This report looks at the existing models of childcare in rural and island areas, the challenges parents face accessing childcare, and challenges providers face delivering childcare.
This research explores the challenges of accessing and providing consistent and affordable school age childcare in rural and island areas of Scotland. It builds on recent Scottish Government research and policy focused on childcare, employment, and economic development.
The aim of this research project is to provide a holistic view of school age childcare (for ages 4 to 14) in rural and island areas of Scotland. To gain a deeper understanding of the topic, research questions focus on the current landscape of childcare in rural and island areas, challenges of parents in accessing school age childcare, and challenges providers face in delivering such services. Research also explores what opportunities exist to address these challenges, and outlines recommendations the Scottish Government can take forward.
Accessing school age childcare in Scotland's rural and island areas
Scottish Government commissioned this research to explore how to address the challenges of providing consistent, affordable, school age childcare (SAC) in rural and island areas. This is in line with 2021 policy objectives from the Scottish Government to provide wraparound school age childcare across Scotland, meaning care before and after school throughout the year, as well as over school holidays.
Current and known challenges in accessing school age childcare for parents and carers mainly focus on lack of options and availability, lack of flexibility in models of childcare, challenges around affordability and cost, inadequate public transport, lack of suitable facilities, low consistency in demand, and challenges recruiting, training and retaining staff.
This report builds on recent Scottish Government research into school age childcare, out of school care, the provision of childcare within rural farming families, as well as research on statutory provision of childcare for 3 and 4 year olds. It also develops insights from annual Care Inspectorate data, and from ongoing pilots for flexible childcare. Compared to other research, this project takes a more specific qualitative look at provision for school age childcare, and expands on insights around the specific challenges of accessing and providing childcare in rural and island areas.
Background and policy context
There have been several policy commitments made in recent years by the Scottish Government relating to the provision of school age childcare.
In the 2021 Programme for Government, the Scottish Government stated a commitment to building a system of wraparound school age childcare before and after school, and during the holidays where those on the lowest incomes will pay nothing. In the same year, the Scottish Government expanded its funded early learning and childcare (ELC) support for all 3 and 4 year olds in Scotland, and eligible 2 year olds. This expansion entitles parents to 1,140 hours of funded childcare per year, and has had a high uptake, increasing the number of children accessing funded childcare places, as well as impacting demand on local authority, voluntary, and private providers. This current research addresses some of the wider impacts this has had on childcare providers.
As part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge 2022/2023 to 2025/2026, the Scottish Government committed to providing the same educational opportunities for children and young people living on Scotland's islands as those living in mainland Scotland. As this commitment includes childcare provision, this current research provides insights into the barriers to providing equal childcare provision in island areas.
In acknowledgment that 'a fully-functioning childcare sector is a pivotal part of Scotland's national economic infrastructure', the Scottish Government has included, in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation published in 2022, a commitment to develop wraparound childcare and make it accessible to families on the lowest incomes.
In addition to these childcare-centred policies and economic strategy, the Scottish Government is committed to reducing the gap between male and female full-time hourly earnings through the National Performance Framework. As 'availability of high quality, affordable, and flexible childcare is a central factor in enabling women to participate fully in the labour market', investigating challenges to accessing and providing childcare is a key approach to address and achieve this.
Aside from government policy, rural and island areas of Scotland have, like the rest of the country, been heavily impacted by social and economic factors caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This continues to affect childcare provision in rural and island areas, which we discuss in our findings chapters.
In this context, this research project explores models of, challenges to, and potential opportunities for childcare in rural and island areas. This is detailed below.
Research aim and research questions
The aim of this research project is to provide a holistic view of school age childcare (for ages 4 to 14) in rural and island areas in Scotland, addressing the following research questions:
- What models of childcare provision, formal and informal, exist in rural and island areas of Scotland, and how do they differ across regions?
- What are the challenges for providing school age childcare in rural areas?
- What are the challenges for accessing school age childcare in rural and island areas?
- What are the drivers behind families' choice of school age childcare, including informal care?
- How might challenges faced by rural and island childcare providers be addressed?
- What opportunities exist to help sustain and support these businesses and organisations throughout the year, including their ability to provide wraparound provision?
- What can be learned from existing pilot projects and research into rural childcare providers?
- Where could future pilot projects be established, and what model would these pilots follow?
The research was conducted by Snook. The research was overseen by a Research Advisory Group.
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