3. Views On What The Key Features Of Scotland's ELC Model Should Be
Providing ELC to families has resulted in positive impacts on many areas of their lives such as child development; narrowing the attainment gap; allowing parents to work, train or study; as well as fighting poverty and inequality in communities. The Scottish Government wishes to identify, for the purposes of the proposed trials, which features of the ELC delivery model cannot be compromised on and whether there are additional outcomes not referenced in their discussion paper which the ELC policy should aim to achieve.
Question 1: What should be the key features of Scotland's ELC model?
3.1 This question attracted a substantial volume of response with 64 respondents identifying what they considered should be the features which should not be compromised in the ELC delivery model.
3.2 The three features which were identified most frequently were:
- Flexible provision (33 mentions).
- Qualified workforce (31 mentions).
- Quality of provision (25 mentions).
3.3 Overall, respondents identified priority features which were child-focused; parent-focused; workforce-focused; policy-focused; and focused on consistency across settings. Their responses are outlined in more detail below.
Child-focused priority features
3.4 Nine features were identified which focused on children's experiences of ELC:
Respondents from every sector identified a qualified workforce as essential for Scotland's ELC model. Many respondents specified that initial staff qualification is not sufficient, but the workforce should be continuously updating skills, be monitored and be inspected regularly. Key aspects of this model were envisaged as:
- Teacher qualified and led.
- Robust staff monitoring.
- Continuous self-assessment.
- Reflective approach.
- Accessible professional learning opportunities.
- Flexible/innovative approach to continuous professional development in rural areas.
- Appropriate quality inspection frameworks and regulatory arrangements.
- Staff fully aware of the quality standards expected and indicators for measurement of these.
Quality of provision
Respondents from nine categories identified quality of provision as an essential feature of Scotland's ELC model. A shared belief was:
"The length of time spent at nursery is not equal to the quality of the time spent at nursery" (Local Government Nursery).
Some respondents argued that "quality" as a concept needs further definition. Others, however, identified aspects of quality provision as:
- Qualified staff.
- Accessible staff training.
- Meeting of each child's individual developmental and care needs.
- Properly funded provision.
- Robust regulation.
Quality of physical environment
Respondents across seven sectors identified quality of ELC physical environment as essential with most referring to access to outdoor space (such as woodland; open space) in addition to an appropriate indoor learning environment. One respondent suggested that at least half of children's time should be spent outdoors. Another recommended involvement with the local community (as part of the wider environment) as potentially enhancing quality of the child's experience.
Respondents from six sectors referred to the need for a child-centred approach which was child-driven rather than economically-driven or based on any other stakeholder's needs. They envisaged that under this approach, the day would be designed around individual children's requirements, with care taken to ensure they are not in ELC for longer than is optimum for them; the day would be balanced to cater for their needs; activities would be tailored to cater for individual children's level of social confidence and previous experience; care would be taken to ensure the number of hours per day and the number of settings per day do not impact adversely on the child; and a children's rights approach would be adopted.
Responsive and creative workforce
Six respondent categories were represented amongst those who identified a responsive and creative workforce as a priority for Scotland's ELC model. A recurring view was that the workforce should be capable of adapting to accommodate the requirements of a wide spectrum of children including those with additional needs; those from different cultures; those with disabilities; those with opportunities; and those experiencing disadvantages.
The remaining four child-focused features identified as priority were:
- Play-based learning (7 mentions).
- Appropriate staff to child ratios, particularly for younger children (6 mentions).
- Nurturing environment (5 mentions). One registered childminder remarked:
"Not all children are ready for large group care and giving families the option for a more nurturing small group care should be a goal for all councils across Scotland."
- Staff diversity including gender and ethnicity (1 mention).
Parent-focused priority features
3.5 Five features were identified which focused on parents' requirements:
Respondents across eight sectors considered flexibility of provision for parents to be an essential feature of Scotland's ELC model. They envisaged this as offering parents convenience and accessibility, being available when and where required. Such provision was seen as accommodating and catering for parents' variable work and study patterns in addition to possible ad hoc engagements such as one-off job interviews.
The term "funding to follow the child" was used by several respondents with some emphasising their view that there should be no funding restrictions in order to enable children to attend ELC provision close to, say, their parents place of work.
A few respondents recommended ELC provision which is open all year around and not just in term time. Some commented that one size does not fit all and in rural areas longer hours of provision may be required to cater for parents' lengthier travel times for drop off and pick up. One aspect of flexible provision was therefore envisaged as allowing local authorities to determine patterns of provision which best meet their local needs.
Respondents across seven categories identified parental choice of type of provision as essential. Choices might include: location of provision (including outwith the region); ratio of staff to child (for example where children have special needs and 1:1 provision is required); options of nursery or childminder (particularly in rural areas where travel distances can be greater); number of hours in ELC (without pressure to take up all 30 hours); and private nursery or voluntary provider over local authority provider.
Capacity-building for parents
Respondents across seven categories recommended that some form of capacity-building for parents should be integrated into Scotland's ELC model:
"Parents also want to be supported and to work in partnership with the provider, so parental engagement should be a key element embedded within any model" (Representative body).
Capacity-building was envisaged as involving improving parenting skills; developing effective partnerships with parents; helping parents to enrich their child's home learning environment; integrating with services for families and children with opportunities for parents to engage in family and adult learning; supporting parents into training and employment.
The remaining features identified as priority which are parent-focused were:
- Seamless provision (9 mentions) manifested in local co-ordination and multi-disciplinary working and featuring 7am - 7pm provision which includes blended approaches (with increased recognition or the role child-minders can play in this).
- User-friendly and accessible information on options (2 mentions) which ensure that parents have all the information they need in a variety of formats regarding ELC choices.
Workforce-focused priority features
3.6 Three features were identified which focused on workforce requirements:
- Appropriately remunerated workforce (9 mentions) which reflects the value placed on ELC staff and which will raise their profile and attract high quality applicants to the posts. A well-defined career structure was viewed as important with wider recognition of what the job entails, both during contact time and in planning time.
- Fair funding model (7 mentions) delivered by the Scottish Government with substantial investment in the sector and equitable resources across different settings and providers.
- Sustainable ELC model which allows for forward planning (4 mentions).
Policy-focused priority features
3.7 A recurring theme was that narrowing the attainment gap as an outcome should not be compromised in any future ELC model (12 mentions). Respondents recommended that the model should be evidence-informed (3 mentions) and in-line with:
- GIRFEC (8 mentions)
- National Improvement Framework (2 mentions)
- Curriculum For Excellence (2 mentions)
- SHANARRI well-being indicators (2 mentions)
Priority features focusing on consistency across settings
3.8 A few respondents emphasised what they viewed as the importance of standardisation (3 mentions) across settings in terms of quality, terms and conditions, teacher time per child and regulatory reviews (3 mentions). One local authority remarked:
"In providing Early Learning and Childcare we must ensure that we maintain a quality service for children and families and that this is provided consistently, children should receive the same level of care, learning and quality in all settings."
One respondent recommended that Scotland's ELC model is supported by a common information technology system which will enable common data to be collected and comparisons to be made.
Implications for proposed trials
3.9 The three features of Scotland's ELC model which respondents highlighted as essential were flexible provision; qualified workforce; and quality of provision. Whatever settings, methods of delivery and ELC provision trialled, these three features should, therefore, not be compromised but should be key design features.