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European cooperation on schools

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European cooperation on schools

This communication outlines the Commission’s proposal for an agenda for European cooperation on schools. The main focus is on improving the implementation of the key competences for lifelong learning, efficiency and equity in education, as well as the quality of teacher education.


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 3 July 2008 – Improving competences for the 21st Century: an Agenda for European Cooperation on Schools [COM(2008) 425 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


The European school systems are today facing challenges that will have consequences for the European Union’s (EU) socio-economic future. Therefore, the reform process of the education systems must be strengthened. This communication presents the measures the Commission will take to support cooperation between EU countries in implementing the reforms with regard to the framework for key competences, quality of learning, equity and quality of teachers and school staff.

The European framework for key competences sets out the knowledge, skills and attitudes required in the knowledge society that should be placed at the core of competence development in schools. The 2007 public consultation on “Schools for the 21st Century” established the need for a flexible environment in which students may develop these competences. In this regard, a holistic approach should be taken to curricular reform.

Literacy and numeracy are essential areas of key competences to consider. The current decline of reading competences experienced in the EU needs to be addressed as a priority. Furthermore, the diversity in classrooms, as a result of the differences between genders, socio-economic backgrounds, abilities or disabilities, mother tongues and learning styles, needs to be taken into account. Hence, teaching that is better-tailored to the individual needs of each student and specific training for teachers need to be provided. The importance of defining and assessing learning outcomes, that is, the competences that students should have acquired and can use, should also be considered.

Therefore, the Commission encourages EU countries to cooperate in implementing the “key competences” by:

  • establishing action plans that promote literacy and numeracy;
  • promoting “learning-to-learn”;
  • providing a comprehensive approach for developing competences.

The European Council conclusions of March 2006 asserted the need to step up reforms with regard to providing high-quality learning for all. Education systems must be both efficient and equitable, with further consideration given to the relationship between students’ socio-economic backgrounds and educational outcomes. In this regard, the 2007 public consultation on school education highlighted the significance of early learning opportunities and inclusive school systems.

Early learning opportunities, such as pre-primary education, are seen to diminish the educational disadvantage usually experienced by children from lower socio-economic and minority backgrounds. Improving access to these opportunities is one of the greatest contributions school systems could make in the long run. Furthermore, the systems need to ensure a high quality of teaching and to put into place policies that provide for flexible learning pathways, which will take into account the needs of each student. At the same time, efforts need to be made to achieve faster progress in combating early school leaving. This is a particular problem within disadvantaged social groups, incurring costs both at the individual and societal levels.

Consequently, the Commission intends to support EU countries’ cooperation in implementing efficient and equitable school systems to:

  • improve access to pre-primary education;
  • asses and measure the equity impact of school systems and make improvements to reduce differences in quality between schools;
  • facilitate student transfers from one level or type of school to another;
  • decrease the number of early school leavers;
  • offer tailored learning approaches to all students and teach students with special educational needs in mainstream settings.

The competences of teachers are the main within-school factors that shape students’ educational outcomes. Nevertheless, in most EU countries there are deficits in teaching skills and not enough resources are allocated to training and development. The public consultation emphasised the need to balance theory and practice in teacher education, link teaching to children’s learning and progress and accredit teachers’ training and development activities.

The Commission intends to support EU countries’ cooperation in improving the quality of teacher education concerning the:

  • initial education, induction and professional development of teachers;
  • recruitment of teachers and school leaders.


Council conclusions of 30 November 2010 on increasing the level of basic skills in the context of European cooperation on schools for the 21st century [Official Journal C 323 of 30.11.2010]. Even though education and training performance in the EU has generally improved over the last decade, the benchmarks agreed for 2010 have not been met. Consequently, further efforts need to be made to improve achievements in reading literacy and mathematics, science and technology (MST), focusing on:

  • curriculum design;
  • motivation for reading literacy and MST;
  • the impact of new technologies on basic skills and their potential for learning;
  • the gender dimension;
  • the link between pupil background and school performance;
  • education and continuous professional development of teachers;
  • school ethos and characteristics.

To this end, EU countries are invited to develop strategic national approaches, as well as to assess existing ones for strengthening the evidence base for policy making. The Commission is invited to support EU countries by establishing a high-level expert group on literacy and a thematic working group on MST made up of EU countries’ policy-makers and experts, as well as by facilitating the sharing of good practice on the attainment of basic skills. Furthermore, the Commission and EU countries should work together to develop pilot projects and to make use of all relevant EU level instruments to increase the level of young people’s basic skills.

Conclusions of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States, meeting within the Council of 21 November 2008 on preparing young people for the 21st century: an agenda for European cooperation on schools [Official Journal C 319 of 13.12.2008]. These conclusions list three priorities for European cooperation on schools:

  • guaranteeing and improving the acquisition of key competences, with particular emphasis on literacy and numeracy;
  • enhancing the role of schools in creating inclusive societies and achieving social cohesion by means of equitable, high-quality education;
  • promoting the teaching profession and enhancing initial and in-service training for staff in schools.

EU countries, with the support of the Commission, are invited to promote these policy priorities through enhanced European cooperation, regular dialogue and the use of the relevant EU instruments. At the same time, the Commission is invited to put forward proposals for forms of cooperation and exchange of good practice.

See also

  • The European Commission Directorate-General for Education and Culture website on school education

Last updated: 31.01.2011