4. Views On Which Specific Principles of ELC Models Should Be Prioritised Within The Programme of Trials
The Scottish Government acknowledges that different models of ELC provision might be better at delivering different outcomes. The principles they would like to see provision based on might include providing quality, flexibility, fairness, promoting parental choice, accessibility, integration with other services, value for money, integration with home life, preparation of children for school, enabling work, addressing the differing needs of children at different ages and stages and sustainability, but there may be many more which others can identify.
Question 2: Which specific principles of ELC models should be prioritised within our programme of trials?
4.1 This question also attracted a significant volume of response with 64 respondents identifying what they considered should be the specific principles of ELC models to be prioritised within the trials.
4.2 Many respondents took their lead from the principles suggested in the discussion paper, however it became clear from responses that words such as "quality" and "fairness" held different meanings for different respondents. Suggestions were made that further development of understanding and clarity over terminology may be helpful:
"Our view is that the term 'quality' needs to be unpacked and broken down to ensure that we have a means of understanding what 'quality provision' may mean for children of different ages and stages and also what quality provision means for families across the full spectrum in terms of socio-economic circumstances" (Representative Body).
Priority principles most frequently identified
4.3 Four specific principles of ELC models were identified most frequently as requiring prioritisation within the proposed programme of trials:
- Quality of provision
- Flexibility of provision
- Child-centred approaches
- Parental choice over provision
4.4 Trialling a range of settings and patterns of provision was recommended in order to cater for parents' variety of work, training and education commitments. Respondents also urged that parental choice be incorporated as a priority into the trials, manifested in choice of hours taken up and choice of settings where provision can be accessed:
"Parents should be able to choose an ELC setting (subject to meeting appropriate nationally agreed quality criteria) which best suits their child, family, working circumstance and locality, rather than local authorities choosing where to fund 1140 hours. In addition, local authority "capping" of partner provider funded places must be removed to ensure the family's choice of early years setting is maintained and available to them" (Representative Body).
4.5 Several respondents specified that trials should incorporate blended approaches and "jigsaw models" in order to provide the wrap-around care which offers most flexibility to parents.
4.6 Three respondents called for flexibility to include that of providers being free to trial operating models which work best for local needs.
4.7 Respondents from a wide range of sectors re-iterated their recommendation for priority to be given to provision appropriate to the age and stage of each child. Some emphasised in particular the different needs of two year olds in comparison to older children receiving ELC, with some respondents arguing that staff will require an in-depth understanding of attachment and the importance of consistency and continuity for young children:
"Addressing the need of 2, 3 and 4 year olds is most definitely a priority, having 2 years mixing with older children is causing difficulties and there needs to be proper facilities for these younger children not just giving them places in already established 3-4 year old centres, their needs and development are very different and need to be addressed properly" (Local Government Nursery).
4.8 Two respondents called for a rights-based approach to underpin the ELC models to be trialled, in keeping with United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the indicators within SHANARRI.
4.9 A repeated theme was to ensure that no matter the setting, additional support for learning should be provided with specialist services integrated within the ELC framework. Provision for children with deafness was highlighted in addition to specialist provision for children for whom English is not their first language.
Priority principles raised less frequently
4.10 Principles which were mentioned by fewer respondents were:
- Fairness/equity of access
- Integration between services
- Holistic partnership approach with parents
4.11 For some respondents, fairness of access in the forms of focusing trials on closing the inequality gap, removing barriers to access and ensuring equitable access across all areas of Scotland including rural locations, was paramount.
4.12 Others recommended that trials prioritise the principle of integration of services to provide a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach which includes the private sector. The overall aim was stated as ensuring families have access to a range of appropriate services and support at the time they need this.
4.13 Engaging parents in a partnership approach which straddles ELC and home settings was an emerging theme. Terms such as "family learning" and "home learning environment" were used in this context and recommended as a priority for ELC.
4.14 Several respondents expressed their support for ensuring ELC trialled models are based on robust evidence:
"Development of provision should take cognisance of research on best outcomes for children, particular attention should be focussed on concerns regarding very young children placed in group care for extended days" (Local Government body).
"Parents do need choice as one size does not fit all, families have differing care and education needs. Work needs to be done to find out what the majority of parent/carers need then trials should focus on putting services together that address these needs" (Voluntary Organisation).
4.15 A few emphasised the need to put in place a comprehensive evaluation framework to analyse the impact of the trials. One local government respondent recommended that common monitoring data across settings are adopted along with an agreed baseline.
4.16 Less frequently identified as specific principles of ELC models to be prioritised within the programme of trials were:
- Educated workforce including qualified teachers leading ELC provision.
- Innovation in approaches to expand the workforce including flexible, part-time working patterns.
- Ensuring sustainability of provision informs and underpins ELC models. The requirement for adequate funding based on real costs for partner providers was a recurring recommendation. One registered childminder raised further challenges of bureaucracy:
"Remember this needs to be a sustainable practice whether it is in a nursery or in a childminder's own home....childminders have fewer children and their overheads are just as complex as a nursery, please make sure that the pay scale reflects that and do not tar everyone with the same brush .... remember childminders largely work on their own so making whatever system is put in place red tape heavy will not work as they have their own families to care for."
- Value for money was raised by a few respondents but without a shared view on what this means, and with some identifying potential tension in balancing value for money with ensuring quality provision.
- A few respondents requested that the principle of transparency should underpin ELC models. In particular, they urged that local authorities adopt genuine partnership approaches when working with partner providers.
- One regulator emphasised the need for trials to take cognisance of other related Scottish Government policies, such as the Play Strategy.
Implications for proposed trials
4.17 The four main principles that respondents indicated they would like to see ELC provision be based upon were quality of provision; flexibility of provision; child-centred approaches; and parental choice over provision. This suggests that trials require to be highly innovative, offering a variety of setting and flexible patterns of ELC, possibly involving a range of providers working in partnership clusters, with focus on transitions between settings and blended provision packages.