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Proposal for key principles of a Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care

European Commission Working Group: Early Childhood Education and Care (2012-2014)

This Working Group on Early Childhood Education Care (ECEC) reflects the diverse governance arrangements of early childhood education and care under different national authorities in the education as well as social, family and health sectors. It has developed a proposal for a European Quality Frameworkpdf so as to improve, monitor, and evaluate the quality of early childhood education and care systems.

The group identified and analysed success criteria of effective policies to develop guidance for national policy makers. It focused on five main aspects of quality in early childhood education and care:

Access

  • Provision that is available and affordable to all families and their children: The potential benefits of high quality universal provision are particularly significant for children from disadvantaged and/or marginalised groups. ECEC provision should be made available from birth to the age at which children start compulsory primary school. To respond to parental circumstances and encourage all families to use ECEC services, provision needs to offer flexibility in relation to opening hours and the content of the programme.
  • Provision that encourages participation, strengthens social inclusion and embraces diversity: Successful inclusion in ECEC is based on: a collaborative approach to promoting the benefits of ECEC which involves local organisations and community groups; approaches which respect and value the beliefs, needs and culture of parents; an assurance that all children and families are welcome in an ECEC setting/centre; a pro-active approach to encouraging all parents to use ECEC services; a recognition that staff should be trained to help parents and families to value ECEC services and to assure them that their beliefs and cultures will be respected – this training can be supported by parenting programmes which promote ECEC; by close cooperation between the staff in ECEC centres, health and social services, local authorities and the school sector.

Workforce

  • Well-qualified staff whose initial and continuing training enables them to fulfil their professional role: Recognising the ECEC workforce as professionals is key. Professional development has a huge impact on the quality of staff pedagogy and children’s outcomes. Developing common education and training programmes for all staff working in an ECEC context (e.g. preschool teachers, assistants, educators, family day carers etc.) helps to create a shared agenda and understanding of quality.
  • Supportive working conditions including professional leadership which creates opportunities for observation, reflection, planning, teamwork and cooperation with parents: Good working conditions benefit staff and contribute to their retention. Policy measures affect the structural quality of ECEC provision including locally-determined arrangements on the size of a group; children to adult ratios; working hours, and wage levels which can help to make employment in an ECEC context an attractive option. Good working conditions can also reduce the constant and detrimental staff turnover in ECEC.

Curriculum

  • A curriculum based on pedagogic goals, values and approaches which enable children to reach their full potential in a holistic way: Children’s education and care as well as their cognitive, social, emotional, physical and language development are important. The curriculum should set common goals, values and approaches which reflect society’s expectation about the role and responsibilities of ECEC settings in encouraging children’s development towards their full potential. All children are active and capable learners whose diverse competences are supported by the curriculum. At the same time the implementation of the curriculum needs to be planned within an open framework which acknowledges and addresses the diverse interests and needs of children in a holistic manner. A well-balanced combination of education and care can promote children’s well-being, positive self-image, physical development and their social and cognitive development. Children’s experiences and their active participation are valued, and the significance of learning through play is understood and supported.
  • A curriculum which requires staff to collaborate with children, colleagues and parents and to reflect on their own practice: A curriculum is an important instrument to stimulate the creation of a shared understanding and trust between children; and between children, parents and ECEC staff in order to encourage development and learning. At a system or national level a curriculum can guide the work of all ECEC settings and contexts – and at a local or setting level, it can describe the practices and priorities in the context of each centre. An essential factor in developing a collaborative approach to the curriculum is the ability of individual staff to analyse their own practice, identify what has been effective and, in partnership with their colleagues, develop new approaches based on evidence. The quality of ECEC is enhanced when staff discuss the implementation of the curriculum within the context of their centre/setting and take account of the needs of the children, their parents and the team. The curriculum can enhance this approach by promoting children’s learning through experimentation and innovation; and encouraging cooperation with parents on how ECEC provision contributes to supporting children’s development and learning.

Evaluation/monitoring

  • 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: Systematic monitoring of ECEC allows for the generation of appropriate information and feedback at the relevant local, regional or national level. This information should support open exchange, coherent planning, review, evaluation and the development of ECEC in the pursuit of high quality at all levels in the system. Monitoring and evaluation is more effective when the information collected at a provider level is aligned with the information collected at a municipal, regional and system level.
  • 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: Systematic monitoring of ECEC allows for the generation of appropriate information and feedback at the relevant local, regional or national level. This information should support open exchange, coherent planning, review, evaluation and the development of ECEC in the pursuit of high quality at all levels in the system. Monitoring and evaluation is more effective when the information collected at a provider level is aligned with the information collected at a municipal, regional and system level.

Governance/funding

  • 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: Given the cross-sectoral nature of ECEC provision government, stakeholders and social partners need to work together to secure the success of ECEC services. Legislation, regulation and guidance can be used to create clear expectations about the importance of collaborative working which supports high quality outcomes for children, families and local communities.
  • 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: Structural or legislative arrangements support access to ECEC by giving families the right to access affordable ECEC provision. Approaches which support progress towards the universal availability of ECEC recognise that providing additional funds to support access for disadvantaged groups can be an effective strategy for increasing access especially for children
    from migrant, disadvantaged or low-income families. Monitoring the uptake of ECEC ensures that funding is used effectively. In order to make progress towards universal entitlement to provision measures to emphasise the attractiveness and value of ECEC services need to be in place.

The group brought together representatives from 25 EU Member States plus Turkey and Norway, the Eurydice Network, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and the OECD.

Other Outputs of the Working Group on ECEC:

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