Early childhood and primary education statistics

Data extracted in September 2018.

Planned article update: September 2019.

Highlights

In the EU in 2016, 95.3 % of children aged between 4 and the age of starting compulsory education were in early childhood education.

In 2016, there were 14.4 pupils on average per teacher in primary education in the EU, raging from 9.3 in Greece to 19.4 in France.


Pre-primary education 2016-01.jpg


This article presents statistics on early childhood and primary education (ISCED levels 0 and 1) in the European Union (EU) and forms part of an online publication on education and training in the EU.

School helps young people acquire basic life skills and competences that are necessary for their personal development. The quality of a pupil’s school experience affects not only their development, but also their place in society, level of educational attainment, and employment opportunities. Early childhood and primary education are important to prepare pupils for the secondary level of their education.

The quality of education may be linked to teaching standards, which in turn are related to the demands placed upon teachers, the training they receive, the roles they are asked to fill and the resources that are made available for them to carry out their tasks. Equally, the quality of education may show local or regional variations, related to a variety of socio-demographic factors.

Full article

Participation

The number of students found in each of the earliest levels of education varies somewhat between the EU Member States. This reflects, to some degree, the demographic structure of each population and also country-specific policies relating to the provision of early childhood development and pre-primary education.

In the EU-28 there were 15.4 million pupils in pre-primary education in 2016. The number of pupils in primary education was 1.9 times as high, at 29.1 million.

Table 1: Number of early childhood and primary education students, 2016
(thousands)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_enrp01) and (educ_uoe_enrp04)

The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training 2020 (ET 2020) adopted in May 2009 set a benchmark to be achieved (in the EU-28) by 2020 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. Overall, this target was reached in 2016, as the share of children in the EU-28 between the age of four and the starting age of compulsory education — which varies between four and seven depending on the EU Member State under consideration —attending school was 95.3 % (see Figure 1), up from 94.9 % in 2015. At the lower end of the range, this ratio was 75.1 % in Croatia and also less than four fifths in Slovakia and Greece. A total of 13 EU Member States reported in 2016 that they had already achieved the 95 % benchmark: Latvia, Sweden, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Malta, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, the United Kingdom and France (the last two both reporting ratios of 100 %).

Figure 1: Pupils between the age of four and the starting age of compulsory education as a share of the corresponding age group, 2015 and 2016
(%)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_enra10)

Number of teachers and pupil-teacher ratios

In all three education levels (early childhood development, pre-primary and primary education), there is a clear dominance of female over male teachers. Among the 11 EU Member States for which the number of teachers in early childhood development is available (see Table 2 for more details), the share of men ranged from less than 1.0 % in Croatia, Cyprus, Lithuania and Romania to just 4.2 % of the total number of teachers in Sweden.

Table 2: Number of teachers in early childhood and primary education, 2016
(thousands)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_perp01)

There were 1.2 million pre-primary school teachers in the EU-28 (excluding Denmark) in 2016 and 2.2 million primary school teachers. Unlike their pupils, there was a large gender imbalance among teachers at these educational levels: men accounted for just 4.0 % of all pre-primary school teachers in the EU and for 15.0 % of primary school teachers. As such, the share of male teachers in the total number of teachers was seen to rise as a function of the educational level in which they were teaching.

The number of pre-primary school teachers in 2016 reached 290 thousand in Germany, which was more than twice the level recorded in any of the other EU Member States; Italy (133 thousand), France (120 thousand) and Spain (100 thousand) were the only other Member States to record a count of 100 thousand or more.

An analysis by sex reveals that the Netherlands and France were the only EU Member States in 2016 to report a share of male teachers in the total number of pre-primary teachers which surpassed 10.0 %, while less than 1.0 % of all pre-primary school teachers were men in 10 of the 27 Member States for which data are available.

Among primary school teachers, the share of male teachers also remained well below half, but — with the exception of Slovenia — was systematically higher than the corresponding share recorded for pre-primary education. In Slovenia, Lithuania, Hungary and Italy, less than 5.0 % of primary school teachers were men in 2016, whereas in Finland, Sweden, Spain, Luxembourg and Greece the share of male teachers exceeded 20.0 %, peaking at 30.9 % in Denmark (2014 data).

One measure which may be used to analyse the quality of schooling is the pupil-teacher ratio, which provides an indication of the average number of pupils there are for each teacher (see Table 3). In 2016, pupil-teacher ratios were relatively low — which may generally be considered to be beneficial — in a majority of the EU Member States for early childhood development (subject to data availability), for example, in Germany, Sweden, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, Spain, Hungary and Cyprus — each had a ratio that was less than 10.0 pupils per teacher. However, this level of education did not systematically record the lowest pupil-teacher ratios (among those Member States for which data are available for all three levels of education), with lower ratios reported in Denmark (2014 data), Romania and the United Kingdom (mixed years) for pre-primary education and for primary education.

Table 3: Pupil-teacher ratios in early childhood and primary education, 2016
(number of pupils per teacher)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_perp04)

In 2016, the pupil-teacher ratio for pre-primary education ranged among the EU Member States (no data for Ireland) from a low of 8.6 in Estonia (this ratio also covers early childhood development) up to 17.7 pupils per teacher in the United Kingdom (2014 data), with France (22.6) above this range and Sweden (6.4) below it; Iceland reported an even lower pupil-teacher ratio for pre-primary education (5.3).

A comparison between pupil-teacher ratios for pre-primary education and primary education shows that there was no clear pattern (see Figure 2), insofar as 14 out of the 27 EU Member States for which data are available recorded a lower ratio for pre-primary education.

Figure 2: Pupil-teacher ratios in pre-primary and primary education, 2016
(number of pupils per teacher)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_perp04)

In 2016, the lowest pupil-teacher ratios for primary education were recorded in Greece and Romania, 9.3 and 9.4 pupils per teacher respectively; these were the only EU Member States to report a single-digit ratio. At the other end of the range, the highest pupil-teacher ratios for primary education (close to 20 pupils per teacher) were reported in Czechia and France, the latter therefore recording the highest ratios for both pre-primary and primary education.

Finance

The proportion of financial resources devoted to education may be measured by public expenditure on various levels of education relative to gross domestic product (GDP). In the EU-28, public expenditure on pre-primary education relative to GDP ranged in 2015 from lows of 0.1 % in Ireland up to 1.0 % in Bulgaria and 1.3 % in Denmark (2012 data) and Sweden. A similar comparison for primary education shows a generally higher level of expenditure with the range from 0.4 % in Romania and 0.6 % in Germany up to peaks of 2.1 % in Cyprus and Denmark (2014 data).

Bulgaria was the only EU Member State (mixed reference years or no data for Denmark, Estonia and Croatia) where public expenditure on pre-primary education was higher than public expenditure on primary education in 2015. By contrast, in Ireland, the level of public expenditure on primary education (1.4 % relative to GDP) was 20 times as high as that on pre-primary education (under 0.1 % relative to GDP). The ratio of expenditure on primary education to expenditure on pre-primary education was also relatively high in the United Kingdom (seven times as high). Some of the differences may be explained by different entry ages for primary education.

Figure 3: Public expenditure on pre-primary and primary education relative to GDP, 2015
(%)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_fine06)

Data sources

Source

The standards for international statistics on education are set by three international organisations:

The source of data used in this article is a joint UNESCO/OECD/Eurostat (UOE) data collection on education statistics and this is the basis for the core components of Eurostat’s database on education statistics; in combination with the joint data collection Eurostat also collects data on regional enrolments and foreign language learning.

Regulation No 452/2008 of 23 April 2008 provides the legal basis for the production and development of EU statistics on education and lifelong learning. Two European Commission Regulations have been adopted concerning the implementation of the education and training data collection exercises. The first, Commission Regulation (EU) No 88/2011 of 2 February 2011, concerned data for the school years 2010/2011 and 2011/2012, while the second, Commission Regulation (EU) No 912/2013 of 23 September 2013, concerns data for school years from 2012/2013 onwards.

More information about the joint data collection is available in an article on the UOE methodology.

Classification

The international standard classification of education (ISCED) is the basis for international education statistics, describing different levels of education; it was first developed in 1976 by UNESCO and revised in 1997 and again in 2011. ISCED 2011 distinguishes nine levels of education: early childhood education (level 0, with level 01 for early childhood development and level 02 for pre-primary education); primary education (level 1); lower secondary education (level 2); upper secondary education (level 3); post-secondary non-tertiary education (level 4); short-cycle tertiary education (level 5); bachelor’s or equivalent (level 6); master’s or equivalent (level 7); doctoral or equivalent (level 8). The first results based on ISCED 2011 have been published in 2015 starting with data for the 2013 reference period for data on pupils and teachers and the 2012 reference period for data on expenditure. This classification forms the basis of all of the statistical information that is presented in this article.

Early childhood education programmes are typically designed with a holistic approach to support children’s early cognitive, physical, social and emotional development and introduce young children to organised instruction outside of the family context. These programmes have an intentional education component and aim to develop socio-emotional skills necessary for participation in school and society. They also develop some of the skills needed for academic readiness and prepare children for entry into primary education. These programmes target children below the age of entry into primary education.

Early childhood educational development (ISCED level 01) has educational content designed for younger children (in the age range of 0 to 2 years), whilst pre-primary education (ISCED level 02) is designed for children from the age of 3 years up to the start of primary education (ISCED level 1). Age is generally the sole criterion for admission to compulsory primary education, which starts when children reach six years of age in most of the EU Member States, although Bulgaria, the Baltic Member States, Croatia, Poland, Finland and Sweden have a compulsory starting age of seven, while Cyprus (five years and eight months) and the United Kingdom (four or five years) have younger starting ages. Primary education typically lasts six years, although its duration can range between four and seven years; as a result, it typically lasts until a child is 10 to 12 years old.

Primary education programmes are typically designed to provide students with fundamental skills in reading, writing and mathematics (in other words literacy and numeracy) and to establish a solid foundation for learning and understanding core areas of knowledge, personal and social development, in preparation for lower secondary education. It focuses on learning at a basic level of complexity with little, if any, specialisation.

Key concepts

The indicator for the share of pupils between the age of four and the starting age of compulsory education relative to the corresponding age group reflects participation rates (from the age of four) in early childhood education, in other words in early childhood development (ISCED level 01) or pre-primary education (ISCED level 02). The upper boundary to the age range that is covered varies between EU Member States as the starting age for compulsory education varies between countries: it is six years of age in most of the EU Member States, although Bulgaria, the Baltic Member States, Croatia, Poland, Finland and Sweden have a compulsory starting age of seven, while Cyprus (five years and eight months) and the United Kingdom (four or five years) have younger starting ages.

Pupil-teacher ratios are calculated by dividing the number of full-time equivalent pupils and students in each level of education by the number of full-time equivalent teachers at the same level; this ratio should not be confused with average class size, which refers to the number of students in a given course or classroom.

Tables in this article use the following notation:
Value in italics     data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is therefore likely to change;
: not available, confidential or unreliable value;
not applicable.

Context

In February 2011, the European Commission adopted a Communication Early childhood education and care: providing all our children with the best start for the world of tomorrow (COM(2011) 66 final). This noted that early childhood education and care is an essential foundation for successful lifelong learning, social integration, personal development and later employability and that it is particularly beneficial for disadvantaged children, with the potential to help lift children out of poverty and family dysfunction.

ET 2020 strategic framework

The updated strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (known as ET 2020), was adopted by the Council in May 2009. It sets out four strategic objectives for education and training in the EU:

  • making lifelong learning and mobility a reality;
  • improving the quality and efficiency of education and training;
  • promoting equality, social cohesion and active citizenship; and
  • enhancing creativity and innovation (including entrepreneurship) at all levels of education and training.

The strategy sets a number of benchmarks to be achieved by 2020, including 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; this benchmark was reached, for the EU-28 as a whole, in 2016.

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Participation in education and training (educ_part)
Education personnel (educ_uoe_per)
Education finance (educ_uoe_fin)