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National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare


Section 8: What are the key elements of quality in a setting?

8.1 What do we mean by quality?

Research has shown that high quality ELCC services are crucial in promoting children's development and learning and, in the long term, enhancing their educational chances. "High quality is paramount to achieving positive outcomes for children, and increasing the amount, range and flexibility of early learning and childcare will not be at the expense of quality."[44] Therefore while the Act increases the amount and flexibility of ELCC, this will not be at the expense of quality, which remains paramount. Throughout this document we have consistently put the experiences of children first. We have to remember that children are the people who have most to gain from a high quality setting.

8.2 What does quality mean for children?

Young children are a discriminating group of learners. They are able to choose what they want to do, are keen and eager to learn, particularly when their own interests are being acknowledged. They are able to choose who they play with and take enjoyment from everyday experiences. We know from research that the level of involvement a child shows in their play and learning can be a key sign of the quality and effectiveness of what is being provided and tells us a great deal. "This level of involvement is linked to their intrinsic need to explore, and shows in their motivation and concentration."[45]

Putting the guidance into practice

  • How do you make sure children are settled and enthusiastic on arrival at your setting?
  • How well do children talk about and discuss their learning?
  • How do you plan your day to know and understand what children are in the process of learning?
  • How could you adapt experiences to help the child more?

8.3 What does quality mean for practitioners?

What a practitioner actually does is a key element in what makes a difference to children. Practitioners often find it easier to talk about children's actual experiences and sometimes have difficulty in talking about how to describe and evaluate how children have been engaged in learning. Research helps us to get a wider understanding of what constitutes good practice in quality. We know from case studies from The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education (EPPE) project research[46] that the following areas have a particular beneficial effect on quality for young children:

  • The quality of adult-child verbal interactions - This is also called shared sustained thinking. It is when the adult and child work together to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate an activity. It is when the practitioner asks the I wonder if we… type of question.
  • Initiation of activities - The extent to which staff members extend child-initiated interactions is important and includes interventions to extend the child's thinking. It is allowing children to take the lead and not providing adult directed activities which have little meaning for children.
  • Knowledge and understanding of the curriculum - Practitioners' knowledge of the curriculum is vital. It is about taking on board the relevance and breadth of the curriculum and providing experiences which are developmentally appropriate.
  • Knowledge about how young children learn - The knowledge of child development underpins sound practice. The most effective pedagogy combines both "teaching" (in its widest sense) and providing freely chosen yet potentially instructive play activities.
  • Adult skills to support children - Qualified staff in the most effective settings provide children with curriculum related activities and they encourage children to engage in challenging play.
  • There were more intellectual gains for children in centres that encouraged high levels of parent engagement in their children's learning - The most effective settings share child-related information between parents and staff. Parents are often involved in decision making about their child's learning programme.

These characteristics of quality are endorsed in the recent paper from GUS. They particularly comment on how quality is related to outcomes for children. One of the key messages for their research is that "the most important components of quality that support positive outcomes are: the processes of relationships and interactions, and care and support and the structural aspects of staff/qualifications and training"[47]. In relation to working with children under 3 they note that "the nature of relationships with adults providing care is particularly important"[48].

Putting the guidance into practice

  • Do you recognise the areas above? Take a moment to reflect on your own situation?
  • How do you know if you are delivering a high quality service?
  • Are there areas where you feel positive? Try to describe why. And conversely, are there areas where you would welcome some discussion and support to make changes?
  • What changes do you think you could make tomorrow or next week to bring about some improvements?

8.4 Quality matters

Education Scotland in conjunction with the University of Stirling held a seminar in February 2013 to discuss the relationship of the quality of provision for children and their outcomes and what makes the difference for children. This was based on the recent publication from Education Scotland, Making the Difference: The impact of staff qualifications on children's learning in early years[49]. There was agreement that what early years practitioners need to know included:

  • Professional knowledge and putting this in to practice makes a difference to the experiences for children from birth to early primary school. Practitioners need to be self-aware, know what they don't know but be willing to find out, experiment and evaluate.
  • Establishing a safe, secure and inspiring physical environment for learning indoors and out of doors, with spaces for children to play together and to be alone or with a few others, and materials and resources that supports creativity and learning.
  • Ensuring high quality learning experiences for children where staff must have an understanding of early years methodology.
  • Those in leadership roles in early years establishments need to create a culture which values staff and supports practitioners in improving their skills and knowledge.

Putting the guidance into practice

  • From your own experience to what extent would you agree with the above statements?
  • What areas do you feel are most important? Is there anything you could do to affect changes in practice in your setting?
  • Discuss the opportunities you have to improve your knowledge and skills with a colleague. What would you really see as a priority for you?

8.5 Quality assurance and improvement

The current national frameworks for early learning and childcare are Pre-birth to three: Positive Outcomes for Scotland's Children and Families[50]; Curriculum for Excellence[51]; the National Care Standards[52]; and Child at the Centre[53].

There has in recent years been a change in emphasis to self-evaluation, quality assurance and improvement to ensure that high quality provision meets the needs of individual children in a wide range of settings.

Self-evaluation is a key aspect of improvement and is best when it is a continuous process with all staff in the setting involved. When the perceptions and views of all participants are given status and acknowledgement this leads to better reflection and honest, open debate about what needs to improve, how to improve and the benefits of actions taken. A skilled leader or manager is key to engaging not only staff but parents and children in the improvement agenda. It is helpful to look inwards, outwards and forward to make sustained improvement.

Local authorities have a duty to secure improvement in all their settings, including those in the private and third sector with whom they have entered into partnership to deliver funded places. Support for improvement is also available through third sector organisations such as National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), CALA Childcare Solutions, Scottish Pre-school Playgroups Association (SPPA) for third and private sector providers, and Scottish Child-minding Association (SCMA) who particularly support and provide training for childminders.

8.6 External quality assurance and regulation

Early learning and childcare in Scotland is currently underpinned by a dual quality assurance system, with Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland focusing on different aspects of provision using, in the case of Care Inspectorate, National Care Standards and for Education Scotland, National Quality Indicators from Child at the Centre[54].

The Care Inspectorate regulates and inspects childminders and daycare of children services that require to be registered under the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 and its associated Regulations. Any service that cares for children for more than 2 hours per day and 5 days per year is regulated by the Care Inspectorate, whether it is run by a private business, local authority or voluntary organisation, including:

  • Nurseries.
  • Playgroups.
  • Children and family centres.
  • Crèches.
  • Out of school clubs.

Since August 2013, in response to providing a more coordinated approach to inspection activity, Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate now often visit early learning and childcare centres together and complete a shared inspection. The aim is to provide a more coherent set of messages for the service and service users. This approach is being developed to minimise unnecessary scrutiny and provide external assurance to stakeholders about the quality of provision and information about what they need to do to improve. In May 2014, a shared statement was issued nationally by both organisations to support the development and expansion of early learning and childcare related to the Act. This statement has a focus on building capacity and ensuring that the increased provision of ELCC will still be of a high quality[55].

ELCC practitioners who have a teaching qualification are required to register with the General Teaching Council of Scotland (GTCS). All other ELCC practitioners are required to register with the Scottish Social Service Council (SSSC). The SSSC is responsible for registering people who work in social services and regulating their education and training. This includes workers in daycare of children services for whom registration is a requirement as legislated for within the Regulation of Care Act (Scotland) (2001).

Childminders and foster carers are not required to register with the SSSC.

The SSSC also undertakes the functions of the sector skills council, Skills for Care and Development, which includes workforce planning and development with employers for other groups of workers, including childminders and foster carers.

This national body is responsible for registering staff who work in daycare of children and social services and for regulating their education and training. It has an important role in ensuring the regulation, training and education of the early years workforce and seeks to promote continued education and training.

Find out more:

Information on the regulatory functions of Care inspectorate can be found at: http://www.careinspectorate.com/

Education Scotland at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/inspectionandreview/index.asp

SSSC at: http://www.sssc.uk.com

General Teaching Council of Scotland at: http://www.gtcs.org.uk/home/home.aspx