ESN’s policy and communications officer, William Hayward, participated in a stakeholder consultation meeting organised by the European Commission on 31 January 2018. This was an opportunity to share feedback on a forthcoming proposal for a Recommendation on high quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) systems.

The European Commission is preparing this Recommendation to serve as policy guidance to the Member States, encouraging them to set up their own ECEC quality frameworks. This builds on previous work undertaken by the European Commission on ECEC, and will also contribute to the latest flagship development in European social policy, the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). The Recommendation will contribute specifically to principle 11 which states that children have the right to affordable early childhood education and care of good quality.

ECEC refers to any regulated arrangement that provides education and care for children from birth to compulsory primary school age including professionally run day care centres and home day care provided by self-employed childminders. The early years, from birth to compulsory school age, set the foundations for children’s lifelong development and wellbeing in the long-term, and is a key stage for tackling inequality faced by disadvantaged children. Therefore high quality ECEC must be recognised as a vital social investment in Europe’s future. The forthcoming Recommendation is a welcome step in this direction.

Where Europe currently stands on ECEC

ESN’s three-year project investigating children’s services in the Member States ‘Investing in Children’s Services, Improving Outcomes’ identified a number of trends across Europe in ECEC services.

One of these trends is varying accessibility and quality of ECEC, an issue which must be addressed to ensure that the most disadvantaged children (those in care, with disabilities or who are refugees) can benefit from the impact of ECEC. Also, whilst ECEC coverage for children older than three is generally good, there remains much more room for improvement to create places for children younger than three. Furthermore, it was stressed that coordination between social services and ECEC providers must be reinforced so that the early signs of neglect and abuse can be shared with child protection services.

ESN’s position on the Recommendation

During the meeting the Commission explained that the Recommendation will draw heavily on the EU’s 2014 Quality Framework on ECEC. This framework is based on five dimensions: access; workforce; curriculum; monitoring and evaluation; and governance and funding. It includes ten statements which invite Member States to strengthen the quality of their ECEC provision, which will be supplemented with indicators in the forthcoming Recommendation.

ESN expressed support for the Recommendation which offers a comprehensive overview of areas to address so that the quality and accessibility of ECEC can be improved and to tackle the issues identified by ESN in the ‘Investing in Children’s Services, Improving Outcomes’ project. Nevertheless, it was pointed out by ESN and other stakeholders that coordination between ECEC services, education, health, social services and others should be reinforced in the Recommendation by including indicators which specifically measure whether ECEC services are in contact and coordinating with social and other public services to ensure a more integrated approach.