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Resource Type Policy & Legislation

Early learning and childcare

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

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 childminders, 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

Initial expansion

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 included 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 provision for two year olds has since been made available to every two year-old from a workless household in Scotland, as well as families that receive certain welfare benefits such as Jobseeker's Allowance.

In 2016, 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 suggested young children across Scotland were benefitting from the expansion of funded early learning and childcare places for children aged between two and four, but suggested more could be done to support younger children, including two year olds. The proportion of daycare of children settings providing funded places had increased and the quality of care and support was generally higher in these services than in those not providing funded places. An updated report was published in 2017.

The Scottish Government soon committed to further extend funded provision to 1,140 hours a year by August 2020. Following extensive consultation, the Scottish Government published Blueprint 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland. The Action Plan set out the Government’s vision for the extended expansion, 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 would be taken over the next three years to ensure the expansion delivers a high quality experience for all children.

Following further consultation, in December 2018 the Scottish Government published Funding Follows the Child and the National Standard: Principles and Practice, setting out the Funding Follows the Child approach, and the National Standard underpinning it, which all ELC providers wishing to deliver the funded entitlement will have to meet as of August 2020. 

The Scottish Government also published a delivery support plan, which sets out a range of actions to support early learning and childcare providers to prepare for the transition to 2020, and a delivery progress report, which provides data on the progress of the delivery of expansion programmes across councils. Monthly updates are also provided on the policy's progress by the Scottish Government. 

At the end of March 2020, the Scottish Government announced the decision to pause the 1140 hours expansion
programme to allow local authorities to focus on their immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following a joint statement from the Minister for Children and Young People and COSLA on 14 December 2020, all eligible children will now benefit from 1140 hours of funded early learning and childcare by August 2021.

Guidance documents to support the Funding Follows the Child approach include:

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 and responses are available to read here

 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.


Out of School Care Framework

The Scottish Government published a draft framework for out of school care framework in Scotland as part of a consultation. The document "sets out a vision for out of school care, considers the current picture of out of school care in Scotland and asks questions about the benefits and challenges of accessing out of school care". The consultation closes on 6 December. The Scottish Government also published the findings of a survey of parents and carers, commissioned to inform the framework. 

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. 

Useful Links

Further reading

Directory of Continuous Professional Learning of Early Learning and Childcare

A directory of local and national training and development opportunities available to the early learning and childcare workforce

Gender equal play in early learning and childcare

An improvement resource promoting gender equality in how children experience early learning and childcare.

Food matters

A resource celebrating the many ways in which early learning and childcare settings are supporting children to have positive eating experiences and enjoy well-balanced, nutritious food.

Related resources

Latest children and young people bulletin

A weekly bulletin produced by our policy team providing an update on the key developments concerning children and young people.

Children & Young People Bulletin: 12-18 July 2024

Children & Young People Bulletin: 12-18 July 2024

Children & Young People Bulletin: 12-18 July 2024