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Access to Early Childhood Education and Care

Access to Early Childhood Education and Care

November 16, 2020

A new report recently published by Eurofound investigates the issue of access to early childhood education and care (ECEC), healthcare and long-term care in EU Member States, Norway and the UK. In this article, we provide a summary of the main findings related to ECEC.

The research is placed within the context of The European Pillar of Social Rights, which is the first set of social rights proclaimed by EU institutions since 2000. The Pillar states that people in the EU should have access to good quality ECEC and emphasises that children from disadvantaged backgrounds should have the right to specific measures to enhance equal opportunities. Access to these services contributes to reducing inequalities throughout the life cycle and achieving equality for women and persons with disabilities.

The report shows that many people with children report no unmet needs due to informal care arrangements, but many who use ECEC have difficulty affording it. Trends of convergence between the Member States understood as the extent to which countries are moving in the same direction, are also analysed. The trend of convergence has been stronger in terms of the proportion of children aged between three and primary school age in ECEC. This was mainly driven by countries below the average moving closer towards it, including Ireland. Ireland was also considered an “overperformer” regarding the progression of the proportion of children under three who are in ECEC – understood as a country which was above average in 2008 and found itself even further above average in 2018.

The study collates evidence of inclusive practices in Europe, with a focus on children with special needs. In Denmark, more than 20% of staff reported working with groups in which more than 11% of the children had special needs. This was the highest proportion in any of the participating countries, apart from Chile. It should be noted, however, that the response rate in Denmark was low. The case of AIM in Ireland was highlighted as an example of an intervention that aims to increase take-up. Over the first two years of the LINC CPD training programme, 1,699 early childhood educators graduated from the programme and a further 941 were enrolled in the 2018–2019 programme. The first-year evaluation of the AIM programme found that the quality of teaching had increased as a result of extra training. It suggested developing this further by providing more training to staff and parents, improving the content, structure and delivery, and ensuring coverage in all parts of the country.

The report offers a number of suggestions for policymakers. Access to ECEC still needs to be improved, particularly in some countries, in order to reduce inequalities and to facilitate employment for informal childcarers – the majority of whom are female. In order to do this, tackling affordability issues is key. In addition, in order to promote inclusive ECCE, more assessment of the effectiveness of training programmes is needed, and CPD costs should be reduced.

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