Early learning and childcare inspections

  1. ​​​​​Arrangements for inspecting early learning and childcare settings
  2. Being ready for inspection
  3. Briefing for heads of early learning and childcare settings
  4. Guidance on issuing pre-inspection questionnaires
  5. Briefing for parents

1. Arrangements for inspecting early learning and childcare settings

​Education Scotland aims to promote improvement in early learning and childcare settings and successful innovation that enhances children's experiences.

Our inspectors focus on the quality of children's learning and achievement. We have a particular interest in how the setting is developing children's skills and understanding in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing.

We will evaluate how well an early learning and childcare setting is performing in a range of key areas. To support us to do this we will use a few quality indicators (QIs) from 'How good is our early learning and childcare?'.

Partnership working with the Care Inspectorate

We sometimes work with the Care Inspectorate in stand-alone settings.

There may be a Care Inspector as part of the inspection team for stand-alone settings. The arrangements for working together enhances efficiency and joint-working and aims to streamline the processes for settings.

Children and Young People (Scotland) Act: early learning and childcare

Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate will work together to support the development and expansion of early learning and childcare.

We will continue with our current programmes of both individual and shared inspection and evaluation of services for children aged three to school age. From September 2017 we will now also include in our evaluations the quality of provision for specified groups of two year olds. The Care Inspectorate will continue to inspect all daycare and childminding services for children in line with current legislation.

2. Being ready for inspection

Briefing the inspection team on the setting’s view of its improvement through self-evaluation

Our inspections provide the opportunity for early learning and childcare settings to show that they know themselves well and that they are using self-evaluation to focus on improving all the achievements of children in line with Curriculum for Excellence. When self-evaluation evidence is robust and accurate, we use it as part of the inspection evidence. It can also help identify good practice and innovation that we may wish to look at in more detail as part of our continuing engagement after the inspection has been completed.

Before the inspection, the setting is asked to complete, in consultation with the local authority, a brief self-evaluation summary form.

This completed form will act as the basis of discussions with the team on the first day of the inspection, which the inspection team will consider as part of the inspection.

At the start of the inspection the head of setting/manager is invited to use the completed self-evaluation summary form to brief the inspection team on the impact of their approach to improvement through self-evaluation. The setting should set aside up to one hour for this meeting. It is important that they cover outcomes for all children. This meeting will be the start of an ongoing dialogue with the inspection team about the setting's performance and improvement. This dialogue should provide the inspection team with a clear sense of the setting's journey – where they have come from, where they are now and where they want to get to. Time is short and they will need to stick to the high level messages:

  • give a clear account of strengths and aspects for development
  • demonstrate where the setting is improving and show how they know
  • identify the key sources of evidence which underpin their knowledge of the setting's performance and improvement, and make these available
  • show how they prioritise areas for improvement.

Evaluating the setting

The setting will most likely use How good is our early learning and childcare? as part of their self-evaluation. They will probably also use the six-point scale. These evaluations against the six-point scale will be helpful to inspectors.

3. Briefing for heads of early learning and childcare settings

​Inspection is about improvement. To this end, we will engage in professional dialogue throughout the inspection that will be mutually beneficial.

The advice and materials below have been designed to help you to prepare for the visit, and to outline the kinds of activities which will take place during the inspection. It aims to answer some of the questions you may have regarding the inspection.

Briefing note for heads of early learning and childcare settings

This briefing note aims to help staff to understand the inspection process.

PDF file: Headteacher/manager of early learning and childcare setting briefing note – November 2018 ​(438 KB)

Brief self-evaluation summary form

An inspection begins with a scoping meeting which builds on the setting's self-evaluation. It will focus on how self-evaluation is leading to improvement and the evidence the setting provides in the self-evaluation summary form.

Word file: ELCC Brief self-evaluation summary form (258 KB)

Child protection and safeguarding self-evaluation form

This form is used to record information about safeguarding. Please hand your completed form to the Managing Inspector on the first day of the inspection. Do not send a completed version prior to the inspection team arriving at your setting.

The Managing Inspector and/or delegated team member will discuss the information provided with relevant practitioners during the inspection to add comments/evaluations as relevant.

Word file: Safeguarding / child protection pro-forma (242 KB)

4. Guidance on issuing pre-inspection questionnaires

Head of setting guide for issuing pre-inspection questionnaires

An important aspect of the inspection is for key stakeholders to be given the opportunity to provide their views of the setting. To gather the views of parents, staff and partners we ask the head of setting to issue a pre-inspection questionnaire to these stakeholders. You’ll find a sample of the questionnaires below.

PDF file: Questionnaires for Early Learning Childcare settings (539 KB)

Within the email notifying you of the inspection, you will find a number of links to an online survey which holds the pre-inspection questionnaires. The links you will receive are set out below.


All parents should receive the link to the pre-inspection questionnaire. Parents may complete a pre-inspection questionnaire for each of their children attending the setting being inspected. The pre-inspection questionnaire asks the parent to indicate if they shall be providing one response only or if they are providing one response for each of their children.

As part of the inspection, a member of the inspection team will meet with a range of stakeholders. Parents are asked within the pre-inspection questionnaire to indicate if they would like to meet with a member of the inspection team and, if so, to provide their contact details. The Inspection Administrator will contact a random sample of parents to invite them to the meeting.


All staff should receive the pre-inspection questionnaire.


We define partners within 'How good is our early learning and childcare?' to include all individuals or organisations that deliver learning and contribute to the life and work of the setting. They may include community learning and development services, colleges, universities, employers, third sector, community organisations and libraries. All those who work in partnership with your setting should be sent the link to the pre-inspection questionnaire.

Distributing the links

You should use the existing digital channels to inform these stakeholders of the inspection, the information that is available from our website and the appropriate link to the pre-inspection questionnaire. When sharing the links it is important to include the date which all responses must be completed by. We usually refer to this as the date the survey will close.

Methods for sharing the links include: using internal email for staff/practitioners; adding the links to your website (remember to remove when the survey has closed) for parents and partners; include the information within a group call or newsletters for parents, staff/practitioners and partners; connect with learners through Glow.

You are best placed to know the most effective ways of communicating and engaging with your stakeholders to ensure that as many as possible have the opportunity to provide their views about your ​setting. We have found that some schools and settings have, in addition to sending the links digitally, opened their doors to parents so that they can use the school’s devices to complete the pre-inspection questionnaires. For example, some schools invited parents to use the library and ICT suite facilities and another invited parents to complete the pre-inspection questionnaire during the Parents’ Evening.

We recognise that settings will want to encourage as many of their stakeholders as possible to complete the pre-inspection questionnaire. To aid with this, the Inspection Administrator can provide you with a regular update on responses rates. Where, for example, the response rates are lower for a particular stakeholder group you could send another communication which reminds and encourages more responses.

What will we do with the information we gather?

We will use an online survey tool, provided by Formic, which holds the pre-inspection questionnaires and responses.

  • Education Scotland will then store all responses confidentially on secure servers for a period of five years. Personal information provided by respondents will not be shared with any other third party organisation and will only be used for the purpose it was obtained in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation.
  • Education Scotland is subject to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Further information is available on our website.
  • Formic follows some of the principles of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Assistance may be required for those who use screen readers or keyboard-only controls.
  • If your stakeholders wish to increase font size to help them complete the survey, it’s best to use the browser controls, for example, Internet Explorer offers options to increase text size via the view menu.

It is important that we protect the information that we gather through the pre-inspection questionnaires and that you and your stakeholders understand how we will do this.

  • We may use the information for statistical purposes but no individual responses will be identified. We may give you a summary of the results of all the responses we receive.
  • Views will remain confidential, unless they raise specific issues, for example in relation to child protection. In these circumstances, they would be shared with you and appropriate agencies.
  • We will then store responses confidentially on secure servers for a period of five years. 
  • Personal information will not be shared with any other third party organisation and will only be used for the purpose it was obtained in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. We are also subject to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Further information on privacy is available on our website.

5. Briefing for parents

​This section aims to help parents* to understand the inspection of an early learning and childcare (ELC) setting.

What happens in an inspection of your child’s early learning and childcare setting or nursery class?

Your child’s setting is to have an inspection to find out how well your child is being educated and looked after. HM Inspectors will take account of the type and nature of the setting and its children’s needs.

A letter to parents and carers will be published which will highlight what the setting does well and where it needs to improve.

Any requirements made as a result of the inspection refer to action which must be taken by the setting provider to comply with relevant legislation.

Before the inspection

You will receive a pre-inspection questionnaire so that we can find out what you think about the setting. Staff and partners will also be invited to complete a questionnaire.

All responses will be treated in confidence unless they raise issues about the safety and welfare of children or staff in the setting.

In large settings, the team will include a second team member who may be a Care Inspectorate inspector.

Information given to us will be seen only by this team. We will not tell anyone else where our information came from unless the safety and wellbeing of a person is considered to be at risk.

During the inspection

  • We will visit playrooms, observe activities, and talk to staff and children about their learning.
  • We may spend some time looking at your child’s work and reading his/her reports of progress and learning experiences.
  • We may engage with your child as part of a small group or in the playroom.

After the inspection

We will send the education authority and setting a letter for parents together with the analysis of the responses to the pre-inspection questionnaire. We will also publish a document called the Summarised Inspection Findings which provides some detail supporting the evaluations made by inspectors.

If necessary, the setting, with the support of the education authority, will amend its development plan to bring about any improvements that the letter says are needed.

In some cases, we will carry out a further inspection to support the setting to make improvements.

*The term 'parents' should be taken to include foster carers, residential care staff and carers who are relatives or friends.

Related links

Parentzone Scotland