A Great Start in Life conference - 30 November to 1 December

The best possible education in early years

Watch sessions

The Great Start in Life conference brought researchers, policymakers, early childhood education and care and primary school staff together to discuss how to create the conditions for the best possible education in the early years. Ages 0-12 and the transitions between home, childcare and school were covered. Particular focus was made on how to combat inequalities and include vulnerable groups.

The conference was co-organised by the Directorate General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, Unit B2 (Schools and  Multilingualism) and the Directorate General for Research and Innovation, Unit B6 (Open and Inclusive Societies).

The final report of the conference summarises the presentations and discussions from the two-day event.

Programme and links to presentations

Speakers and list of participants




Graphic notes



Programme Download

Presentations from the session are available below.

18:30 – 20:30


9:00 – 9:30


9:30 – 10:00

Opening speeches – setting the scene

Martine Reicherts, Director-General for Education and Culture

Robert-Jan Smits, Director-General for Research and Development

10:00 – 10:30

Starting together - Check-in of participants

Purpose, aims, outcomes of the conference and participants' expectations

10:30 – 11:15

Key note speeches – with interactive feedback from audience

1. Latest research results on inclusive early education and social support to tackle inequalities in culturally diverse societies

Professor Paul Leseman, project Coordinator, The Netherlands. FP7 project CARE – Curriculum and Quality Analysis and Impact Review of European Early Childhood Education and Care

2. Bilingual approaches and pedagogy in practice – unlocking linguistic capital to stimulate cognitive competences

Rosella Benati and Maria Sanchez, Cologne Centre for Multilingualism and Integration, Germany

11:15 – 11:45

Coffee break

11:45 – 12:45

Key note speeches – with interactive feedback from audience

3. Transatlantic Forum: a meeting place for policymakers and researchers on inclusive early childhood education and care

Dr. Jan Peeters, Centre for Innovation in the Early Years, Belgium

4. Children in Europe’s approach to young children and their services: images, values and principles

Dr. Peter Moss, Children in Europe

5. Where are we with early years education quality and inclusiveness in the EU? – Early childhood education and care (ECEC) Quality framework and the Whole school approach in schools within national policies

Dr Marese Duignan, Chief Inspector on ECEC, Ireland

Pedro Cunha, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Education, Portugal

12:45 – 14:15

Lunch break

14:15 – 15:45

Five parallel workshops: How to increase quality and inclusiveness taking into account latest research, best practices and policy priorities?

  1. Access and inclusion
  2. ECEC and primary school professionals
  3. Governance and funding
  4. Monitoring and evaluation
  5. Curriculum and pedagogies

A summary of all five sessions is available below.

15:45 – 16:15

Coffee break

16:15 – 17:45

Five parallel workshops (same themes)

  • Participants move to another workshop and deepen the discussions from the first round

17:45 – 18:30

Networking in the exhibition area – presentations of projects and practices at stands

18:30 – 21:30

Walking dinner

9:00 – 10:00

Check-in of participants

Participants' impressions from Day 1 and expectations for conference outcomes

Key messages from parallel workshops

10:00 – 11:00

Three TED-like talks - with interactive feedback from audience

Psycho-emotional support in schools for traumatised children

Video message from Hanan Al Hroub, 2016 Global Teacher Prize Winner, Palestine

From Stanford to Hejőkeresztúr : How to apply research to enable disadvantaged children to be successful in primary school

Dr. Emese Kovàcsné Nagy, School principal and teacher educator, Hungary

Supporting migrant children to flourish throughout education: a personal perspective

Maryam Talhaoui, early childhood educator, the Netherlands

Inclusion and languages in the early years – challenges and opportunities for educators

Professor Jim Cummins, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada

11:00 – 11:30

Coffee break

11:30 – 13:00

Closing session

Joining the dots: transitions and integrated approaches

Jean Gordon, Universal Education Foundation - Learning for Well-being

Observations and conclusions: Panel discussion on how to take the results of conference further at national and EU level

Professor Jim Cummins, MEP Julie Ward, Sophie Beernaerts, Elisabeth Lipiatou, Jean Gordon, Paulo André


Read biographies of the invited speakers.

List of participants

Sophie Beernaerts

Sophie Beernaerts is the Head of unit, in the European Commission, in charge of Schools and Educators, and multilingualism. Her unit supports high quality education for all by facilitating school policy development, fostering dialogue, channelling expertise and supporting educational policy makers, institutions, educators and learners. It is also in charge of the implementation of the Erasmus+ programme in school, vocational and adult education sectors. Before that, Sophie was in charge of the Europe for Citizens Programme that aims at strengthening European remembrance and enhancing capacity for civic participation at the Union level. She also dealt with the Community Initiative EQUAL to combat discrimination in the labour market. She graduated from Solvay Business School in 1987 and holds a postgraduate in European economics from the University of Brussels.

Martine Reicherts

Martine Reicherts began her career as a lawyer in Luxembourg. In 1984, she joined the European institutions. Between 1995 and 1998, she was deputy head of European Commission President Jacques Santer's cabinet before becoming E. C.'s spokesperson until 1999. In 2000, she joined the General Directorate of Administration and Personnel as head of unit and became director of "Administration and personnel management" (Luxembourg & Ispra) until December 2002. From 2003 to 2007, Martine Reicherts was in charge of the Commission's Office of Infrastructures and Logistics in Luxembourg after which she was appointed Director-General of the Office of Publications until 2015. In September 2015, Martine Reicherts became Director-General of the department of education and culture of the European Commission.

Julie Ward

Julie Ward is a Labour MEP for the North West of England. She is also a writer, theatre-maker and cultural activist. She is a member of the European Parliament’s committees on Culture and Education, Women's Rights and Gender Equality and Regional Development. Julie is also a children's rights champion; she co-founded the cross-party Intergroup on Children's Rights and sat on the Labour Party’s Children and Education Policy Commission. She is a board member of the European Internet Forum, and a founding member of the European Caucus of Women in Parliament.

Rosella Benati

Rossella is an Assistant Chief Inspector in the Department of Education and Skills in Germany. Working as consultant for the local government of the administrative district of Cologne/Germany, school department, center for multilingualism and integration. Planning and organisation of skill enhancement for teachers. Before this she worked as a teacher at primary schools in Düsseldorf and Cologne, especially teaching Italian as first language and German as second language.

James Cummins

Dr. Jim Cummins is a Professor Emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto and an Adjunct Professor at Åbo Akademi University in Finland. His research focuses on language and literacy development in educational contexts characterized by linguistic diversity. In numerous articles and books, he has explored the nature of language proficiency and its relationship to literacy development with particular emphasis on the educational attainment of students from immigrant backgrounds. He has received honorary doctorates from the Bank Street College of Education in New York City and Hedmark University College in Norway.

Pedro Cunha

Pedro Cunha works since 2010 as Deputy Director General at the Directorate-General for Education, at the Portuguese Ministry of Education. He is responsible for school improvement and social inclusion programs delivered nationwide by the government and also for after-school programs, lifelong guidance services, health education, special needs and pre-school education services. Before that he worked as youth leader, career counselor in schools and developed projects with at-risk youth in several organizations. He also managed community development programs for municipalities and larger NGO´s such as the Aga Khan Foundation, where he was Program Director.

Maresa Duignan

Dr. Maresa Duignan is Assistant Chief Inspector in the Department of Education and Skills in Ireland with responsibility for the Early Years sector. During her career she has been an early years practitioner, researcher and policymaker. In recent years she has been centrally involved in developing national policy to extend access to early years services, develop the workforce, curriculum and quality improvement systems and processes. Maresa also represents Ireland on international fora and working groups on Early Childhood Education and Care and was a member of the EU Commission Thematic Working Group on Quality In Early Childhood Education and Care.

Jean Gordon

Bringing change & improvements to education, training & all situations where children, young people and adults are learning so that everyone can lead happy, healthy and meaningful lives is at the core of my work. I worked for the EIESP (1989 to 2013 & Director 2003-2013), mainly with the EU, countries across Europe & Mediterranean region. My work aims to contribute to lifelong learning opportunities and personal development through improving access to learning, its recognition & enhancing pathways & transparency. I was Joint Editor of the European Journal of Education (2004-2015). Since 2005 I have worked with UEF developing tools and partnerships to support Learning for Well-being. In 2016 we launched the Learning for Well-being Magazine. Web: http://www.jeangordon.eu/

Paul Leseman

Paul Leseman is a full professor of education at Utrecht University. He is principal investigator of the Dutch national cohort study Pre-COOL on the effects of early childhood care and education provisions on children’s development and school achievement (2009-2018), scientific coordinator of the European Union's FP7 project CARE (Curriculum and Quality Assessment and Impact Analysis of European Early Childhood Education and Care; 2014-2016) and the EU Horizon 2020 project ISOTIS (Inclusive Education and Social Support to Tackle Inequalities in Society; 2017-2019). Research publications concern emergent literacy and numeracy, bilingual development, development of executive functions and self-regulation, and effectiveness of preschool education programs.

Elisabeth Lipiatou

Elisabeth Lipiatou is Head of Unit 'Open and Inclusive Societies', at Research and Innovation Directorate General in the European Commission. The unit deals with social and economic research with emphasis on migration, employment, radical ideologies, inequalities, education, cultures and global justice. Elisabeth Lipiatou is a Doctor of Sciences in Chemical Oceanography. She has more than twenty-two years of experience at the DG Research and Innovation, in the fields of: research policy and international negotiations, climate change, marine sciences, sustainable development, natural hazards and risks, global earth observations, social and economic sciences. She has ten years of academic experience on environmental sciences in various universities and research centers, including the Centro de Investigacion y Dessarollo in Barcelona, Spain, the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, and the University of Minnesota, USA.

Peter Moss

Peter Moss is Emeritus Professor of Early Childhood Provision at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College London. His interests include early childhood education and care; the workforce in children’s services; the relationship between care, gender and employment; the relationship between early childhood and compulsory education; social pedagogy; and democracy in children’s services. Much of his work over the last 30 years has been cross-national, in particular in Europe, starting as Coordinator of the EC Childcare Network in 1986. His latest book, edited with colleagues from Reggio Emilia, is Loris Malaguzzi and the Schools of Reggio Emilia: a selection of writings and speeches, 1945-1993.

María José Sánchez Oroquieta

Working as consultant for the local government of the administrative district of Cologne/Germany, school department. Planning and organization of skill enhancement for teachers. Before this I worked as a teacher at primary and secondary schools in the borough of Cologne and Neuss, especially teaching Spanish as first language and German as remedial teaching in reading for multilingual students. Co-author of „Cocodrilo“, teaching material for Spanish alphabetization for Spanish students in the primary school in Germany.

Robert-Jan Smits

Robert-Jan Smits is Director-General of DG Research and Innovation (RTD) at the European Commission. He is responsible for defining and implementing the EU policy and programmes in the field of research and innovation (average annual budget of 8 billion euro). He has degrees from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Switzerland and Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy in the United States of America.

Maryam Talhaoui

I am Maryam, I am an Early Childhood Educator and I work for the Dutch organisation Spelenderwijs Utrecht. I have a Bachelor Degree from University of Applied Sciences Utrecht in Ecological Pedagogy. I have been working with children for the last seven years and since 2014, I work with children between 2.5 and 4 years. I believe all children deserve to have a rich educational environment to play, learn and grow in. It is my key responsibility to ensure that all children get oppurtunities for development and that they also get the chance to explore the world around them. It is a real joy and very rewarding to watch their growth and development on a daily basis.

Jan Peeters

Jan Peeters is the director of VBJK, Centre for Innovation in the Early Years, at Ghent University (Belgium). Since 2005 he has become an expert in international policy-oriented research and in policy advocacy: European research on 'Competence Requirements in ECEC', (2009-2011), ‘Study on the effective use of early childhood education and care in preventing early school leaving’ (2013-2014). both commissioned by the European Commission, DG E& C He was the promoter of the Eurofound research ‘ Working conditions, training of ECEC workers and quality of services- a systematic review’, about the link between working conditions and Quality of Early Childhood Education and Care and outcomes for children (2013-2015). He is a member of the International Advisory Group for UNESCO of a survey research on teachers in Pre-Primary Education in Low and Middle income countries and a consultant in three UNICEF projects, to increase the quality of ECEC in Balcan countries (2015-2016). He recently was the co-editor of a book published by Routledge ( Pathways towards Professionalism in ECEC (2016) and the author of many articles on professionalism, diversity, accessibility and gender in ECEC.

Paulo André

Paulo André has been working in the education field for more than 27 years, as a teacher and at school and administration levels. During his path he taught Physics, Physics and Chemistry and Maths and was Class Headmaster and Principal. Since September 2009, he has been working at the Directorate General of Education of the Ministry of Education. Having started as Executive Officer, in 2013 he has taken over the Team Coordination of Projects on Inclusion and Promotion of Educational Success. As a representative of the Portuguese Ministry of Education, he has been part of ET 2020 Working Groups: on 'Schools Policy' (2015) and on 'Schools' (2016).

Hanan Al Hroub

Hanan Al Hroub is a Palestinian teacher who won the 2016 Global Teacher Prize. The Global teacher Prize is awarded by the Varkey Foundation since 2014. It is a $1 million award to an outstanding pioneering teacher who has had a widespread impact.


The main focus of the workshops is on how to increase quality and inclusiveness while taking account of the latest research, best practices and policy priorities.

The discussions in all five workshops will take account of the following topics:

  • Diversity and language development
  • Creating an education continuum
  • Competences for the 21st century
  • Role of parents and communities
  • Connecting research with practice and policy-making

Early childhood education and care is not available and affordable for all families and their children.  This contrasts with compulsory primary education which is available to all children even though there are significant variations in the quality of provision and learner support. This workshop will:

  • examine the extent to which ECEC is available and adjusted to meet the needs of different social groups, such as the socio-economically disadvantaged, migrant/ethnic groups or children with special needs;
  • review the attitudes of stakeholders across Europe towards diversity, inclusiveness and equality;
  • consider the extent to which primary schools improve inclusion by providing adequate support to each child in order to achieve the best possible learning outcomes;
  • discuss transition between ECEC and primary education in the light of providing all children with an equal starting point and equal opportunity to learn;
  • look at the roles of families, communities and local services in improving the inclusiveness and quality of ECEC and primary schools.

Facilitator: Raffaella Greco Tonegutti (European Commission / RTD)

Pep talks: Martine Broekhuizen (CARE), Chiara Pronzato (Family and Society), Andrey Ivanov (FRA)


The formal requirements for ECEC staff and teachers vary greatly across EU Member States, and ECEC staff often lack professional recognition. Both groups need to reconsider their roles in providing the most appropriate learning support for each child and the appropriate possibilities of professional development. Teachers are those who usually play a decisive role in influencing each child's attitude towards learning and education. This workshop will look at initial education and professional development opportunities which enable multi-professional teams to work together, continuous improvement of teaching and learning, as well as collaboration with families and other stakeholders. Working conditions and leadership which support the exchange of practice, reflection and the development of staff will be discussed. The workshop will specifically address professional development needs in the face of increasing diversity in the classrooms.

Facilitator: Ana-Maria Stan (European Commission / EAC)

Pep talks: Pauline Slot, Bente Jensen & Chiara Bove (CARE), Rachel Snape (SEAs4All), Andrea Young (University of Strasbourg), Hanna Siarova (PPMI)


Given the cross-sectoral nature of ECEC, government, stakeholders and social partners need to work together to ensure high quality outcomes for children, families and local communities. Likewise, pre-primary and primary schools need to adopt a 'whole school approach', in which the entire school community (school leaders, teaching and non-teaching staff, parents and families) feels responsible and works with external stakeholders for the educational success of all learners. Schools need sufficient autonomy or flexibility to adjust to the needs of their communities. ECEC, on the other hand, needs support through legislation, regulation and/or funding, including additional funds for disadvantaged groups in order to make progress towards a universal entitlement to ECEC provision. The advantages and disadvantages of different types of funding and governance arrangements in Europe will be discussed in terms of optimising outcomes.

Facilitator: Monica Menapace (European Commission / RTD)

Pep talks: Janneke Plantenga & Thomas van Huizen (CARE)


The monitoring and evaluation of ECEC and school practice are essential to support high quality, coherence across the system and continuous improvements in teaching and learning in the best interest of each child. Systematic monitoring of practice at the relevant local, regional or national level can generate information and provide feedback to all interested partners. This workshop will look at the general principles of evaluation, including the role of indicators for quality and inclusive education, and discuss differences in approaches to quality monitoring and quality assurance in Europe. It will consider any necessary synergies between external and internal evaluation and good practice in participative monitoring and evaluation.

Facilitator: Thomas Pritzkow (European Commission / EAC)

Pep talks: Edward Melhuish, Thomas Moser, Konstantinos Pietrogiannis (CARE), Gary Pollock (MyWeb)


 Curricula should be based on pedagogic goals, values and approaches which enable all children to:

  • develop their cognitive, social, emotional, physical and linguistic competences;
  •  reach their full potential in relation to the demands of the 21st century.

The curricula should also meet the specific educational support needs of disadvantaged groups in society. At the same time the implementation of the curriculum needs to allow for flexibility in addressing the diverse needs of children in a holistic manner. A combination of education and care from the very beginning can promote children’s well-being, positive self-image, physical development and their social and cognitive development. This workshop will consider pedagogies and approaches which allow for a shared understanding and trust between children, teachers and ECEC staff, and families in order to encourage development and learning. It will discuss inclusive ways of teaching and learning which support children with specific needs and promote the development of talent.

Facilitator: Kristina Cunninham (European Commission / EAC)

Pep talks: Dr. Katherina Ereky-Stevens (CARE), Teresa Sorde (INCLUD-ED), Eleanor Foster (Unviersity of Ghent)


Documents and publications