PROPOSAL FOR A QUALITY FRAMEWORK ON EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND CARE IN EUROPE (Mihaela Ionescu)

The Quality Framework on Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) is the leading document in Europe for the discussions around the quality of ECEC systems. The European Commission through the General Directorate for Education, Audiovisual and Culture finalized the proposal in 2014, as a result of a Working Group composed of representatives of Members States within the Europe 2020 Education and Training Programme.

The proposal sets out the European policy context and includes in the first part the description of the main statements in the Framework, the second section contains a summary of research that documented the vision of the framework, the main outcomes of the Working Group’s discussions (in red boxes) and a number of case studies (in blue boxes) that highlight the evidence which underpins the statements. The third section of the document clarifies the definitions of the key concepts used in the Framework.

The document refers to the concept of quality encompassing three dimensions: structure quality, process quality and outcome quality. The structure quality refers to how the system is designed and organized, the requirements about the number of professionally trained staff; the design of the curriculum; regulations associated with the financing of ECEC provision; the ratio of staff to children in any setting; arrangements to ensure all children are treated fairly and in accordance with their individual needs; and the physical requirements which need to be in place to meet the health and safety requirements of providing care and education for young children.

The process quality which looks at practice within an ECEC setting16 – it often includes the role of play within the curriculum; relationships between ECEC providers and children’s families; relationships between staff and children, and among children; the extent to which care and education is provided in an integrated way; and the day-to-day pedagogic practice of staff within an ECEC context.

The outcome quality which looks at the benefits for children, families, communities and society. Where these benefits relate to children’s outcomes they often include measures of children’s emotional, moral, mental and physical development; children’s social skills and preparation for further learning and adult life; children’s health and their school readiness.

There are three principles that underpin the statements that have been defined in the Quality Framework:

  • A clear image and voice of the child and childhood should be valued
  • a clear image and voice of the child and childhood should be valued
  • A shared understanding of quality

In a nutshell, there are 5 areas that define the quality of ECEC systems and under each area, two statements were included.

Access to ECEC

  1. Provision that is available and affordable to all families and their children.
  2. Provision that encourages participation strengthens social inclusion and embraces diversity.

The ECEC workforce

  1. Well-qualified staff whose initial and continuing training enables them to fulfil their professional role
  2. Supportive working conditions including professional leadership which creates opportunities for observation, reflection, planning, teamwork and cooperation with parents.

Curriculum

  1. A curriculum based on pedagogic goals, values and approaches which enable children to reach their full potential in a holistic way.
  2. A curriculum which requires staff to collaborate with children, colleagues and parents and to reflect on their own practice.

Monitoring and evaluation

  1. Monitoring and evaluating produces information at the relevant local, regional and/or national level to support continuing improvements in the quality of policy and practice.
  2. Monitoring and evaluation which is in the best interest of the child.

Governance arrangements

  1. Stakeholders in the ECEC system have a clear and shared understanding of their role and responsibilities, and know that they are expected to collaborate with partner organisations.
  2. Legislation, regulation and/or funding supports progress towards a universal legal entitlement to publicly subsidised or funded ECEC, and progress is regularly reported to all stakeholders.

The framework is aimed at guiding Member States in improving their policies and practices towards achieving a high quality of services that are child-centred, family responsive and participatory. A European benchmark was proposed by the Working Group to follow the development of the framework. The benchmark on quality would operate alongside the existing Education and Training 2020 benchmark on the quantity of ECEC provision. The existing benchmark on quantity states that ‘at least 95% of children between the age of four and the age for starting compulsory primary education should participate in early childhood education.

See http://ec.europa.eu/education/lifelong-learning-policy/framework_en.htm.

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