomes for themselves.
  • Breaking cycles of poverty, inequality and poor outcomes in and through early years.
  • A focus on engagement and empowerment of children, families and communities.
  • Using the strength of universal services to deliver prevention and early intervention.
  • Putting quality at the heart of service delivery.
  • Services that meet the needs of children and families.
  • Improving outcomes and children's quality of life through play.
  • Simplifying and streamlining delivery.
  • More effective collaboration.

In 2011, the Scottish Government published Early Years Framework: Progress So Far, providing an update on short-term progress two years on from publication of the original document. 

Children and Young People Improvement Collaborative

The Early Years Collaborative, a coalition of community planning partners, including social work and social care services, health, education, police and the third sector, was established in 2012 with an objective to "accelerate the conversion of the high level principles set out in GIRFEC and the Early Years Framework into practical action".

In 2016, the Scottish Government combined the Early Years Collaborative with the Raising Attainment for All programme with a renewed ambition to make early years, health, family services and schools more effective and responsive in tackling inequality and improving children's outcomes. The new Children and Young People Improvement Collaborative supports local authorities, health boards and the third sector to use Quality Improvement in their services for children, young people and families.

The Commission for Childcare Reform

Launched in March 2014, The Commission for Childcare Reform engaged in 15 months of investigation into how best childcare provision in Scotland might be organised, delivered and paid for, with extensive consultation with parents, services, employers and businesses throughout the country.

‘Meeting Scotland’s Childcare Challenge’, the final report from the Commission, was published on 25 June 2015. The Commission’s final report focussed on key elements of current early learning and childcare provision, covering the vision, availability, affordability, governance and funding mechanisms, plus a number of recommendations on the data needed to monitor the effectiveness of the system.

The Scottish Government published a response to the report in December 2015, outlining its commitments:

  • develop high quality, flexible early learning and childcare which is affordable and accessible for all
  • ensure every nursery in Scotland's most deprived areas will have an additional qualified childcare graduate to work with children by 2018
  • to raise the free early learning and childcare entitlement to 1,140 hours per year by the end of the next Parliament
  • the creation of a new Early Learning and Childcare Strategic Forum
  • the Scottish Government will work with partners, including the Care Inspectorate, to develop a new standard of best practice for childminder, strengthening induction and training pathways in recognition that childminders are a vital part of the early learning and childcare workforce

Scotland's Early Learning and Childcare Expansion

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 includes provisions to increase the amount and flexibility of free early learning and childcare from 475 hours a year to a minimum of 600 hours for three and four year olds, and two year olds who are, or have been at any time since turning two, looked after or subject to a kinship care order. The expanded childcare provision will also be available to every two year-old from a workless household in Scotland and, by August 2015, families that receive certain welfare benefits such as Jobseeker's Allowance.

Six early learning and childcare trials were announced in January 2016 to support the expansion of childcare to 1,140 hours a year. These trials tested different delivery models and consider how to increase flexibility, better meet the needs of parents and children, and meet local requirements.  The first three locations for the trials were Aberdeen, Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders, and commenced in January 2017. These areas are testing out a variety of models, including extended days and cover over the holiday period, improved access to outdoor learning and 'Stay and Play'.

A second round of childcare trials was announced for an additional 11 areas: Argyll and Bute, Dundee, Glasgow, Western Isles, Shetland Isles, North Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway, East Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Midlothian and Angus. These areas are testing different models of delivery, including: the co-location of Early Learning and Childcare services and out of school services; and making additional hours available through local childminders.

The Scottish Government has published National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare. The document "sets the context for high quality Early Learning and Childcare as set out in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014" and aims to support practitioners by looking at the "key areas which make a difference to a child's early learning and childcare experiences and the important role that practitioners play".

Following a consultation the Scottish Government published Blueprint 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland in March 2017. The Action Plan sets out the Government’s vision for the expansion and is underpinned by the principles of quality, flexibility, accessibility and affordability. A further Quality Action Plan was published in October 2017 which outlines the steps which will be taken over the next three years to ensure the expansion delivers a high quality experience for all children.

In 2017-18, the Scottish Government will publish details of a guaranteed multi-year package  of funding for local authorities for early learning and childcare to support the recruitment and training of staff and the delivery of new premises. The announcement was made in the Programme for Government in September 2017 and other commitments on early learning and childcare included:

  • ongoing work to ensure all childcare workers delivering funded early learning and childcare receive the Scottish Living Wage from August 2020
  • the Funding Follows the Child model will be published by end of March 2018, including a national standard for a more open process for private and third sector providers and childminders to access funded early learning and childcare
  • publishing a Quality Action Plan setting out measures to support early years professionals to continuously improve the care and learning experience
  • rates relief for day nurseries
  • a strategic framework for after-school and holiday childcare, beginning by assessing the availability of existing provision

The Care Inspectorate published an overview of early progress made across the early learning and childcare sector in increasing the entitlement for children to 600 hours. The report suggests young children across Scotland are benefitting from the expansion of funded early learning and childcare places for children aged between two and four, but suggests more could be done to support younger children, including two year olds. The proportion of daycare of children settings providing funded places has increased and the quality of care and support was generally higher in these services than in those not providing funded places. 

The Scottish Government published a report evaluating the expansion of learning and childcare (ELC) during 2017. The report explores the impact of the expansion of government-funded ELC after the 2014 Act; provides learning to help the implementation of the further ELC expansion to 1140 hours by 2020; and provides a baseline for monitoring and evaluating the extent to which the expansion to 1140 hours is achieving its aims, as it rolls out up to 2020 and beyond.

The Government recently consulted on the Early Learning and Childcare Service Model for 2020, including proposals for the Funding Follows the Child approach and the National Standard for providers who wish to deliver the funded entitlement.

Independent Review of Early Learning and Childcare Workforce and Out of School Care Workforce

In 2014, the Scottish Government commissioned Professor Iram Siraj to lead an independent review of the early years and childcare workforce. The remit was later extended to include out of school care. The review was undertaken between March 2014 and April 2015.

Topics considered by the review included:

  • Skills and qualifications;
  • Recruitment and retention;
  • Career Pathways; and
  • Recognition of the importance of the workforce.

A call for evidence was launched as part of the review, which closed on 30 September 2014. The consultation had two strands, for organisations/institutions and for individuals/settings. Responses to the consultation have been published:

In June 2015, the findings of the review were published. The report includes 31 recommendations, including:

  • The Scottish Government to convene a strategic group to oversee a maximum 15 year vision and development plan for workforce reform. (Recommendation 1)
  • Include aspects of the Care and Support theme used by the Care Inspectorate (which links to the National Care Standards, 2009) in future inspections as well as in education, training and all qualifications designed to improve quality. (8)
  • Make induction or pre-registration training a requirement for registration to provide a childminding service under the Public Services Reform Act. (13)
  • Include childminders on the same register with the same conditions as the majority of the ELC workforce (i.e. with SSSC), particularly community childminders; those commissioned to deliver the funded hours of ELC; and those providing specialist high quality services, and invest in and build upon these services. (14)
  • Retain the content of section 4 during any revision to the National Care Standards. (16)
  • Formalise and simplify the current inspections position. Currently ELC settings can receive one shared inspection from two different bodies visiting together. In future, either a joint education and care inspection or one inspection conducted by one single inspectorate body for ELC should be standard. (17)
  • Further research is needed to consider the inspection process and how this links to children’s outcomes. This would support the further development of inspection indicators, as well as ensure that inspections support improvement and continue to inform future policy direction. (31)

The Scottish Government published its response to the review, commenting on each recommendation in turn. It confirmed plans for a strategic group looking at issues around quality and workforce and the Scottish Government will work with the group 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.

National Play Strategy

In June 2013, the Scottish Government published its first national Play Strategy for Scotland. The strategy outlines the benefits of play in children's development and links the Government's plans with National Outcomes, GIRFEC and other national policy frameworks. The Scottish Government has since published the Play Strategy Action Plan, setting out specific actions to be taken across a range of settings in implementing the strategy. Each proposed action is accompanied by a list of relevant partners and a short, medium or long term timescale for implementation. 

Empowering teachers, parents and communities to achieve excellence and equity in education - A Governance Review

A review and consultation in relation to the governance of the education system in Scotland has been published by the Scottish Government in September 2016. ‘Empowering teachers, parents and communities to achieve excellence and equity in education’ seeks views on how education “from early learning and childcare provision through to secondary school education” is run in Scotland, with a focus on empowering schools and teachers, supported by parents and communities. The publication states that, as part of a whole system approach, the functions of all national bodies which support the delivery of Scottish education, including Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate, would be considered. 

The Scottish Government has published a report setting out the next steps on the Education Governance Review. The report confirms that Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate will “further enhance their single shared inspection model for early learning and childcare and ensure that an institution will only be subject to a single inspection per cycle”.  Education Scotland is to undergo significant changes with strengthened inspection and improvement functions, and a renewed focus on professional learning and leadership.

A major pillar of the reforms is the establishment of Regional Improvement Collaboratives, led by a new Regional Director reporting to the Chief Inspector of Education. These collaboratives will provide educational improvement support through dedicated teams of professionals and will draw on Education Scotland staff, local authority staff and others. 

Other next steps announced in the statement included:

  • Strengthening of parental involvement, including the involvement of parents in relation to early years settings
  • Enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers, including reforms to Initial Teacher Education and new routes into teaching, subject to GTCS testing
  • Local authorities will retain a leading role on support services, such as catchment areas and placing and admissions procedures, including for children with additional support needs
  • A statutory Headteachers Charter to make headteachers the “leaders of learning” in their schools with powers over teacher selection and management, plus direct control over an increased proportion of school funding.

In September 2017, the Cabinet Secretary for Education published the report on Regional Improvement Collaboratives for Education, agreed by a joint steering group involving Scottish Government, Education Scotland and local government. The report confirms that all Improvement Collaboratives will need to have a core team which will include senior officers, e.g. the Chief Education Officers from each local authority within the IC, and senior officer(s) from Education Scotland and from the Care Inspectorate in relation to early learning and childcare. 

The Scottish Government published analysis of responses  to a consultation on a new Education (Scotland) Bill. The analysis shows there was support for the principles behind the Bill but less support for legislation to enshrine these principles. A small number of respondents queried the inclusion of early years practitioners in the new Education Workforce Council, asking whether staff would have to register with both the new body as well as the SSSC. 

Other Policy Developments and Documents

Save to My Account