Early learning and childcare (ELC)

Early learning and childcare (ELC) is a generic term used to cover the full range of early education and childcare available in Scotland today. The term early learning and childcare is intended to emphasise that the care and education of very young children are not two separate things. Babies, toddlers and young children learn all the time from their experiences.

ELC settings are all those which offer education and childcare to children up to school age. These include settings known as family centres, day nurseries, nursery schools, nursery classes attached to primary schools, and childminders. ELC settings can be operated by local authorities, private businesses, voluntary sector organisations, and in the case of childminders, self-employed individuals.

The term 'early learning and childcare' was introduced in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. The Act replaced the previous entitlement of up to 475 hours per year of free sessions of pre-school education for 3-5 year olds, with a more flexible increased offer for 3-5 year olds and certain eligible 2 year olds. Parents may also purchase additional hours of ELC for children who have an entitlement, and those who are not yet entitled to free hours. In 2021 the Scottish Government increased further the hours of funded ELC for entitled children from 600 to 1,140 hours per year.

Key documents

  • The Early Years Framework (2008) sets out a vision for early years services in Scotland to ensure that children get ‘the best start in life’.
  • Realising the Ambition: Being Me (2020) is the national practice guidance for early years in Scotland. The guidance covers the period from birth through early childhood into primary education.  
  • Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) builds on the solid foundations developed in the critical years pre-birth to three. Within CfE, children are entitled to a broad general education from age three until the end of S3. The early level of CfE for most children spans the period of time from age three until the end of Primary 1. It supports a smooth transition in learning between ELC and primary school.
  • How good is our early learning and childcare? (2016) provides a suite of quality indicators. These support staff to look inwards, to scrutinise their work and evaluate what is working well for babies, toddlers and young children, and what could be better. The framework is designed to be used to support self-evaluation for self-improvement by practitioners at all levels.

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