Why is ECEC important?
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) includes centre-provided and ‘family day care’, privately- and publicly-funded, pre-school and pre-primary provision.
High-quality early childhood education and care lays the foundations for later success in life in terms of education, well-being, employability and social integration. It is especially important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Ensuring the provision of high-quality early childhood education and care is, therefore, also an efficient and effective investment in education and training.
Every child in the European Union (EU) has the right to affordable and high-quality early childhood education and care, as outlined in the European Pillar of Social Rights. Educational attainment should be decoupled from social, economic and cultural status.
What is the EU doing?
The European Commission supports EU Member States and facilitates cooperation between them by providing data and analysis on developments and issues concerning early childhood education and care.
Early childhood education and care has been identified as a priority area for cooperation under the European Education Area initiative for the period 2021-2030.
Council Recommendation on high-quality ECEC systems
In May 2019, the Council of the EU adopted a Recommendation on high-quality early childhood education and care systems approved by the education ministers of EU Member States.
The Council Recommendation supports Member States in their efforts to improve access to and the quality of early childhood education and care. The content and structure of national ECEC systems remains the competence of the relevant national authorities.
ECEC Quality framework
The Council Recommendation includes a Quality framework, which identified 5 key components of a qualitative system
- access to early childhood education and care
- training and working conditions of staff in charge of early childhood education and care
- definition of appropriate curricula
- governance and funding
- monitoring and evaluation of systems
The Quality Framework has already supported reforms in many countries and helped improving the offer of early childhood education and care. For example, the EU-level target of 95% of children above 4 years old attending early childhood education and care has already been achieved.
European Child Guarantee
The Commission is also working on a European Child Guarantee to ensure that every child in Europe at risk of poverty or social exclusion has access to the most basic rights, including healthcare and education.
ET 2020 Working Group
In 2021, the ET 2020 Working Group on early childhood education and care published the following outputs of its work during the period 2018-2020
- a toolkit for inclusive early childhood education and care
- guidelines on how to recruit, train and motivate well-qualified ECEC staff
- a report summarising the conclusions of the inclusion toolkit and the guidelines
The Commission supports Member States in identifying challenges in the field of early childhood education and care and in finding ways to address them. Further work will be needed to ensure that all countries and regions provide the best possible quality and access to ECEC.
EEA Strategic Framework
A new Working Group on early childhood education and care has begun work for the period 2021-2025. It will mainly support peer-based learning concerning the implementation of the 2019 Council Recommendation and sharing knowledge and best practices on monitoring and evaluation of the quality of ECEC provision in EU Member States.
What is our goal?
As part of the European Education Area initiative, through the Council of the EU Member States have agreed a target of at least 96% of children between 3 years old and the starting age for compulsory primary education participating in early childhood education and care by 2030.