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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 19 December 2018

Agenda: Iolaire Disaster, Portfolio Question Time, Mental Health Services, Early Learning and Childcare Expansion, European Union Citizens (Contribution to Scotland), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Water Charges (Single-person Households)


Early Learning and Childcare Expansion

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a statement by Maree Todd on early learning and childcare expansion. The minister will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


The Minister for Children and Young People (Maree Todd)

We have made an ambitious commitment to offer every child in Scotland the opportunity to grow up in a country where they feel loved, safe and respected. Every one of them deserves the chance to reach their potential and this Government is dedicated to achieving that aim. That is why we have committed to almost doubling the funded early learning and childcare entitlement for all three and four-year-olds, and for eligible two-year-olds, from August 2020.

At the heart of the expansion is a focus on quality. The earliest years of life are crucial for every child. Evidence tells us that if our early learning and childcare offer is to give children the best start in life and to contribute to closing the poverty-related attainment gap, it has to be of high quality.

Yesterday, we launched the funding follows the child approach, which is underpinned by a national standard that is clearly focused on driving high-quality ELC for our children and their families. Our approach is provider neutral. That means that all providers who deliver the funded hours, regardless of whether they are in the public, private or third sector, including childminders, will have to meet the same national standard.

That provides reassurance to parents and carers that any setting offering the funded hours can offer their child a high-quality ELC experience. The funding follows the child approach places the choice in parents’ hands, enabling them to access their child’s funded entitlement from any provider that meets the national standard, has a place available and is willing to enter a contract with the local authority.

High-quality experiences for our children are underpinned by strong, positive and trusting relationships with the staff with whom they spend time in early learning and childcare. The national standard underlines our commitment to ensuring that the workforce is professional, dedicated and skilled, and to ensuring that practitioners receive the support that they deserve and are empowered to develop their practice in innovative ways.

We have engaged extensively with the sector, particularly with providers, to finalise the details of the funding follows the child approach. I am grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to the consultation or to attend one of our engagement events.

The national standard has the full backing of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—both central and local government are fully committed to the new approach. ELC provision must be financially sustainable, so that providers across all sectors are willing and able to deliver the funded hours. The Scottish Government and COSLA agreed a multiyear funding package that enables the payment of sustainable rates to funded providers and ensures that each child’s funded entitlement is free at the point of access.

The package includes funding to enable providers to pay all the childcare workers who deliver the funded entitlement at least the real living wage. That commitment represents the first step from our Government to ensure that our contracts and agreements reflect our fair work first principles in practice. The hourly funding rates that are received by private and third sector providers will significantly increase as a result of the funding deal.

The expansion of funded ELC also offers us an opportunity to ensure that no child in ELC goes hungry because of their background, and it supports the development of healthy eating habits at a crucial stage. That is why, from August 2020, every child who attends a funded ELC session will be provided with a free meal. The funding to deliver that commitment is additional to the sustainable rate for funded providers. Local authorities will ensure that there is transparency for funded providers as to the funding being provided to deliver the free meals.

The expansion provides an opportunity to transform the way that we deliver early learning and childcare. Playing, learning and having fun outdoors help to improve wellbeing and resilience, increase health through physical activity and provide children with the opportunity to develop a lifelong appreciation of the natural world. The national standard ensures that all children who receive funded early learning and childcare, whether they are in rural settings or right in the heart of our cities, will have access to outdoor play during the session.

In collaboration with the Care Inspectorate and Inspiring Scotland, we will publish “Out to Play”—an online resource with practical guidance on creating outdoor play experiences in early learning and childcare and advice on how to access and create safe, nurturing and inspiring outdoor learning experiences. I commend its publication to Parliament as an important step towards increasing outdoor play and learning in early learning and childcare.

Although quality is at the heart of our approach, we know that flexibility for families is a welcome element of the expansion. We intend to introduce ahead of August 2020 legislative changes to increase the maximum length of a funded ELC session to 10 hours. We are confident that we can demonstrate that providers are able to offer a high-quality experience over longer sessions, and the national standard will offer opportunities for us to measure that over time through Care Inspectorate quality evaluations. However, we will monitor the impact of that change to ensure that there is no detrimental impact on children’s wellbeing and outcomes.

Providers from all parts of the sector will be vital to the delivery of our ambitions. Our new funding follows the child approach will ensure that local authorities assess the potential impacts of their policy and investment decisions on the sustainability of other ELC providers in their area, including in relation to the recruitment of high-quality staff. We are also working closely with Scotland Excel to ensure that the processes for becoming a funded provider are simplified and to reduce the burden on settings and commissioners.

Today, I announce a comprehensive delivery support plan for providers, which will support the financial sustainability of providers, strengthen partnership working, support workforce recruitment and training and improve communication with parents and carers. As part of that, we will work with the Care Inspectorate to recruit additional improvement advisors. They will identify settings that are already offering funded hours and support them to meet the quality evaluation criteria in the national standard if they are not currently meeting them.

In order to encourage meaningful and genuine partnership working, we will build on the work of the ELC partnership forum with a summit for providers and local authorities to showcase good practice and partnership working. That will further support the delivery of high-quality ELC for all our children.

The plan will play a key role in ensuring that everyone who is included in the expansion to 1,140 hours feels valued, respected and included in the ambitions that we have for the youngest children in our society.

Local delivery of the expansion is now well under way in communities across Scotland. Local authorities reported in September that more than 11,000 children are benefiting from access to more than 600 hours of early learning and childcare, including 1,100 eligible two-year-olds. I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of settings that already provide 1,140 hours and I have been thrilled to hear of the positive benefits that children and their parents are experiencing.

This is an ambitious and challenging transformation programme. We need robust and transparent governance arrangements to ensure that the expansion is delivered on time. As I said to the Parliament in October, we have established a joint delivery board to oversee progress towards delivery of the expanded entitlement, which I co-chair with Councillor Stephen McCabe, my counterpart at COSLA. The board received its first update on local authority progress when it met in Greenock on 31 October.

The Improvement Service is working with local authorities to collate, twice a year, data on workforce recruitment, creation of new capacity and uptake. I confirm to the Parliament today that the first report is now available on the Scottish Government website. The report shows that we are on track to deliver the expansion.

However, there are no grounds for complacency. We must continue to work together to ensure that the capacity and capability that we need to deliver the expansion are in place across Scotland.

Our funding follows the child approach and the national standard that underpins it present us with a fantastic opportunity to show the importance of early learning and childcare in improving outcomes for our children and families. We have ambitious aspirations to ensure that our children can realise their full potential and we hope that, by prioritising high-quality early learning and childcare and unlocking choice, we will ensure that all our children have opportunities to learn, play and flourish.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The minister will now take questions on the issues raised in her statement. I will allow around 20 minutes for questions.

Alison Harris (Central Scotland) (Con)

I thank the minister for advance sight of her statement. We welcome the national standard and the adoption of the Scottish Conservatives’ provider neutral principle.

Anyone listening to the minister’s statement might think that all is going well. In truth, the roll-out of the policy is in trouble. The goalposts are constantly shifting and the policy needs better governance.

As the minister said, the roll-out is well under way in communities across Scotland. In the light of what many providers have told us, will she say why it has taken until now to provide a delivery support plan for providers?

Also, the operating guidance that the Government published yesterday says that if private providers are to receive funding for provision, they must adhere to the national standard while making

“a commitment to work within the parameters of the local authority’s model of delivery”.

That translates to one national standard and 32 local standards—or total inconsistency. What concrete reassurance can the minister give to private providers that by adhering to the national standard they will not continue to be excluded and their businesses will not suffer?

Maree Todd

I welcome the Conservative Party’s support for the expansion; indeed, I am delighted to receive it.

I assure the member that there is strong governance around the expansion. We published information on the website today that shows progress on delivery. As she mentioned in her question, 11,000 children are already benefiting from the expansion, and everywhere I go where a child is receiving 1,140 hours I hear stories and see for myself the benefits. There is undoubtedly a profound impact on the ability of such children to fulfil their potential.

On adherence to the national standard, let me be absolutely clear: by 2020, when the expanded entitlement is fully rolled out, the only standard to which funded providers will have to adhere will be the national standard, which was developed with the support of partner providers and with full commitment from COSLA. That is the only standard; there will be no extras.

As I said at the meeting that we held with partner providers at which concern was expressed that extra standards might be applied, I will be grateful if partner providers and members of all parties contact me and give me information if they hear that that is occurring.

We recognise the scale of the challenge ahead in building the actions in the programme that we have committed to, and it is undoubtedly an ambitious programme that will be challenging to deliver. That is why, with today’s publication of the delivery support plan for providers, we have put in place a number of measures to support the financial sustainability of providers—100 percent business rate relief is already in place. Through the multiyear funding, I expect the contribution that goes to partner providers to increase over the next year, and again in 2020.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

I thank the minister for early sight of her statement. The national standards are generally welcome, but the key concern about the policy has always been about how it will be delivered in practice, and, in particular, how enough qualified staff will be recruited.

I have two questions. The standards for childminders who provide funded hours say that they must begin training, or at least have unsuccessfully applied for training, within five years. Surely that means that some childminders could be providing funded hours for anywhere between five and 10 years without actually having qualified. Is that really acceptable?

Yesterday, Unison published figures for early years workers in training, which clearly show that we will not achieve the required numbers in time, and the minister’s own document, far from showing that delivery is on track, revealed that recruitment is already 17 per cent behind target after only five months. What new and additional measures does she plan to take in order to recruit the workforce that we need?

Maree Todd

The requirement for training for childminders is proportionate, given the number of children with whom they work. It is very reasonable. Childminders and all partner providers worked very closely with the Government to develop the national standard, and I believe that it will deliver quality. I can assure the member of that.

In terms of the workforce, we recognise the challenges of recruiting the additional required staff. It is difficult, but it is achievable. As I said, the delivery board meetings have assured us that we are on track to deliver what we need to.

Iain Gray

You are not on track.

Maree Todd

I can assure the member that we absolutely are on track. Let me reiterate the many things that we have put in place to ensure that we are on track with workforce. In 2017, we funded the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to deliver 650 extra higher national certificate courses and we have 400 additional graduate-level places, although we expect most practitioners to become qualified through vocational on-the-job training routes such as Scottish vocational qualifications. In addition, the uptake of early learning and childcare modern apprenticeships has increased significantly in 2017-18—the figure is up 21 per cent on the previous year’s figure, which is more than double what we anticipated.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to open questions. Could we have concise questions and answers please?

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

When will providers know what the increase in the hourly funding rates will be?

Maree Todd

The agreement on the hourly funding rates will be agreed between the local authorities and the partner providers, so the local authorities will announce the funding rates. A huge amount of work is going on nationally to establish what is required to provide sustainable and transparent funding. The funding rates will increase over the course of this expansion to a fully sustainable rate in 2020.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

In light of the comments that the minister made in her statement about extending parental choice, what discussions has she had with the independent schools sector about how many partnership places will be available in such schools in session 2019-20.

Maree Todd

The member will be aware that this expansion was targeted to happen first in the areas that need it most. I will check with my officials what communication there has been with the independent schools sector. Generally, the expansion has been in areas of high deprivation first and has favoured local authority expansion initially. I assure the member that independent schools can apply to become funded partners—all they need do to become one is meet the national standard.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I have had contact with partner nurseries in my constituency, such as Lochview children’s nursery in Gartcosh, about the roll-out of 1,140 hours and their difficulties in dealing with the council. Will the minister explain the importance of strong communication with partner nurseries in order to achieve that bold and ambitious target? What actions is the Government taking to ensure that local authorities engage fully with them throughout the process?

Maree Todd

I am aware that there are challenges in relationships between partner providers and local authorities in a number of areas of the country. I make it absolutely clear that we expect local authorities and providers to work together meaningfully and in genuine partnership to deliver the expansion in early learning and childcare. In August, the Scottish Government wrote to local authority directors of education to highlight the key role for local authority leaders in promoting meaningful and genuine partnership working and building trust, strengthening the communication with providers and encouraging the development of networks for sharing good practice.

Jenny Marra

In her statement, the minister said:

“The package includes funding to enable providers to ... deliver ... at least the real living wage.”

Presumably, many staff will be paid more, as commensurate with their qualifications. What ratio of nursery teachers to other qualified staff does her funding package allow for?

Maree Todd

Sorry, but could you give me the question again?

Jenny Marra

Basically, how many nursery teachers does your funding package allow for?

Maree Todd

That will depend on local circumstances; it will depend on what is required in the local area.

I am glad that the member welcomes the living wage accreditation. The living wage commitment is one of the best parts of the entire expansion. In 2016, when we did the groundwork on how many people would benefit from the living wage, we estimated that up to 8,000 staff currently working in partner provider settings would benefit from the commitment.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I welcome the minister’s assurances that high-quality childcare is underpinned by professional, dedicated and skilled staff, but some providers in Lothian have expressed concern that there is a lack of funding available for training staff who are over 25. They say that the funding to put people in that age group through training is a lot less than the funding for those under 25. What is the minister doing to attract those who might change career and move into early learning and childcare? Clearly, given the challenges that we face in delivering the policy, that area requires specific focus.

Maree Todd

I assure the member that there is ample capacity in the education system for everyone who wants to enter during the expansion.

We have changed the amount of money that we pay to older entrants to modern apprenticeships; we are also working to remove the barriers for older entrants. We are well aware that attracting career changers is a very important part of achieving the workforce that we want. Many parents who have experienced the joy of raising their own children want to contribute to the sector afterwards.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

The Scottish Government figures that were published today show that local authority nurseries have hired 18 per cent fewer additional staff than forecast and that there were 4 per cent fewer childminders between 2017 and 2018. How does the Government plan to address that, particularly given that there is now evidence that, because of the wage rates, local authority nurseries are gaining staff from expensive private nurseries?

Maree Todd

Our early data shows that we are on target to deliver the required workforce. Interestingly, the data shows that there are more children in placements than we had anticipated there would be at this point. Therefore, despite the workforce being slightly under the expected levels, the number of children receiving 1,140 hours of childcare is higher than we had anticipated.

The reduction in the number of childminders was largely down to a drop in the number of inactive childminders. There are more childminders registered in order to deliver the policy.

On the third point, which was about local authorities attracting staff from partner providers, we and COSLA have made it clear to local authorities that they must aim to recruit internally first. In assessing the capacity that is available in their entire local authority area, they have to be careful not to cause disruption by taking staff for one area and causing a shortage in another. They are working carefully to ensure that they can recruit internally the staff that they need to deliver the expansion.

Gil Paterson (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

The summary statistics for schools in Scotland, which were published last week, showed an impressive near-universal uptake of funded early learning and childcare among three and four-year-olds but only a slightly increase in uptake from last year among eligible two-year-olds. What action will the Scottish Government take to increase the uptake among eligible two-year-olds in the coming year?

Maree Todd

The member asks a very important question. Ensuring that those who will benefit most get early access to high-quality, funded ELC is key to realising the full benefits of this expansion. The joint agreement with local authorities gave them an ambitious target of 64 per cent for two-year-olds. We have a way to go with that. The delivery board data that we looked at showed that we were ahead of what we anticipated in the recruitment of two-year-olds, but the member is right that there is more work to be done. The children and young people improvement collaborative is working with nine local authority areas in multi-agency teams to address those barriers. We will share the outputs from that improvement practicum right across Scotland and consider other ways to support local authorities in their work on the entitlement for two-year-olds.

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

I am a bit confused. Nursery businesses in my constituency are being asked to deliver 1,140 hours in the new year and have been told that they will receive a rate of £4.08, while the local authority’s own independent review of fair funding found that the sustainable rate was £5.35. How can the minister expect those businesses to survive until 2020 with such a discrepancy?

Maree Todd

I am aware of that situation and I can confirm that we are substantially increasing the level of investment across the sector through the multiyear funding deal that we agreed with COSLA in April, including supporting the payment of sustainable rates to funded providers. I expect to see hourly rates increase significantly across the country.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

My question relates to Oliver Mundell’s question. I have raised with the minister the issue of Sparklers nursery, which is still waiting to hear from Dumfries and Galloway Council what rate it will be paid once the 1,140 hours provision is rolled out in the town of Annan. Can she give us any more detail about that specific local authority? If local authorities are properly funded but fail to pass on sustainable rates to partner providers, will the Government intervene to force them to pay such rates?

Maree Todd

My officials have been in contact with that local authority. Many local authorities are already using the additional resource available in 2018-19 to increase the rates that are paid to funded providers and further increases are expected next year as the transition towards the full sustainable rates for roll-out of 1,140 hours from August 2020 continues. Scotland Excel is working closely with providers and local authorities to develop technical guidance to support local authorities to set sustainable rates for providers from 2020 and, in the period from 2020, funded providers in the private or third sector offering this as part of the local phasing programme. Let me be absolutely clear: we expect local authorities to set rates locally that reflect their current assessment of a sustainable rate.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I have time for the final two questions if the first one is not overly long.

Johann Lamont (Glasgow) (Lab)

I will not take that personally, Presiding Officer. The national standard states that the real living wage will be paid to all childcare workers delivering the funded entitlement. Would ensuring that all providers are living wage accredited not be a more robust means of upholding the fair work principles?

Maree Todd

As Johann Lamont knows, the Scottish Government absolutely supports and encourages all employers to become living wage accredited. I would not disagree.

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

How important are childminders to the delivery process and how will the joint delivery board ensure that childminding communities will be fully engaged in that process as we move forward? [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Excuse me, Ms Adamson. Will members please stop having cross-bench conversations? Ms Adamson, please ask your question again, because I certainly did not hear it.

Clare Adamson

Thank you, Presiding Officer. How will childminders be involved in the delivery process as we move forward, and how will the joint delivery board ensure that they will be fully engaged in the consultation process?

Maree Todd

The Scottish Government has very good relationships with the Scottish Childminding Association, and I am delighted that our parental survey indicates considerable demand from parents. We have seen an increase in the number of childminders who are registered to deliver the funded entitlement. I expect them to play a vital part in its delivery—particularly for eligible two-year-olds.