Providing quality early learning and childcare

Entrusting the care of your child to someone else is a stressful moment for any parent, but it’s an essential step for most families. And every parent knows that children benefit hugely from spending time with their grandparents, their friends and other adults. They get to see the world through different eyes, to learn new things, and to visit new places.

Childcare is a vital service - high quality early learning and childcare provides nurturing, stimulating experiences for children that help them to grow and develop. It also helps parents who would like to take up and remain in work or study to balance this with raising their children. Parents want to know that their children will be well cared for, and that the childcare setting they choose is high quality. But what does that mean?

Parents have told us that they want their children to have the best start in life, to be able to fulfil their potential and have safe, nurturing, stimulating environments and enriching experiences. High quality childcare services play a key role in making this aspiration a reality.

For us, a high quality service is one which helps to support children’s early learning and development; boosting their vocabulary and problem-solving skills, helping them to explore and understand the world around them – all through playing and having fun! But we also want to see services that can support children to overcome any disadvantages or barriers they face, and to help families when they need it most. We know that if children get that support in their crucial early years, the benefits can last throughout school.

There are fantastic examples of top quality early learning and childcare provision in nurseries, children’s centres and childminders’ homes across Scotland. And there are devoted early years staff who work hard every day to spark interest and excitement in young minds. But the sector is stretched, and without sufficient investment and support, it’s hard for services to deliver what they want to for our little ones.

We’re pleased to see the Scottish government focusing on the quality of childcare, because while additional funded hours and more flexibility are very welcome for families, this can’t be at the expense of the experience for children. There’s a real opportunity as services expand to make sure we’re providing the best possible learning environments for children – where they can play, sing, listen to stories and make friends.

We think there are some key components of high quality early learning and childcare that we want to see replicated across the country. The foundation is a skilled, well-qualified and experienced workforce, who benefit from high quality initial training and ongoing professional development. Staff need to have the skills and understanding to observe children’s progress, identify any weaknesses in development, and design tailored packages of support for children at risk of falling behind.

Settings also have a wider role in supporting parents and families, especially those experiencing disadvantage. They should develop strong links with other local services which support children and families, and can help families to access the help they need. We also want to see a focus on engagement with parents to help them to develop the skills and confidence to engage in and support their children’s learning at home. So we’re delighted to see plans to invest in the workforce and to support parental engagement as key commitments in the government’s recently published Quality Action Plan, and we’re looking forward to working with government and others to make sure they become a reality.

We all want to see our children grow and flourish, and quality early learning and childcare services can play a big part in supporting their early development. Like our little ones, they need to be nurtured and supported so they can achieve their full potential.