OECD Working Paper on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

OECD Working Paper on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
A level playing field in Early Childhood education

To create a level playing field in a child’s early years, all children should have equal access to high-quality learning and development opportunities, with additional resources being allocated to children experiencing disadvantage or their Early Years settings, according to a recently published working paper from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) titled “Levelling the playing field in ECEC: Results from TALIS Starting Strong 2018.”

Drawing on data from the OECD’s ‘Starting Strong Teaching and Learning International Survey’ (TALIS Starting Strong), the working paper explores diversity, equity and inclusion in Early Years settings.

A focus on equity and inclusion

As access to Early Years and School Age Care expands, “policy makers have been shifting their focus to the quality of Early Years (EY) services as well as to strategies to enhance equity and inclusion.” These developments, the report states, “are informed by growing evidence that high quality Early Years (EY) can be particularly beneficial for children from vulnerable and minority backgrounds.”

The purpose of the working paper is to present new results from the TALIS survey to inform discussions on diversity, equity and inclusion in Early Years settings.

The TALIS Starting Strong survey 2018

Nine countries participated in the TALIS Strong 2018 survey: Chile, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Norway, and the Turkey.

The purpose of the 2018 survey is to better understand the extent to which Early Years settings serve children from diverse backgrounds; whether children from diverse backgrounds are concentrated in some Early Years settings, and how the quality of Early Years settings might be related to the characteristics of enrolled children.

The survey covered four distinct dimensions of diversity:

  1. Socio-economically disadvantaged children
  2. Children with special educational needs
  3. Children with a different first language.
  4. Children who are refugees.

When analysing the quality of the Early Years (EY) education and care that is provided, researchers looked at:

  • Adequacy of centre-level (settings) resources
  • Staff composition, experience and training
  • Staff attitudes to diversity and practices with children
  • Engagement with families, communities and other services.
Summary of TALIS 2018 findings
  • Socio-economic disadvantage and different first language are the most common dimensions of diversity of children’s populations enrolled in Early Years settings in the countries that participated in the survey.
  • In many of those countries, a sizeable proportion of Early Years settings have relatively high concentrations (30 per cent or more) of children from diverse backgrounds. In most countries there is also a sizeable proportion of settings where two or more dimensions of diversity apply to more than 10 per cent of the children.
  • Parental involvement tends to be substantially lower in more diverse Early Years settings.
  • In many participating countries, more staff in special roles tend to work in Early Years settings with higher levels of diversity. This indicates a greater capacity to provide the specific types of support that children from diverse backgrounds require to fully take part in Early Years.
  • Staff working in more diverse settings tend to have more training on addressing diversity topics.
  • Staff working with more diverse groups of children tend to report a greater use of adaptive pedagogical practices in several countries.
  • Many Early Years systems appear to be (positively) responsive to diversity in some aspects of quality (training, pedagogical practices).
  • But also, in many countries, quality appears to be lower in more diverse Early Years settings regarding other aspects of quality (material resources, parental investment).
  • Variation in quality according to the diversity profiles of Early Years settings is higher in countries with more diverse populations of children attending settings and lower in countries where these populations of children are less diverse.
OECD policy recommendations

The Working Paper makes the following recommendations for policy makers:

1.     Identify the factors behind the concentration of diverse children in Early Years settings and explore policies to reduce it.

2.     Ensure that more diverse Early Years settings are adequately resourced according to their specific needs.

3.     Ensure that Early Years settings staff composition, experience and training support the provision of high-quality experiences to all children.

4.     Encourage practices with children that adapt to their needs and recognise the value of diversity in all centres.

5.     Support the engagement with families and communities and cooperation with other services, especially in centres with high concentration of diverse children.

6.     Maintain high-quality Early Years education and care for all children as the overarching goal of equity and inclusion policies.

Relevance to Irish policy – the Equal Participation Model (EPM)

The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth may look to the OECD’s recommendations to ensure that the upcoming Equal Participation Model (EPM) delivers high-quality Early Years and School Age Care. The EPM seeks to promote equitable participation for all children in Early Years and School Age Care, with a particular focus on children experiencing forms of disadvantage.

When introduced in September 2024, the EPM will provide Early Years and School Age Care services with a proportionate mix of universal and targeted supports to children and families accessing their services who are experiencing disadvantage.

Furthermore, Ireland is currently taking part in a separate OECD TALIS survey which will report its findings in 2025/2026.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about Early Childhood Ireland’s policy work, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected]

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