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Document 52011DC0066

Early Childhood Education and Care

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Early Childhood Education and Care

The European Union (EU) wants all young children to be able to benefit from high quality education and care. In order to meet this objective, the Commission presents an agenda for work among Member States and actions that it will put in place to support them.


Communication from the Commission of 17 February 2011 – Early Childhood Education and Care: Providing all our children with the best start for the world of tomorrow [COM(2011) 66 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) is of prime importance. It is the foundation for successful lifelong learning, but also for social integration, personal development and later employability. ECEC contributes to achieving the two main goals of the Europe 2020 strategy: reducing early school leaving to below 10 % and lifting 20 million people out of poverty.

By 2020, the European Union (EU) aims to guarantee 95 % of children between age 4 and the start of compulsory education a place in ECEC.

ECEC for all

Early childhood is the stage where education can most effectively influence the development of children. All young children must therefore have access to ECEC.

This is particularly true for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, since the positive effects of ECEC in reducing early school leaving can lift them out of poverty. ECEC can also improve the integration of young persons with disabilities and better prepare them to attend mainstream schools.

Universal access to ECEC depends on efficient funding. Returns on investment from pre-primary school are the highest. However, it is in this area that Member States’ public spending is lowest. Funding must also be fair. ECEC for under-threes is often entrusted to market-based ECEC services to which low-income families do not have access.

In order to ensure universal access to ECEC, the work agenda for the Member States proposes to:

  • use ECEC effectively to support inclusion and reduce early school leaving;
  • widen access to ECEC for disadvantaged children, migrants and Roma children;
  • collect evidence on the advantages and impact of universal versus targeted provision;
  • design efficient funding models and balance public and private investment.

High quality services

Children establish most habits and patterns for their lives in the first years. ECEC must therefore not focus solely on cognitive aspects, but offer curricula which meet all of their needs (cognitive, emotional, social and physical).

Quality of services is also dependent upon qualified staff. Professionalisation and specialisation of staff are still to be improved, as is gender balance, since most staff are women.

Cooperation between the different policy sectors such as education, employment, health and social policy is indispensable, but is also important between the different levels of authority and education. The participation of stakeholders and parents is also necessary.

In order to guarantee the quality of ECEC services, the work agenda for the Member States plans to:

  • introduce curricula meeting the range of young children’s needs;
  • promote the professionalisation of ECEC staff: what qualifications are needed for which functions;
  • develop policies to attract, educate and retain suitably qualified staff to ECEC;
  • improve the gender balance of ECEC staff;
  • move towards high quality, equitable and efficient ECEC systems integrating care and education;
  • facilitate the transition between family and education/care, and between levels of education;
  • design coherent, well-coordinated pedagogical frameworks involving key stakeholders.

Commission action

In order to support the work agenda for the Member States, the Commission proposes to:

  • promote the identification and exchange of good practices through the Open Method of Coordination (“ET 2020”);
  • participate in developing innovative approaches through transnational projects and networks under the Lifelong Learning Programme;
  • provide support for research into ECEC under the 7th Framework Programme on Research and Development;
  • encourage Member States to invest in this area through the Structural Funds.


Council conclusions on early childhood education and care: providing all our children with the best start for the world of tomorrow [Official Journal C 175 of 15.6.2011].

Communication from the Commission to the Council and to the European Parliament of 8 September 2006 on Efficiency and equity in European education and training systems [COM(2006) 481 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

Last updated: 27.06.2011