Early childhood education and care

Early childhood education and care refers to any regulated arrangement that provides education and care for children from birth to compulsory primary school age, which may vary across the EU.

What is Early childhood education and care (ECEC)?

Early childhood education and care refers to any regulated arrangement that provides education and care for children from birth to compulsory primary school age, which may vary across the EU. It includes centre and family-day care, privately and publicly funded provision, pre-school and pre-primary provision. Quality early childhood education and care can lay the foundations for later success in life in terms of education, well-being, employability, and social integration, and is especially important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. High-quality early childhood education and care is therefore an efficient and effective investment in education and training. 

What is the EU doing?

Based on a Commission proposal, the Council adopted in May 2019 a Recommendation on high-quality early childhood education and care systems, which aims to support Member States in their efforts to improve access to and quality of their early childhood education and care systems.

The Council Recommendation includes a Quality framework, which identified 5 key components of a qualitative system:

  • access to early childhood education and care
  • training and working conditions of staff in charge of early childhood education and care
  • definition of appropriate curricula
  • governance and funding
  • monitoring and evaluation of systems

The Quality Framework already supported reforms in many countries and helped improving the offer of early childhood education and care.

The EU benchmark of 95% of children above 4 years old attending early childhood education and care has globally been reached, but there are still wide differences across countries, regions and areas. The European Commission supports Member States in identifying challenges in this field and ways to address them.

The Commission also facilitates cooperation among Member States in the field of early childhood education and care, providing data and analysis on current developments in Europe.

From 2018 to 2020, a Working Group brought together national representatives of the relevant ministries and European organisations, which recently published its results:

  • a toolkit for inclusive early childhood education and care
  • guidelines on how to recruit, train and motivate well-qualified ECEC staff
  • a final report summarising the conclusions of the inclusion toolkit and the guidelines

What are the next steps?

In the Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021-2030), Member States have agreed on a new target of 96% for the participation of children between three years old and the starting age for compulsory primary education in ECEC.

The Commission will continue supporting Member States to increase the accessibility and quality of ECEC.

It will also continue funding projects which contribute to the quality of early childhood education and care, including through the training and professional development of staff in this sector. The Erasmus+ programme is instrumental to this effect.