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How do I know if an ELC setting is high quality?

When you’re trying to decide which Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) setting to go with or if you’re trying to pick between a few, having a look at their inspection report is a good way to help you decide. They’re handy guides that tell you how well they’ve been performing, so they should give you a good idea about any place before you make your final decision. 

What does an inspection cover?

The point of an inspection is to find out how well children are being cared for and make sure they’re getting lots of opportunities to learn through play. To create the report, inspectors from the Care Inspectorate and/or Education Scotland will visit the ELC setting. During the visit, inspectors observe children as they play, talk to staff and ask some children how they’re getting on, as well as asking parents for their opinion. Looking at what the children have created, and reading reports on their progress is also something they might do.

Where do I find an inspection report?

Image of a child playing with mud outdoors.

Image of a child playing with mud outdoors.

Inspection reports of ELC providers are available on the websites of both the Care Inspectorate and Education Scotland. If it’s a nursery that’s attached to a school, you might need to search under the school name, as Education Scotland usually inspect them both together.

How do they judge the ELC provider?

The same six-point scale is used in both the Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate reports:

 Level 6 is Excellent and is rated as outstanding or sector leading.
 Level 5 is Very Good and is rated as having major strengths
 Level 4 is Good and has major strengths with areas for improvement.
 Level 3 is Satisfactory/Adequate with its strengths just outweighing its weaknesses.
 Level 2 is Weak and has important weaknesses.
 Level 1 is Unsatisfactory with major weaknesses.

Image of a child looking above the camera with a big smile on their face.

Image of a child looking above the camera with a big smile on their face.

What do inspection reports cover?

The Care Inspectorate reports have an overview of the setting and what they offer, and also include quotes from parents, which is a great way to find out what mums and dads like you really think.

There are four main areas that are given a grade, which then make up the overall score on the 6 point scale mentioned above.

These are: Care and Support, Environment, Staffing, and Management and Leadership.

The bulk of the report  covers what the setting does well and what it could do better, with a summary for number of requirements, recommendations and complaints made.

Education Scotland inspects all settings delivering educational services, including ELC settings that deliver funded hours. Inspectors focus on the quality of children's learning and achievement and have a particular interest in how the setting is developing children's skills and understanding in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing. 
Settings are currently inspected against five quality indicators: 

  • Improvement in performance: Children’s progress; Overall quality of children’s achievement; and Impact of the centre’s improvement plan
  • Children’s Experiences: The extent to which children are motivated and actively involved in their own learning
  • Meeting learning needs: Learning opportunities, tasks, activities and resources; identification of learning needs; The roles of staff; and meeting and implementing the requirements of legislation.
  • The curriculum: The rationale and design of the curriculum; the development of the curriculum; programme; and transitions. 
  • Improvement through self-evaluation: Commitment to self-evaluation; management of self-evaluation; and Centre improvement.

Who are The Care Inspectorate?

Image of two boots with ducks on them.

Image of two boots with ducks on them.

The Care Inspectorate carries out inspections on care services to make sure they're meeting the right standards. You can also browse its full list of care services, where the latest report for each care service is available. This includes reports on:

  • Childminders
  • Child day care
  • Childcare agencies.

Who are Education Scotland?

Education Scotland is a government body which also inspects ELC providers and looks at the quality of children’s learning and achievement.

Image of an adult serving children tea at a table in a playroom.

Image of an adult serving children tea at a table in a playroom.

Making a complaint

If your child’s already in ELC and you want to make a complaint, this can also be made to the Care Inspectorate.

If you’re unhappy about a decision the local authority has made in regards to your child’s ELC, whether that is a placement decision or a discretionary decision you can find the complaint process on your local authority website. All local authorities have a duty to fully investigate complaints. If you are not happy with the way the local authority deals with your complaint they will signpost you to the next stage of the process. 

Last updated: 26 Oct, 2023