A Wider Range of Choice and Options for Parents and Carers
Improving access to affordable ELC also helps to reduce barriers to participating in the labour market which parents and carers face. For example, the OECD's Doing Better for Families report highlights that childcare constraints often play an important role in parents' work decisions, and that provision of more comprehensive childcare helps remove barriers to employment  .
Building on existing and current flexible models of provision the expansion will support parents and carers in work, training or study. This will require patterns of provision that are better aligned with working patterns and diverse family needs.
The Scottish Government has provided additional funding to local authorities to support the increase in flexibility required as part of the Act and the increase to 600 hours free entitlement per year. As a result, parents and carers are starting to access increased flexibility through a wider range of choice and options.
Local authorities are also required to consult representative groups of parents at least once every two years on the patterns of ELC and OSC care that best meets their needs. The guidance states that local authorities should specifically consult parents who may have a range of needs, including families affected by disability and ethnic minority parents.
In practise this has meant moving away from a default model of 5 x 2.5 hour in the morning or afternoon sessions a week; to, other options that meet a range of parental needs. For example, 5 x 3 hour 10 minute sessions, 4 x 4 hour sessions, or 2 x 8 hour sessions, with options to integrate additional unfunded hours to improve consistency for the child. This is within a minimum framework of 2.5 hours a day to a maximum of 8 hours a day, not necessarily confined to term time.
The expansion to 1140 hours per year will provide greater opportunities for flexibility. Drawing on the regular consultations with parents and carers, local authorities, working with their delivery partners, will need to continue to adapt provision to offer greater choice and flexibility which will be inclusive of those parents who find it difficult to access childcare.
This will require a range of ELC delivery options which meet the needs of parents and carers across all of Scotland, including increased levels of provision which more closely tie in with working hours. This could, for example, result in local authorities considering options for extending the hours that ELC settings located within a school are open beyond the school day, a greater range of community based services or mixed sector provision to provide high quality ELC across the working day.
It is also likely that there will be variations in the appropriateness of delivery models for different families. For example, to what extent is the system able to adapt to the requirements of workers with more irregular working patterns (e.g. shift workers, etc)?
However, an increase in flexibility must be delivered in a way that ensures a high quality experience for the child.
Question 8: What factors must be considered in delivering flexible ELC provision, while continuing to ensure a high quality service? To what extent could funded ELC support parents and carers with non-standard working hours, such as working shifts and weekends?
Flexibility Driven by A Diverse ELC Sector
The ELC sector is diverse with around 3,700 childcare providers (for children of all ages), of whom 2,500 are currently offering the funded entitlement. In addition, there are 5,600 childminders  .
Excluding childminders, who are 100% private, 46% of all services are run by local authorities, 29% are run by the private sector and 25% are run by the voluntary sector.
Within the current system local authorities will often contract with partner providers in the private and voluntary sectors to offer the funded entitlement.
Financial review of early learning and childcare in Scotland: the current landscape highlighted the key role that partner providers play in offering the funded entitlement, accounting for around 1,000 of the 2,500 settings offering the entitlement (with around 1,500 run by local authorities).
Partner providers play a particularly important role in offering flexibility.
As part of the Financial Review we have collected detailed financial data from both local authorities and partner providers. This has provided a comprehensive overview of the costs involved in the delivery of ELC provision.
The review highlights that:
- Local authority provision of ELC is significantly more costly than in partner provider settings.
- The gap between local authority and partner provider costs is overwhelmingly explained by the relatively lower rates of pay in partner settings. We estimate that around 80% of practitioners and 50% of supervisors in partner settings are paid less than the Living Wage (£8.25 an hour).
- On average, local authority payments to partner providers (to offer the entitlement) are found to at least cover the current costs for the majority of partner providers.
- The funding agreed and allocated so far to meet the requirements of the Act for the expansion to 600 hours of entitlement does not appear to have been fully matched by spending increases in most local authorities.
- Delivering greater choice requires effective and sustainable partnerships between public sector providers and partner providers in the private and third sectors.
- Whilst the Financial Review finds that the current rates provided to partner providers by local authorities cover, on average, costs for the majority of providers, as highlighted earlier this reflects a cost base where large numbers of the workforce in these settings are earning below the living wage. As well as not being aligned with our vision for the ELC workforce, it also raises concerns regarding the long-term sustainability of the business model for some partner providers (particularly as the level of free entitlement will almost be doubled).
- A potential approach to strengthen sustainability, and to encourage all partner providers to pay the living wage, could be through the introduction of guaranteed, or recommended, rates for partner providers. These rates could vary to reflect different circumstances, for example, for different age groups or if a child has additional support needs or disabilities, etc.
Question 9: How can we ensure fair and sustainable funding for all providers offering the ELC entitlement?
New and Innovative Flexible Delivery Models
The expansion will require new and innovative models for delivering ELC. These potential models will be explored in the ELC Delivery Model trials (see Box 4), which will commence in January 2017.
Box 4: Early Learning and Childcare Delivery Model
In January 2016 the First Minister announced that a series of trials would be run to test a variety of models for delivering the ELC expansion to 1140 hours:
"By trialling different methods with local authorities and childcare providers, we will be better able to understand what parents and children need and want, and what is actually working. This will be crucial as we move forward with our transformational expansion of childcare."
The Scottish Government is providing £1 million of investment to support the programme of trials, which will commence in January 2017.
Key Trial Themes
In June 2016 the Scottish Government published an analysis of the consultation responses to the ELC Trials Discussion Paper ( http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2016/06/1559/0). The responses provided a helpful steer on the key aspects, in terms of geography and focus, that should be captured across the range of trials.
Building on these the overall programme of trials to be structured so that as many as possible of the following aspects are covered:
- Involvement of childminders, including 'blended' models involving provision in both group and domestic settings
- Provision for eligible two year olds
- Provision for children with additional support needs
- Extended opening hours (covering day and/or year)
- Locations in areas of high rurality
- Locations in highly urbanised areas
- Locations in areas of high deprivation ( SIMD)
- Holistic model of provision, integrated with other services for children and their families
- Outdoor nursery provision
- Innovative models of workforce deployment
- Involvement of private and third sector partner providers
- Build on, and expand, current successful models of delivery
In early 2018, following the completion of the ELC delivery model trials, and the monitoring and evaluation phase, guidance will be published, which draws on key learning from the trials, to help local authorities tailor their provision for 2020.
Innovative approaches will be required in all parts of the ELC sector.
For example, as part of the expansion, ELC providers could be incentivised to deliver new, innovative and collaborative approaches to extending capacity. This could be through capacity which is co-funded by closely located employers across the private and third sector. Such approaches could extend to include Further and Higher Education providers - who will require ELC capacity for students who are parents - as well as larger public sector employers.
Potential for an Enhanced Role for Childminders
There are around 5,600 childminders in Scotland, caring for over 31,000 children.
We know that in many local authority areas, childminders are entering into partnerships to deliver the 600 hours of entitlement, particularly for the eligible two year olds. When local authorities contract with childminders they do so within their own quality assurance frameworks.
The Scottish Government consider that childminders and community childminders have a potential key role in expanded funded provision, especially for younger children.
This could be through, for example, increased use of 'blended models of ELC' which involve children spending time in both a nursery setting and with a childminder. We will explore such approaches as part of the programme of delivery model trials.
As part of our work to strengthen the role of childminders we are working with partners to develop and publish in autumn 2017 a new learning and development pathway for childminders to ensure best practice in the profession.
Question 10: What more can we do to promote and support the involvement of childminders in the entitlement to ELC? What are the barriers, if any, to becoming a childminder? How can we ensure quality while preserving the unique value of home-based care?
Supporting Parents and Carers to Work Flexibly
Parents and carers must also be supported to work flexibly. The Scottish Government will continue to ensure that its own recruitment, promotion and 'managed move' practices set an example for the rest of the public sector in terms of flexible working approaches. By the end of 2016, we will commission a Flexible Jobs Index for Scotland to determine the availability of flexible jobs in Scotland.
The recently published Small Business Survey  suggests that there is considerable scope for improvements in the flexible working offer Small Medium-sized Enterprises ( SMEs) make to their employees: over one quarter of firms offered none of the key flexible working arrangements to their staff.
To explore how to address this in 2017 we will pilot mentoring on flexi-recruitment issues for SMEs from an expert third party.