KEY DATA ON EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND CARE: EURYDICE REPORT 2014 (Mihaela Ionescu)

The Eurydice network is a European network that supports and facilitates European cooperation in the field of lifelong learning by providing information on education systems and policies in 37 countries and by producing studies on issues common to European education systems. It consists of:

  • 41 national units based in 37 countries participating in the Erasmus + programme (28 Member States, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey)
  • a coordinating unit based in the EU Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency in Brussels

Since 1980, the Eurydice network has been one of the strategic mechanisms established by the European Commission and Member States to support European cooperation in the field of education.

The Eurydice Key Data on Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe 2014 report aims to provide insights into what constitutes high quality early childhood education and care through policy-driven and internationally comparable indicators. This is the second report on the topic, following a 2009report that focused on tackling social and cultural inequalities through ECEC. (http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/about/eurydice/documents/098EN.pdf).

The report published jointly with Eurostat, combines statistical data and qualitative information to describe the structure, organization and funding of early childhood education and care in 37 European ECEC systems from 32 countries. It covers a number of specific issues important to policy-makers such as access to ECEC, governance, quality assurance, affordability, professionalization of staff, leadership, parent involvement, and measures to support disadvantage children.The report covers provision for children from birth through to primary education that falls within a national regulatory framework, i.e., it has to comply with a set of rules, minimum standards and/or undergo accreditation procedures.

The most important findings of the report regarding the ECEC context include the following:

  • 32 million children are in the age range to use ECEC services in Europe, by 2030 the number of young children is expected to fall
  • Only eight European countries guarantee every child an early place in ECEC – often directly following childcare leave
  • One in four children in the birth to 5 age group is at risk of poverty or social exclusion and one in ten households with children under 6 is jobless
  • One in ten households with children below the age of 6 are single-parent households
  • Most countries have more than five per cent of children born abroad or registered as foreign citizens

Regarding Structure and Access in most European countries, ECEC is split into two separate phases according to age and some regulated home-based provision exists in most European countries but it is widespread only in a few. In half of European countries childcare leave which is adequately compensated lasts less than forty weeks, and in most European countries children are guaranteed a place in ECEC one or two years before primary education. A shortage of ECEC places for younger children exists in most European countries.

Regarding Standards and Quality Assurance the following findings are presented in the report:

  • The maximum number of children allowed per adult often doubles when children reach 3 years of age
  • Childminders working in regulated home-based settings usually look after a maximum of five or six children
  • Health and safety in ECEC settings is highly regulated and in most countries, several levels of authority share the responsibility for the accreditation and evaluation of settings
  • Settings for older children are often subject to more thorough evaluation than those for younger age groups

In terms of Participation, 93 per cent of children attend ECEC in most European countries, and ECEC attendance is at its peak when children are 4 years old before starting compulsory education. However, the ECEC participation among children under 3 is very low. Usually children spend 26-29 hours per week in ECEC and in several countries many children over 3 years of age are taken care of only by parents.

When referring to the outcomes of attending ECEC, the report indicates that children attending ECEC for more than one year achieve better results. Also, children who spend longer periods of time in ECEC read better when in primary education. In this sense, the international student achievement surveys (PISA and PIRLS) clearly show the benefits of ECEC attendance. Equally important, the report indicates that disadvantaged children have lower ECEC participation rates and that the ECEC participation has a stronger effect on disadvantaged children’s reading scores.

More information about ECEC system funding, staffing and professional development can be further read in the report.

Dr. Mihaela Ionescu is Program Director at International Step by Step Association (ISSA)