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A head start for school - 22/02/2011

A child on a beach arranging yellow starfish in a circle to look like stars on the EU flag © EU

Plans to give all pre-school children across the EU early access to quality education and child care.

Education and care for pre-schoolers varies considerably in quantity and quality across Europe. Responding to a call from EU governments for guidance and support, the commission is proposing some common measures on early childhood education and care.

EU countries will work closely together on:

  • providing access to quality pre-school education for all children - expected to be of particular benefit to poor, disabled and migrant children, and those from socially excluded groups, such as the Roma
  • integrating education alongside care
  • promoting the right balance of academic and social skills suitable for these age groups
  • making sure staff have appropriate qualifications, salaries and working conditions
  • developing common standards for monitoring progress

To foster co-operation the EU will help member countries make more effective use of available funding and research.

Up to now, the EU's focus in increasing the quantity of childcare has been to enable more parents, especially mothers, to join the job market.

The new approach directly targets the needs of pre-schoolers - generally children under five or six years-of-age. Studies show that investment in early education is crucial - it helps disadvantaged children, improves social integration and reduces early school leaving.

Providing quality early education to all children will also help the EU achieve its goals of reducing the number of children leaving school early to below 10% and lifting at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion.

In 2009, the EU set a target: to provide education and care for at least 95% of children aged four and up during the period before compulsory education. The current EU average is 92.3% with a significant number of countries lagging far behind.

The EU's education ministers will discuss the proposals in May. Work on helping all countries achieve the target is likely to start in autumn 2011.

More on early childhood education and care

More on education in the EU

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