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Reports Part of series: BCF Curriculum Investigation Grant Research Reports

Sharing the ambition: Play and parental interest in Scottish early years education

This report provides evidence from the Sharing the Ambition project, which investigates parents’ perceptions of early years education in Scotland, what their priorities are in terms of settings’ atmosphere, approach & actions, and what strategies are effective at improving parental interest. It shows that the appetite for play in early years settings in Scotland is growing among both parents and staff. Through surveys and focus groups, it shows that there is an increasing focus on ‘all play’ learning environments, and that through play, the priorities, goals, roles and expectations of parents and staff are beginning to align.


Sharing the Ambition aimed to determine parental perceptions of the atmosphere, approach and actions of early years education in Scotland. A multi-modal survey and focus groups were used to capture opinion from the nursery 2, nursery and primary 1 parent populations of 10 settings in Edinburgh: 763 surveys were distributed and 268 were returned.

The results show that parents prioritise equally the development of a child’s psychosocial and academic attributes (attitudes, skills and knowledge). They place greatest weight on relationships and the social climate of the early years setting as having the greatest impact on their child’s education. Parents maintained a ‘combined’ perspective of their child’s early years learning environment – spaces, experiences and interactions – preferring a combination of ‘traditional’ and ‘all play’ elements. When considering their role within education, parents favoured academic communication and family learning support, to ensure consistency between setting and home approaches.

Data collection and analysis were extended to include practitioners working within early years education, who were found to exhibit similar play perceptions.

A two-pronged programme for improving parental interest was developed and trialled based upon the survey and focus group results.

This included professional enquiry projects across Scotland to improve channels of communication between families and settings, and a national, interactive resource to share the why, what and how of play. During their initial trial, both programmes have been shown to improve parental interest with those families involved.

In-depth assessment, evaluation and feedback – on both approaches and involving all stakeholders – is ongoing as the project continues.


Profile picture of Charlotte Bowes
Charlotte Bowes, Miss

Teacher at St. Josephs RC Primary School

Charlotte Bowes has been teaching Primary 1 for six years in Edinburgh, leading the implementation of a play-based approach to the curriculum within her school. Whilst teaching, she completed a Masters of Education (Leading Learning and Teaching)...