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Competence Requirements in Early Childhood Education and Care. A study for the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture.

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Abstract

This report presents the findings of a European research project jointly conducted by the University of East London (UEL) and the University of Ghent (UGent). The ‘study on competence requirements in early childhood education and care’ (CoRe) explored conceptualisations of ‘competence’ and professionalism in early childhood practice, and identified systemic conditions for developing, supporting and maintaining competence in all layers of the early childhood system. The European Commission Directorate-General for Education and Culture commissioned the research conducted between January 2010 and May 2011. In the light of the research findings, and intensive consultation with key stakeholders in ECEC in Europe, CoRe has developed policy recommendations, which are also part of this report.
CoRe
CoRe
Competence Requirements in Early Childhood Education and Care
A Study for the European Commission Directorate-General for Education and Culture
CoRe
Competence Requirements
in Early Childhood Education and Care
Public open tender EAC 14/2009
issued by the European Commission, Directorate-General for Education and Culture
Final Report
University of East London, Cass School of Education
and
University of Ghent, Department for Social Welfare Studies
London and Ghent, September 2011
Table of contents
1 Introduction ............................................................................................................................... 7
1.1 Acknowledgements .............................................................................................................8
2 Project rationale and objectives ............................................................................................... 11
3 Methodology ........................................................................................................................... 13
3.1 Limitations of the study ..................................................................................................... 14
4 Early Childhood in a changing EU policy context ....................................................................... 15
5 Structure of the report ............................................................................................................. 19
6 Key terms and concepts ........................................................................................................... 21
6.1 Competence ...................................................................................................................... 21
6.2 Early childhood education and care (ECEC) ........................................................................ 21
6.3 Quality............................................................................................................................... 23
6.4 Professionals and practitioners .......................................................................................... 26
6.5 Practitioner education ....................................................................................................... 26
7 CoRe research findings ............................................................................................................. 27
7.1 High levels of systemic competences are required ............................................................. 27
7.2 Formal competence requirements in European countries .................................................. 28
7.3 Inclusive professionalisation for a diverse workforce ......................................................... 29
7.4 Case studies as examples of systemic approaches to professionalisation ........................... 31
7.5 Competent systems ........................................................................................................... 32
7.5.1 Individual competences ............................................................................................. 35
7.5.2 Institutional competences .......................................................................................... 39
7.5.3 Inter-institutional and inter-agency competences ...................................................... 42
7.5.4 Competences of governance ...................................................................................... 44
8 Policy recommendations .......................................................................................................... 49
8.1 Recommendations following from previous research ........................................................ 49
8.1.1 Recurrent preconditions ............................................................................................ 49
8.1.2 Adequate public investment ...................................................................................... 49
8.1.3 Increasing the proportion of graduates (at BA level, ISCED 5) ..................................... 50
8.2 CoRe recommendations at regional and national level....................................................... 50
8.2.1 Ensure equal and reciprocal relationships between theory and practice .................... 50
8.2.2 Build leadership capacity ........................................................................................... 50
8.2.3 Develop effective policies that address the entire ECEC system ................................. 51
8.2.4 Rethink continuous professional development ........................................................... 51
8.2.5 Increase job mobility .................................................................................................. 52
8.2.6 Include assistants in adapted qualifying routes .......................................................... 52
8.3 CoRe recommendations at European level......................................................................... 53
9 References and bibliography .................................................................................................... 55
10 Table index ........................................................................................................................... 61
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1 Introduction
There is a broad consensus among researchers, practitioners, and policymakers that the quality of
early childhood services and ultimately the outcomes for children and families depends on well-
educated, experienced and ‘competent’ staff. But what exactly makes a competent early childhood
practitioner? How can competence be understood, and its development supported, in the highly
complex and demanding field of working professionally with young children, families and
communities? What approaches do different countries take, and what lessons can be learnt from
practices developed by practitioners, training institutions and policymakers across Europe?
This report presents the findings of a European research project jointly conducted by the University
of East London (UEL) and the University of Ghent (UGent). The ‘study on competence requirements
in early childhood education and care’ (CoRe) explored conceptualisations of ‘competence’ and
professionalism in early childhood practice, and identified systemic conditions for developing,
supporting and maintaining competence in all layers of the early childhood system. The European
Commission Directorate-General for Education and Culture commissioned the research conducted
between January 2010 and May 2011. In the light of the research findings, and intensive consultation
with key stakeholders in ECEC in Europe, CoRe has developed policy recommendations, which are
also part of this report.
The CoRe research team at London and Ghent was supported by an international expert advisory
team and collaborated closely with three key European and international professional networks:
Diversity in Early Childhood Education and Training (DECET), International Step by Step Association
(ISSA) and Children in Europe (CiE). These networks represent the field of ECEC in all EU27 / EFTA-ETA
/ states and candidate countries. In addition, a fourth international professional network (Education
International) has shared expertise with the project, bringing in its strong workforce and teaching
unions' perspective. Locally-based but internationally renowned researchers contributed hugely to
the project by providing critical insights into the policies of their countries and through case studies
of interesting practices situated in different European locations.
The aim of CoRe is to provide policy-relevant information, advice and case studies with regard to the
competences required for the ECEC workforce and how to support competence development from a
systemic perspective. In order to achieve its aims, CoRe has conducted original research, reviewed
previous work and international literature, and consulted with experts in the field over a period of 15
months. In this report, we present the findings of the different but interrelated strands of this
process which underpin the policy recommendations regarding systemic competence development
and professionalisation in early childhood education and care in Europe. By providing informed views
on the questions at stake we hope to initiate discussion, to provoke new thinking, and to encourage
new questions.
University of East London,
Cass School of Education
Prof. Dr Mathias Urban
Principal Investigator (Project Coordinator)
Dr Arianna Lazzari, MA
Research Assistant
University of Ghent,
Department for Social Welfare Studies
Prof. Dr Michel Vandenbroeck
Principal Investigator
Dr Jan Peeters Katrien van Laere, MA
Researcher Research Assistant
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1.1 Acknowledgements
The CoRe project could count on an international expert advisory board, who shared with us their
experience of landmark international studies (Starting Strong, SEEPRO, Care Work in Europe) and
helped to orient our discussion. The board consisted of Pamela Oberhuemer (SEEPRO, Staatsinstitut
für Frühpädagogik, Munich), Dr Claire Cameron (Care Work in Europe, Thomas Coram Research Unit,
Institute of Education, University of London), Dr John Bennett (Author of Starting Strong I + II, OECD,
2001,2006; Caring and Learning together, UNESCO, 2010; Paris, France) and Prof. Linda Miller (Open
University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, editor of several books on professionalism in ECEC).
Representatives of international professional networks (DECET, ISSA, CiE, Education International)
made sure our discussions, while reaching the necessary critical level, were always grounded in real-
life experiences of organisations and professionals working towards achieving change on the local
level: Ana del Barrio Saiz (DECET), Anke van Keulen (DECET), Carmen Anghelescu (ISSA), Colette
Murray (DECET), Dr Dawn Tankersly (ISSA), Dennis Sinyolo (Education International), Mihaela Ionescu
(ISSA), Myriam Mony (DECET), Nives Milinovic (ISSA / Children in Europe), Regina Sabaliauskiene
(ISSA), Dr Tatjana Vonta (ISSA), Teresa Ogrodzinska (Children in Europe) and Stig Lund (Children in
Europe).
Researchers conducting the case studies provided inspiring valuable ‘practice-based evidence’
(Urban, 2010) for policymakers and researchers in Europe: Dr Claire Cameron (Care Work in Europe,
Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London), Fanika Balič (Vrtec
Pobrežje Maribor, Slovenia), Jerneja Jager (Educational Research Institute, Slovenia), Jytte Juul
Jensen (College of Pedagogy Århus, Denmark), Prof. Linda Miller (Open University, Milton Keynes,
United Kingdom), Mariacristina Picchio (ISTC-CNR, Rome), Marie Paule Thollon Behar (Ecole
Rockefeller de Lyon - Université Lumière Lyon 2, France), Monika Rosciszewska Wozniak (Comenius
Foundation for Child Development, Poland), Myriam Mony (ESSSE Lyon, France), Olav Zylicz (Warsaw
School of Psychology, Poland), Sonja Rutar (Educational Research Institute and Faculty of Education
Koper, Slovenia), Steven Brandt (University of Ghent, Belgium), Susanna Mayer (ISTC-CNR-Rome,
Italy), Dr Tatjana Vonta (DRCEI-Lublijana, Slovenia) and Dr Tullia Musatti (ISTC-CNR-Rome, Italy).
Researchers, locally-based but internationally connected, provided their expertise of local and
national developments and responded to our endless queries while we conducted the survey: Dr Ana
Ancheta Arrabal (Departamento de Educación Comparada, Universitat de Valencia, Spain), Ana del
Barrio Saiz (Bureau Mutant, the Netherlands), Anna Tornberg (Lärarförbundet, Sweden), Anke van
Keulen (Bureau Mutant), Carmen Anghelescu (CEDP Step by Step, Romania), Dr Claire Cameron (Care
Work in Europe, Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London), Colette
Murray (Pavee Point and EDeNn, Ireland), Prof. Dr Florence Pirard (Office de la Naissance et de
l’Enfance / Université de Liège, Belgium), Helena Buric (Open Academy Step by Step, Croatia),
Mariacristina Picchio (ISTC-CNR, Rome), Marie Paule Thollon Behar (Ecole Rockefeller de Lyon -
Université Lumière Lyon 2, France), Dr. Natassa Papaprokopiou (Technological Educational Institute
of Athens, Greece), Nives Milinovic (Open Academy Step by Step, Croatia), Pascale Camus (Office de
la Naissance et de l’Enfance / Université de Liège, Belgium), Regina Sabaliauskiene (Centre for
Innovative Education, Lithuania), Dr Tatjana Vonta (DRCEI-Lublijana, Slovenia), Teresa Ogrodzinska
(Comenius Foundation for Child Development, Poland), Dr Tullia Musatti (ISTC-CNR-Rome, Italy) and
Stig Lund (BUPL).
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We also benefited from contributions from the following colleagues in the field: Dr Armand De
Meyer (Belgium), Caroline Detavernier (University college Arteveldehogeschool, Belgium), Frank
Jansma and Natalie van der Veen (Stichting Beroepskwaliteit Leraren en ander onderwijspersoneel,
the Netherlands), Geert Keersmaekers (Kind & Gezin, Belgium), Jasna Krstovic (University of Rijeka,
Faculty of Teacher Education, Croatia), Jeanine Vandenbroucke, (Vlaams Welzijnsverbond, Belgium),
Johanna Mahieu (DVO De Blauwe Lelie, Belgium), Karin Van Hijfte (CVO De Oranjerie, Belgium), Laura
Franceschini (Centro Nascita Montessori, Italy), Lien Coppens (University College Hogeschool Ghent,
Belgium), Lien Werbrouck (University College Karel De Grote-Hogeschool, Belgium), Dr. Malgorzata
Zytko (University of Warsaw, Faculty of Education, Poland), Massimo Mari (Confederazione Generale
Italiana Lavoro, Italy ), Mieke Daems (CEGO, Belgium ), Monique van Gerwen and Kristiaan Hillen
(FCB Dienstverlenen in Arbeidsmarktvraagstukken Kinderopvang, the Netherlands) and Prof. Dr.
Susanna Mantovani (Università Di Milano Bicocca, Italy).
Our special thanks go to Pamela Oberhuemer (SEEPRO, Staatsinstitut für Frühpädagogik, Munich) for
her time and commitment, and for providing a critical review of our survey based on her own
research experiences from the SEEPRO study.
Regarding the literature review we particularly thank Dr Claire Cameron (Care Work in Europe,
Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London); Helena Buric (Open
Academy Step by Step, Croatia) and Nives Milinovic (Open Academy Step by Step, Croatia) for their
contribution.
We are particularly grateful to Nora Milotay, Adam Pokorny and the team of the Directorate General
for Education and Culture for their commitment to this work and for an excellent collaboration over
the period of this study. Their openness to our approach and framework, and their constructive way
of engaging in critical discussions, has contributed hugely to shaping this report.
Last, but not least, the CORE project would not have been possible without the commitment of
practitioners, educators, pedagogistas, trainers and lecturers, parents and children who gave their
time to participate in focus groups, respond to interview questions and share their knowledge,
experiences and points of view with us. It is impossible to name them all individually but we would
like to express our sincere thanks for their contributions.
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2 Project rationale and objectives
The present study is grounded in international research on quality, competences and professionalism
in early childhood. At European level, 14 Member States and one candidate country were included in
a survey, and seven detailed case studies were conducted. Recommendations for action in the
various layers of the early childhood system, including the level of European policy, have been
developed.
As detailed in the Terms of Reference for this tender, the specific objectives of the project were:
1. To produce a summary of current evidence about the competences required by ECEC staff,
based on a systematic, comprehensive and critical literature review.
2. To provide a comprehensive summary of the competences that countries require their ECEC
staff to possess based on definitions in relevant national legislations and policy documents.
3. To provide a description of competences taught in a geographically balanced sample of
training programmes that lead to qualifications required for work in ECEC services, including
countries that have no legislation on competence requirements.
4. To conduct seven case studies of ECEC policy and provision in a geographically balanced
sample, emphasising high-quality programmes and analysing staff competences contributing
to the quality of provision.
5. To propose a definition of the core competences that all ECEC staff require in order to
contribute to a high-quality ECEC service.
6. To develop recommendations for actions that should be taken at national and European
level.
The analysis of the findings of objectives 1, 2 and 3 of the project, together with experiences
gathered in the case studies (objective 4) and the survey of actual competence profiles for the ECEC
workforce across Europe, has enabled us to ‘map’ areas of policy and practice where action can and
should be taken. These areas have been discussed with key actors in the field (as represented by the
collaborators of this project), and have led to recommendations for policy and practice to
promote professionalism in early childhood across all layers of the professional system,
including practice, management, qualification and training, and research
improve pre- and in-service training of the ECEC workforce
develop an understanding of qualification requirements for the ECEC workforce that shares
common values and respects the diversity of possible approaches to realize them across
Europe.
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3 Methodology
In order to ensure the highest quality of the research, CoRe has adopted a multi-method approach
(Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007). The study is based on a literature review of international policy
documents and academic publications, a survey among experts in this field in 15 EU countries, and a
series of seven in-depth case studies. It also builds on previous work in this domain, particularly on
Care Work in Europe (Cameron & Moss, 2007) and SEEPRO (Oberhuemer, Schreyer & Neumann,
2010).
Three key activities, or project stages, developed and conducted by CoRe inform each other:
1. A comprehensive literature review
The literature review provides a summary of the current international discussion about the
competences required by ECEC staff. As the dominant academic literature uses English as its
lingua franca, and the debate is dominated by research conducted in English-speaking
countries, to overcome the limitations of a discourse in one dominant language, we have
complemented the review with a broader array of European insights, and with Croatian,
Danish, Dutch, French, German and Italian literature on the topic.
2. A survey to explore competence profiles in 15 European countries
The survey complements existing overviews of ECEC professions in the 27 EU countries (i.e.
the SEEPRO study) by adding information about formal professional competence
requirements and formal competence requirements used in initial training, as well as critical
commentaries on the content and the use of these profiles by experts in 15 countries.
Countries in a geographically balanced sample included in this survey were Belgium (Flemish-
and French-speaking communities), Croatia (as a candidate state), Denmark, France, Greece,
Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the
United Kingdom (England and Wales).
3. A set of in-depth case studies of interesting practices in seven European locations
The seven case studies, which explored a wide variety of practices, were selected for the
possibilities they offer to consider different pathways towards systemic professionalisation of
the early childhood workforce. The case studies were conducted by local experts, based in
the countries of the selected cases.
Since the data sources for the study varied widely (e.g. in terms of format, purpose, addressees) it
was most important to contextualise them in order to allow for meaningful comparison
(Krippendorff, 2004). Instead of solely relying on published documents, we consulted with experts
from three key professional networks that represent all EU27 / EFTA-EEA / candidate countries.
Continuous consultation with the field was a key feature of the entire research process and was
facilitated through e-mail and internet telephony (Skype™), but also through face-to-face meetings.
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3.1 Limitations of the study
Given the constraints of time and budget, it was not possible to study all aspects of the competences
required for the early childhood workforce in Europe. One of the important aspects that remained
underdeveloped is the issue of family day carers or child minders. In some parts of Europe (e.g.
France and Belgium) they constitute the largest part of the care and education workforce for the
youngest children (from birth to the age of three), and few formal competences or qualifications are
required. In many countries they work in very difficult conditions, with limited educational support
and low income. As a consequence, professional mobility (both horizontal and vertical) is virtually
impossible for them. In short, it is a largely undervalued workforce, all too often considered as what
women naturally do, that deserves particular attention with regard to its professionalism and could
be the subject of a separate study.
Likewise, we are aware that gender issues are not fully covered in this study. The early childhood
workforce has been and continues to be mostly female. Considering that the workforce will have to
grow considerably in order to meet the EU policy goal of accessibility of ECEC for all, it will become
increasingly necessary to attract more men into the early childhood workforce. It will be important to
study examples of good practice (e.g. in Norway and Denmark, but also in some parts of Germany,
Scotland and other places) in order to explore how gender issues might proactively be introduced to
the diverse professionalisation pathways described in this report.
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4 Early Childhood in a changing EU policy context
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) has been, since the 1992 Council Recommendations on
Child Care, a recurring topic on European policy agendas. Over this period of time, however, a
progressive shift of focus can be noticed. Whereas initially the rationale for investing in early
childhood education and care was mostly driven by socio-economic concerns about employment,
competitiveness and gender equality, more recently EU policy documents point to children's rights,
questions of citizenship, equality of educational opportunity, and social cohesion (EC communication,
2011; Europe 2020, 2010a; Council Conclusions on the Social Dimension of Education and Training,
2010).
From an economic perspective ECEC policies at European level are driven by common concern to
ensure a smart, sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
‘Europe faces a moment of transformation. The crisis has wiped out years of economic and
social progress and exposed structural weaknesses in Europe's economy. In the meantime,
the world is moving fast and long-term challenges globalisation, pressure on resources,
ageing intensify. The EU must now take charge of its future’.
(European Commission, 2010a, p. 3)
The EU 2020 strategy is an acknowledgement that yesterday’s solutions will not suffice to resolve the
crisis and ‘put Europe back on track’. Knowledge base and innovation, sustainability and social
cohesion cannot be developed in isolation. The priorities are mutually dependent. Against this
background, coherent approaches to education, training and lifelong learning are seen as of
particular importance for ‘improving citizens’ employability, social inclusion and personal fulfilment
(Council of the European Union, 2010a). Moreover, ECEC services are seen as a means to deal with
the demographic challenges of an ageing population (European Commission, 2001b), to create
employment by increasing women’s labour market participation and as a measure to promote
gender equality by reconciling work and family responsibilities (European Commission, 2007a, 2007d,
2009a). At the Barcelona summit in 2002, the need to increase the number of childcare places was
acknowledged, and quantitative targets agreed: Member States agreed to provide childcare places
for 33% of children up to the age of three and 90% of children from three to mandatory school age
by 2010. Despite an overall increase in the provision of pre-school education over the last few years,
many countries still struggle to meet the ‘Barcelona targets’, especially for children under three years
of age (European Commission, 2009a). The new benchmarks state that by 2020 at least 95% of
children between four and compulsory school age should participate in early childhood education
(Council of the European Union, 2009a; European Commission, 2009b, p.74). Furthermore, early
childhood services form a considerable part of the labour market: they often recruit their workforce
from groups that are specifically targeted by the education and training strategic framework. One of
the main targets of the EU 2020 strategy is to ensure that 75% of 20-64-year-olds are employed
(European Commission, 2010a). In this context, ECEC is not only seen as a prerequisite for
employment, but also as a source of employment. There is a growing need for care work and this will
lead to shortages on the European labour market in the decades to come, unless the status of the
care work force is raised and men as well as women join this work force (Cameron & Moss, 2007;
European Commission, 2007a).
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From this economic perspective the concern is mainly about quantitative aspects of accessibility and
availability of ECEC. Over the last two decades, however, the issue of quality has gained importance
from an educational perspective.
From an educational perspective the expansion of good-quality early childhood institutions is seen as
indispensable for the educational attainment of the children and for the foundation of lifelong
learning:
ECEC has a crucial role to play in laying the foundations for improved competences of future
EU citizens, enabling us to create a more skilled workforce capable of contributing and
adjusting to technological change. There is clear evidence that participation in high-quality
ECEC leads to significantly better attainment in international tests on basic skills, such as PISA
and PIRLS.’
(European Commission, 2011b, p. 1)
In February 2010 the Commission evaluated the Lisbon Strategy and stated that progress in
increasing youth educational attainment levels had been too slow, with outcomes only improving
moderately since 2000 (European Commission, 2010b). In this regard, one of the five main EU targets
is to reduce the number of early school leavers to below 10% (European Commission, 2010a). In
order to reach this target, the council endorsed the Strategic Framework for European Cooperation
in Education and Training (ET 2020) in May 2009, and implemented an updated set of benchmarks
for 2010-20. The early childhood sector has the potential to play an important role in meeting the
benchmarks of the ET 2020 programme: to reduce the number of early leavers of education, to raise
the number of young people in higher education, and to increase the participation in lifelong learning
with regard to its workforce (Council of the European Union, 2009a). In the forthcoming decade, the
importance of education, including pre-primary education, will be further underlined by these
benchmarks.
Several longitudinal studies show the impact of early years education on later achievement, provided
the ECEC is of high quality, and hence the increased importance of what constitutes quality in this
context.
From a social perspective, the benefits of high-quality ECEC are particularly salient for children who
live in disadvantaged families (European Commission, 2008a, 2008b; Council of the European Union,
2010a; European Commission, 2011b). The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is explicitly
recognised in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. From human rights and
children’s rights perspectives it is important that all children have the same access to high-quality
provision: ECEC can make an important contribution to breaking the cycles of poverty and
discrimination (Esping-Andersen, 2002; Eurydice, 2009; Leseman, 2009). Children who are most at
risk will more probably be in the lowest-quality classrooms when quantitative benchmarks are not
accompanied by qualitative targets (LoCasale-Crouch, et al., 2007). One of the five main targets of
the EU 2020 strategy is that 20 million fewer people should be at risk of poverty (European
Commission, 2010a). Good-quality, accessible ECEC services can contribute to this target. The ET
2020 framework promotes generalised equitable access in pre-primary education, and the quality of
provision and teacher support (Council of the European Union, 2009a). According to the Council of
the European Union, participation in high-quality early childhood education and care, with highly-
skilled staff and adequate child-to-staff ratios, produces positive results for all children and has the
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greatest benefits for the most disadvantaged. Providing adequate incentives and support, adapting
provision to needs and increasing accessibility can broaden the participation of children from
disadvantaged backgrounds (Council of the European Union, 2009b, 2010a).
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5 Structure of the report
This final report presents key concepts, key findings and policy recommendations of the CoRe
research. For each project phase (literature review, survey, case studies), a detailed research
document was produced and discussed with project participants, an expert advisory team and the
Directorate-General of Education and Culture. In addition we asked Pamela Oberhuemer (SEEPRO,
Staatsinstitut für Frühpädagogik, Munich) to provide a concise report to link the relevant findings of
the SEEPRO research project regarding formal training requirements for ECEC staff to the CoRe study.
These original research documents form the basis of the annexes to this final report: Urban, M.,
Vandenbroeck, M., Peeters, J., Lazzari, A., Van Laere, K. (2011) CoRe. Competence requirements in
Early Childhood Education and Care. Research documents commissioned by the European
Commission, DG Education and Culture.
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6 Key terms and concepts
6.1 Competence
The quality of ECEC depends on the competence of people working with children, families and
communities. Often, we associate the term competence’ with the qualities of an individual
practitioner, something that can be acquired through training and professional preparation (i.e. the
integration of knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivation, …). The difficulty with this concept is that it is
rather narrow. Especially in the English language context, ‘being competent’ (a fully human attribute)
is often reduced to ‘competencies’ a series of skills and pieces of knowledge that individuals need
to ‘possess’ in order to perform a particular task.
A key finding of CoRe is that ‘competence’ in the early childhood education and care context has to
be understood as a characteristic of the entire early childhood system. The competent system
develops in reciprocal relationships between individuals, teams, institutions and the wider
sociopolitical context. A key feature of a ‘competent system’ is its support for individuals to realise
their capability to develop responsible and responsive practices that respond to the needs of children
and families in everchanging societal contexts. At the level of the individual practitioner, being and
becoming ‘competent’ is a continuous process that comprises the capability and ability to build on a
body of professional knowledge, practice and develop and show professional values. Although it is
important to have a ‘body of knowledge’ and ‘practice, practitioners and teams also need reflective
competences as they work in highly complex, unpredictable and diverse contexts. A ‘competent
system’ requires possibilities for all staff to engage in joint learning and critical reflection. This
includes sufficient paid time for these activities. A competent system includes collaborations
between individuals and teams, institutions (pre-schools, schools, support services for children and
families…) as well as ‘competent’ governance at policy level.
6.2 Early childhood education and care (ECEC)
There has been some debate on how to label the provisions for children under compulsory school
age and their families. In this report, we use the term Early Childhood Education and Care’ (ECEC) for
pragmatic reasons, since it is the term most commonly used in international and European policy
documents, as well as in OECD reports. In English-speaking countries, the term education and care is
used to open the limitations of both terms that are perceived as complementary, yet at the same
time separate. Education is therefore understood as something to do with learning in more
formalised settings (Urban, 2009), whereas care alludes to what women do, unpaid in the home for
children (Cameron & Moss, 2007). Both conceptualisations are narrow as they do not give account
of the complexity of work with young children and their families. In everyday pedagogical practices,
which encompass education in its broadest sense, aspects of education and care are deeply
intertwined. The use of ECEC in this report should therefore not be understood as simply adding one
to the other (education + care). ECEC refers to a holistic approach to education, resonating with the
social pedagogical perspective prevailing in Scandinavian literature and the German concept of
Bildung. This signals that we insist that explicit caring tasks such as nurturing, feeding or putting to
bed are educational in nature, that we consider learning to be about developing cognitive, motor,
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emotional, social, creative and other aspects of the child, and that supporting learning requires a
caring attitude and behaviour.
We need to be aware that ECEC institutions vary substantially from one country to another. These
variations heavily influence prevailing concepts of professionalism and core competences.
Authors who have mapped out professionalism within the ECEC systems in Europe and in the OECD
countries differentiate between the so-called split systems’ and ‘unitary systems’ (Bennett, 2003;
European Commission, 2011b; Moss, 2003; Oberhuemer, 2005; Oberhuemer & Ullich, 1997; OECD,
2006; UNESCO, 2010). The split system model, in which childcare for the youngest children (under
three or four years old) and the kindergarten for older children (up to compulsory school age) are
separate, is common in Europe. It exists in Belgium, France, Italy, Luxemburg, Portugal, the
Netherlands, Greece and Ireland. In Denmark, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Spain and, recently
also in England and Scotland, policymakers have moved towards a unitary system where provision
for the youngest children is integrated into either the educational system as in New Zealand, Spain,
England, Scotland and Sweden or a broader ‘pedagogic’ system, such as in Finland and Denmark.
The integration of childcare into a broader entity assumes a unitary structure and a shared approach
to access, subsidies, curriculum and personnel (Moss, 2005, p. 4). To add to the complexity, the
divide between age groups and institutions (childcare / preschool) is often not the only divide in the
early childhood system. In ‘split’ systems in particular, services tend to be fragmented, with different
types of services (e.g. public, private, private-for-profit) existing in parallel.
Various authors have indicated that this differentiation between a ‘split system’ and a ‘unitary’
system has important consequences for the professionalism of the staff members who work with the
youngest children (from birth to three or four) (Bennett, 2005; Moss, 2005; Oberhuemer, 2000,
2005). According to the OECD, it is typical of the ‘split regimes’ that highly qualified and well-paid
teachers work in the kindergartens, whereas childcare children up to the age of three is taken care of
by personnel with lower or no formal qualifications who are paid significantly less (OECD, 2006, p.
161). ‘Early childhood educators working closest to the school gate are better trained and rewarded’
(OECD, 2006, p. 158). The professionalisation of family day carers, however, remains a problem, even
within unitary systems. The educational level and working conditions of family day carers are not as
good as those of staff who work in group care.
A low level of professionalism within group care for the youngest children (from birth to three or
four) is inherent in the so-called split systems where childcare and kindergarten are separate from
each other. France is an exception to the rule. The French example of the éducateur jeunes enfants
(graduate level) demonstrates that it is possible to develop a high degree of professionalism within a
split system (Peeters, 2008). Most problems concerning professionalism within this model can be
found in the private commercial childcare sector. Some examples (e.g. from New Zealand and the
Netherlands) show, however, that it is possible to raise the level of professionalism in the ‘for-profit’
sector if centres receive substantial support from governments and/or the business community
(Mitchell, 2002).
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6.3 Quality
As outlined above, the policy commitment to ECEC at European level is characterised by the
recognition that the provision has to be of high quality. But what constitutes high quality in ECEC is
complex, and often a contradictory matter: definitions of quality and strategies to ensure it vary
considerably across countries (NESSE, 2009). A rich body of literature provides evidence of an
ongoing international debate that, since the 1990s, has critically argued about what exactly the
aspects of the quality construct are, how they are related, and how they can best be evaluated and
developed (e.g. Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 1999, 2007; Pence & Moss, 1994; Penn, 2011). Any
discussion on quality in ECEC should be contextualised: it should encompass the regular review of
understandings and practices for the improvement of services in ever-changing societal conditions
(NESSE, 2009). Consequently, quality needs to be considered as an on-going process rather than as
something that is achieved or not.
The OECD has been a main actor in drawing attention to the importance of quality early childhood
services and systems. The Starting Strong reports (OECD, 2001, 2006) place the question of quality in
the context of democratic ECEC governance. The reports recommend actors
To formulate regulatory standards for all forms of provision, supported by co-ordinated
investment.
To promote participatory processes in defining and ensuring quality. Beyond the minimum
standard ensured by the basic regulations, defining and assuring quality should be a
participatory and democratic process, involving different groups including children, parents,
families and professionals who work with children. Participatory approaches can take many
forms. Starting Strong (OECD, 2001) recommended two policy approaches:
o In consultation with stakeholders, to generate a guiding curriculum framework for
the country that focuses on the norms and values governing early education and
care.
o Monitoring that engages and supports staff, parents, and children.
(OECD, 2006, p. 126)
The 2006 Starting Strong II report re-emphasises the necessity of democratic, participatory
approaches to defining and evaluating quality. It also offers a coherent framework for the different
aspects of quality again from the perspective of overall ECEC governance. The framework describes
quality as constructed from seven interrelated elements:
Orientation quality
the type and level of attention that a government brings to early childhood policy, e.g.
through national legislation, regulation and policy initiatives *…+
Structural quality
Primarily a responsibility of administrations, it refers to the overarching structures needed to
ensure quality in early childhood programmes, and is ensured by the clear formulation and
enforcement of legislation or regulations. Structural requirements may define the quality of
the physical environment for young children (buildings, space, outdoors, pedagogical
materials); the quality and training levels of the staff; an appropriate curriculum properly
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trialled, and covering all the broad areas of child development; acceptable child-staff ratios;
adequate work conditions and compensation of staff, etc. *…+
Educational concept and practice
The educational concept and practice of centres are generally guided by the national
curriculum framework which sets out the key goals of the early childhood system. These
goals differ widely from country to country, and no doubt from decade to decade, but a
common conviction is emerging across countries that lead staff need to be trained to a high
level to achieve the broad goals of early childhood programming *…+
Interaction or process quality
The warmth and quality of the pedagogical relationship between educators and children, the
quality of interaction between children themselves, and the quality of relationships within
the educator team figure among the process goals most frequently cited. *…+
Operational quality
In particular, management that focuses on responsiveness to local need, quality
improvement and effective team building: operational quality is maintained by leadership
that motivates and encourages working as a team and information sharing. It includes
regular planning at centre and classroom level; opportunities for staff to engage in
continuous professional and career development; time allowed for child observation,
assessments and documentation; support of staff performance in the form of
accompaniment and mentoring *…+
Child-outcome quality or performance standards
ECEC services are founded not only to facilitate the labour market or other aims but above all
to improve the present and future well-being of children. Positive child outcomes are a major
goal of ECEC programmes in all countries. Differences between countries arise about the
outcomes to be privileged. *…+
Standards pertaining to parent/community outreach and involvement
This area is mentioned less than other quality standards in national regulations and curricula,
but can emerge strongly in the requirements for targeted and local ECEC programmes. *…+
(OECD, 2006, p. 127-129)
The CoRe research team builds on these elements of quality to establish a working definition of
quality in this report. We argue, however, that the acknowledgement of the importance of the actors
(practitioners, children, families etc.) and their interactions, for establishing quality on a day to day
basis, requires an explicit emphasis on the relational and processual aspects of quality. This is in line
with the explicit systemic perspective we take on our topic throughout this report. The working
definition we suggest for the purpose considers quality to be a multi-dimensional and generic
construct. It unfolds and has to be proactively developed in at least five dimensions:
- experiences of and outcomes for children (e.g. experiences of belonging, involvement, well-
being, meaning-making, achievement)
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- experiences of parents and carers (e.g. experiences of belonging, involvement, well-being and
meaning-making, but also accessibility and affordability)
- interactions (e.g. between adults and children, between children, between practitioners and
parents, between team members, but also between institutions, ECEC and local
communities, professions, practice, research, professional preparation and governance)
- structural conditions (adult/child ratio, group size, space, environment, play materials, but
also paid ‘non-contact’ time, continuous professional development, support for practitioner
research and critically reflective practice)
- systems of evaluation, monitoring and quality improvement (e.g. internal and external
evaluation, systematically including the views of all stakeholders, initiated and supported by
service providers and local or central authorities.
A systemic, dynamic and processual definition of quality, and an emphasis on dialogue and
negotiation, does not open the way to unconditional relativism (‘anything goes’) nor does it lose sight
of ‘outcomes’. On the contrary, we insist that outcomes (for children, families, communities and the
broader society) are crucial; they will be found within each of the dimensions outlined above. They
need to be systematically evaluated and documented, but cannot be predetermined without
negotiation with all stakeholders.
In research literature on the relationships between quality and qualifications, quality is
predominantly rated through instruments such as ECERS, the Caregiver Interaction Scale, ITERS, the
Observational Record of Caregiving Environment, the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, the
Family Day Care Rating Scale and HOME. Although these scales are generally seen as meeting
scientific requirements regarding validity and reliability, they have also been criticised for narrowing
down the concept of quality to environmental aspects, to learning in a narrow sense, or for
neglecting more social and relational aspects of ECEC as well as the meaning-making of children and
parents themselves (e.g. Dahlberg et al., 1999, 2007). Assuming that the concept of quality in ECEC
embeds by definition values, implicit ideologies, subjective perceptions and social constructions
reflecting different cultures *…+ experiences, academic traditions, social needs and expectations’
(Bondioli & Ghedini, 2000), quality in this field needs to be conceptualised as a result of a process of
constant negotiation between all actors involved in ECEC institutions (European Commission
Childcare Network, 1991; Dahlberg et al., 1999, 2007). Universal, decontextualised approaches to
defining quality tend to result in technocratic and managerial procedures that are not appropriate for
the complexity of early childhood professional practice. ‘While we need to remain critical about
quality and its implications for practice, in a broader policy context, arguing for better quality can be
an effective driving force’ (Urban, 2008, p. 138).
In this document, we use the concept of quality in relation to professionalism. We emphasise that it
is concerned with the economic, social and educational functions of ECEC, and that it unfolds at all
four levels of a competent ECEC system (see p. 25).
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6.4 Professionals and practitioners
As the SEEPRO project (Oberhuemer et al., 2010) made perfectly clear, there are many different
professionals working in the field of early childhood education and care, bearing different names
according to the country and the type of services they work in, the qualifications they have, or the
functions they fulfil. Their names may vary from teachers, teaching assistants to educators or family
day care providers with many different variations, even within one country (cf. Adams, 2005). When
we talk about them in generic terms, we use the general term practitioner to include all men and
women working in ECEC settings that provide non-parental education for children under compulsory
school age. These services include childcare centres, nurseries, nursery schools, kindergartens,
various types of age-integrated centres and family day care provided by home-based workers. When
we talk about a specific category of practitioners, we refer as much as possible to their names in the
original language of the country we are speaking about, since it cannot be assumed for instance that
an éducateur in French would have the same meaning as in English.
6.5 Practitioner education
In this report we use the expression practitioner education to refer broadly to any form of
professional preparation and continuous learning that enhances the competence of early childhood
practitioners. Behind this terminological choice stand our intention to emphasise the wide reaching
aims of professionalisation processes as identified by the research community (Oberhuemer, 2005).
The expression practitioner education in fact point to a broad conceptualisation of learning which
encompass reflection on professional practices, co-construction of shared knowledge and
negotiation of meanings and purposes between human beings (Urban, 2008). Ultimately, our
definition of practitioner education underpins a transformative connotation of professional practices,
which are understood as constantly co-constructed, de-constructed and reconstructed in the
relationships with children, families and local communities.
Therefore in this report, the expression practitioner education is used as a generic term that may
comprise many different aspects, including initial professional preparation (qualifying or not
qualifying professionalising routes undertaken before one is involved in practice) and continuing
professional development on the job (in-service courses, team supervision, tutoring, pedagogical
guidance, counselling…).
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7 CoRe research findings
7.1 High levels of systemic competences are required
Both in academia and in international policy documents there is a broad consensus that high-
quality early childhood education has long-lasting beneficial effects on children and society,
but that ECEC of low or mediocre quality may also harm children. There is a similar consensus
that the competences of the workforce are one of the more salient predictors of ECEC
quality. Research therefore recommends that ECEC professionals should be trained at
Bachelor level (ISCED 5) and international policy documents state that at least 60% of the
workforce should be trained at this level.
Different pathways to professionalisation are possible. There is substantial evidence, both
from literature and from case studies, that a coherent and diversified policy aimed at
continuous professional development at institutional or team level, developed by
specialised staff (pedagogical co-ordinators, pedagogistas, counsellors) can yield beneficial
effects to equal those of initial professional preparation . Yet short-term in-service courses
(e.g. limited to a few days per year) that is not embedded in a coherent policy does not
suffice to raise the competences of the professionals with low or no qualifications.
The quality of the workforce cannot be reduced to the sum of the individuals’ competences.
Although the term ‘competence’ may often be associated with qualities of an individual, in
fact the quality of the workforce is determined by the interaction between competent
individuals in what we refer to as a ‘competent system’. Among the more salient aspects of
systemic conditions that allow for competence systems to flourish are good working
conditions that reduce turnover of staff and continuous pedagogical support, aiming at
documenting practice, critically reflecting upon it, and co-constructing pedagogy as an
alternation between theory and practice. This requires time, team collaboration and
continuous pedagogical support.
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7.2 Formal competence requirements in European countries
The survey shows that whereas some countries have national formal competence
requirements both for the profession and for the initial professional preparation , other
countries have formal competence requirements for the profession but not for professional
preparation (or vice versa) and still others have none at all. The existence of formal
competence requirements at national level has the advantage of creating consistency
between training institutions and employers, or between professional preparation and
national ECEC curricula (especially when they are co-constructed by the different
stakeholders).
Source: CoRe 2011
Although national competence profiles are beneficial in general, there is a risk that
excessively narrow, detailed and prescriptive profiles may also stifle the local dynamics that
are essential for developing quality. Where competence profiles consider broader areas
instead, including a body of knowledge, generic skills as well as reflective and reflexive
competences, local ECEC settings and training institutions start from these broad areas but
have freedom to develop and discuss the competences with students or professionals in
their specific social context. When teams of professionals actively collaborate on
competence profiles and competence development, professionals tend to be more internally
motivated to develop and improve the quality of ECEC than when professionals are obliged
to follow prescriptive, top-down competence profiles (Hjort, 2009).
Regarding practitioners initial professional preparation , the survey experts in different
countries seem to agree that profiles should be framed in general terms, rather than in
detailed lists or descriptions, and that they should contain knowledge and skills as well as
reflective competences.
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Preferably, competence profiles should be co-constructions, involving practitioners, experts
and policymakers. When the participation procedures are both very formal and
comprehensive, however, the result may be that they are too time-consuming, leading to a
lack of flexibility.
There is a tension between instrumental labour market demands of early childhood
professionals and the furthering of experimentation, innovation and knowledge
development in educational institutions required to develop the profession (e.g.
universities). Simply deciding what is good enough for the market is unlikely to result in a
developing and innovative profession fit for today’s and tomorrow’s children and families. A
right balance has to be struck between the demands of the labour market and the role of
training institutes as places of research, critical reflection and innovation in society. This
demands an interactive and co-constructive approach by training institutions and
workplaces.
Findings from the case studies point to the importance of building reciprocal relationships
with parents in a context of diversity. The survey shows, however, that many formal
professional competence profiles and training profiles mainly focus on knowledge and
competences about working with children, therefore neglecting the essential work with
parents and local communities.
The survey shows that most formal competence profiles are oriented towards the
individual professional. Although some competence profiles also address issues of how the
ECEC educator can function in the system, in the end it is still the responsibility of the
individual professional to function in this system. According to local experts, the literature
review and the case studies, legal regulations regarding these individual competence profiles
cannot suffice to enhance the quality of institutions. Other investments are necessary to
accompany the implementation of competence profiles. They include support for
practitioners and future practitioners, stimulating policymaking capacity of ECEC settings
and leadership, personnel, time for shared reflection, coaching, career counselling and
other support structures. They also include support for training institutions to develop their
own interpretations of the profiles, and to support the teachers of the future practitioners.
7.3 Inclusive professionalisation for a diverse workforce
There is no such thing as the European early childhood workforce. There are considerable
variations both within and across countries and regions, related to diverse historical
backgrounds and quite different forms of organising ECEC (e.g. split versus unitary systems).
Our survey confirmed the variety that was explored in the SEEPRO study, but, in addition,
also focused on an important part of the workforce that often remains invisible in
international reports: the auxiliary staff or assistants. In this report we define ‘Assistants’
as staff that support the higher-qualified core practitioner in working directly with the
children and their families in ECEC services.
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The proportion of assistant staff varies from a very small percentage to half of the workforce
in EU countries. Assistants often have to meet significantly fewer formal competence
requirements than do core practitioners. In most countries formal requirements for
professional preparation of assistants do not exist.
Source: CoRe 2011
Their role in contributing to high-quality ECEC services deserves more attention, as quite
often assistants are a first and important point of contact for children and families.
Usually, assistants have very limited access to qualifying professional development programs,
and fewer opportunities to participate in team meetings, collaborative planning and
pedagogical documentation than do core practitioners.
Assistants are often responsible for tasks that are considered to be practical caring tasks, as
opposed to education an understanding which, in turn, narrows down the notion of
education to formalised learning and may jeopardise a holistic approach to pedagogy.
It is a challenge for many countries to value the assistant's role without devaluing the
professional status and the importance of qualifications. The survey reveals that options for
meeting this challenge may include shared professional development and team meetings
to build up a shared culture and language, as well as investing in pathways that enable
assistants to obtain some form of qualification at their own pace.
From this perspective, critical factors for success in increasing the competences of assistants
in ECEC services are:
o Continuing professional development policies that include assistants
o Democratic decision-making structures
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o Time for shared reflection for core practitioners and assistants starting from the
same mission and/or curriculum
o Opportunities for assistants to participate in qualifying professional development
programs
o Close co-operation between assistants, qualified core workers, trainers and heads of
ECEC institutions
o Focus on practice-based learning approaches and special professionalising
opportunities dedicated to assistants from minority, marginalised or disadvantaged
backgrounds.
Some practitioners with a low initial preparation have increased their competences throughout their
career and succeeded in reaching high levels of professionalism. These important efforts should lead
to formal qualifications through the recognition of previously acquired competences. This can be
realised through existing systems such as the Vocational Qualification System, but also by giving
credits for being actively involved in practice-based research and/or by following pedagogical
guidance and professional development initiatives over extended periods of time. The use of
portfolios may contribute to this accreditation.
7.4 Case studies as examples of systemic approaches to professionalisation
The seven case studies describe inspiring examples of how systemic professionalisation can be
achieved through different pathways.
The cases of Pistoia (Italy) and Ghent (Flemish community of Belgium) show how
professional development initiatives in combination with pedagogical counselling can lead to
high levels of reflective professionalism, and equip teams to work in complex contexts of
diversity. This asks for continuous pedagogical support in order to support staff to document
their practice and reflect upon it. A general curriculum or a set of guiding principles is an
important supportive element for this reflection. In these cases, and in the Pistoia case in
particular as well as in Slovenia, the focus on collegiality and solidarity, not only within the
team, but also across teams, enables assistants to take part in this systemic
professionalisation process, and to develop a common culture of reflection.
The case of ESSSE (Lyon, France) shows how unqualified practitioners can gain access to
tertiary qualifying education while remaining part-time professionals. Through analysing
their practice in the training institutes, they gain deep reflective competencies as well as
knowledge and skills on a tertiary level.
The case of the Vocational Qualification System in England shows how a comprehensive
national system can be rolled out in order to recognise previously acquired competences.
The case also shows, however, the pitfalls of a detailed and prescriptive national model. The
risk may be that the workforce is reduced to a static rather than a dynamic professionalism,
and that the competences that are valued are limited to what is deemed measurable, to the
detriment of the systemic and reflexive aspects.
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The case of Danish pedagogue education shows a very interesting example of what a generic
initial tertiary education can look like. The professional preparation of future educators is
carried out within a social pedagogical tradition that focuses on broad competences rather
than on a list of skills. The pedagog education is based on a holistic approach to children and
adults as well as on the personal development of future educators.
The case of the WTANP programme in Poland shows how professionalism can take shape in
the context of extreme shortages of provision, as well as shortages of qualified workforce, in
collaboration with parents and representatives of local communities. It offers interesting
insights into the process of systemic professionalisation of ECEC workforces outside the
public sector. Within a comprehensive approach to ECEC, the Comenius Foundation has
developed a framework for teachers’ professional development that is tailored to the needs
of local rural communities.
The Slovenian case study has been chosen to analyse the relationships between different
professional roles with diverse responsibilities across a variety of pre-school institutions and
in the first year of primary school. Various professionals and semi-professionals with
different levels of formal education are included in these processes: pre-school teachers,
pre-school teachers' assistants, primary school teachers and Roma teaching assistants. The
case shows how educational responsibilities are distributed and negotiated among
different professional roles within different settings.
Overall the results of the case studies show the need to re-invent professional development
for the practitioners. Successful initiatives for practitioners education are part of a coherent
system of continuous professional development that is focused on transformative practice.
These successful initiatives are characterised by a focus on experience-specific professional
development (practitioner research or analyse de pratique); it is an investment in
intergenerational transmission of competences, mutual cooperation and peer learning
approaches.
7.5 Competent systems
Although there is broad consensus on the need for professionalisation, there is much less literature
or consensus on the profile or the content of this profession. Researchers looking at the relationships
between professionalism and quality of provision seldom critically discuss their conceptualisations of
quality, and restrict their analysis to looking at levels of professionalism performed by individuals,
often without analysing the content of practitioners education programs. In this predominantly
English-language literature, the focus of ECEC is on a rather narrow conceptualisation of education,
somewhat ignoring the importance of care typical of more holistic and systemic approaches (e.g. the
German concept of Bildung, the Danish concept of social pedagogy and the Italian concept of
collegialità).
We have framed our approach to understanding competence with a holistic understanding of early
childhood education and care as education in the broadest sense (cf. section 5.2, ECEC). Such an
understanding inevitably leads to a broad and holistic understanding of competence and competence
requirements for working in this field.
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The reviewed literature, the survey, the case studies and consultations in this project indicate that
competence unfolds in four dimensions, in every layer of the ECEC system:
1. Individual level
2. Institutional and team level
3. Inter-institutional level
4. Level of governance
Brought together in a coherent framework, competence in each of these four layers characterises
what we would like to call a competent system. This is a systemic conceptualisation that extends the
traditional understanding of competence (as an individual property) into the institutional and
governance domain, a view that is supported by literature (Timar & Kirp, 1991) and by the OECD
DeSeCo project (OECD, 2005). In this perspective our understanding of competence moves beyond
thought knowledge and trained skills to fully embrace reflectiveness as its core. By assuming
reflectivity at the core of our conceptualisation we acknowledge that a demand-led competence
approach (what do practitioners need in order to provide high-quality educational experiences to
young children?) cannot be irrespective of the fact that individuals themselves children, parents
practitioners and all stakeholders involved in ECEC systems help to shape the nature of such
demand (what do high-quality educational experiences mean to children, parents, practitioners and
local communities across different countries and different cultures?). As well as relating to the
demands of contemporary society professional competence in ECEC is determined by the nature of
our goals as individuals and as a society. For this reason our conceptualisation broadens the
traditional understanding of competence defined in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes in
order to embrace the aspects of complexity that characterise educational work. In the framework
designed by the CoRe study, competence unfolds in the dimensions of knowledge, practices and
values that are relevant to all layers of the system mentioned above. By referring to practices instead
of skills we intend to distance ourselves from a technical conceptualisation of educational work (do I
do things right?) to move toward its intrinsically reflective nature (do I do the right things?)
(Vandenbroeck, Coussée, & Bradt, 2010). Similarly, by referring to values instead of attitudes we
intend to distance ourselves from an individualised conceptualisation of ECEC purposes to move
toward a vision of early childhood education that underpins negotiated goals and collective
aspirations. Within this framework competences are intentionally rather than explicitly listed: the
interplay of knowledge, practices and values in fact can generate different approaches according to
different countries and cultural contexts. In this framework the fundamental values expressed by
recent European documents constitute the common ground on which the collective aspirations of
local community can flourish. In the same way a solid base of knowledge, building upon academic
research, is presented as a starting-point for developing local practice-based research. Finally,
competent practices are illustrated with the intention of encouraging local experimentalism. The
points we address in this framework are not meant to be exhaustive but rather need to be
considered as inspiring suggestions.
According to our framework, the competent early childhood system unfolds in the dimensions of
knowledge, practice and values. These dimensions are relevant to all of the layers of the system
mentioned above: individual, institutional, inter-institutional and governance. The dimensions of
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knowledge, practices and values underpinning competence at each level of system will be elaborated
in detail in the following sections.
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7.5.1 Individual competences
At the very core of professional competence lies the constant ability to connect the dimensions of knowledge, practice and values through critical reflection.
In the table below we spell out some aspects of those dimensions but it needs to be emphasized that, in real life, they are inseparable. Knowing, doing and
being all come together in professional ECEC practice. Considering that ECEC staff will increasingly be working in complex and changing contexts of diversity,
dealing with unpredictability and reconstructing daily practices become crucial aspects of professional competence. Therefore, becoming a competent
practitioner is the result of a continuous learning process: a process through which one’s own practices and beliefs are constantly questioned in relation to
changing contexts.
Table: Individual competences
Knowledge
Practices
Values
Knowledge of various
developmental aspects of
children from a holistic
perspective (cognitive, social,
emotional, creative…)
Building strong pedagogical relationships with
children, based on sensitive responsivity
Observing children in order to identify their
developmental needs
Planning and implementing a wide range of
educational projects that respond to children’s needs
supporting their holistic development
Documenting children’s progress systematically in
order to constantly redefine educational practices
Identifying children with special educational needs
and elaborating strategies for their inclusion
Taking into account children’s needs in order to
promote their full potential and their participation in
the life of ECEC institutions
1
Adopting a holistic vision of education that
encompasses learning, care and upbringing
2
Committing to inclusive educational approaches
3
Knowledge of children’s different
strategies of learning (play-based,
social learning, early literacy and
numeracy, language acquisition
and multilingualism )
Creating and organising effective learning
environments
Arranging small-group project work starting from
children's interests (inquiry-based learning)
Encouraging children’s personal initiatives
Adopting a child-centred approach that views children
as competent, active agents and as protagonists of
their own learning
4
Understanding learning as a co-constructed and open-
1
Communication on ECEC, 2011b; Communication from the Commission ‘An EU agenda for the rights of the child ’, 2011a; UNCRC, 1989.
2
Caring and learning together (UNESCO, 2010)
3
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) that has been signed by all Member States and ratified by most.
4
Working for Inclusion (CiS, 2011); Conclusions on preparing young people for the 21st century, 2008
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Supporting children's symbolic play through
appropriate provision of structured and unstructured
materials
Generating an appropriate curriculum that stimulates
emergent literacy, maths and science skills
Promoting language acquisition from a multilingual
perspective (recognising children’s home language
and supporting second language acquisition)
Offering more personalised and individual learning
support to children with special educational needs
ended process that ensures children’s successful social
engagement and encourages further learning
5
Adopting a cross-disciplinary approach to learning
6
Adopting a multilingual approach that encourages
learning in contexts of diversity
7
Knowledge of communication
with children and participation
Valuing and encouraging children's expression through
different languages (painting, dancing, story-telling…)
Making accessible to children the cultural heritage of
local communities as well as the cultural heritage of
humankind (arts, drama, music, dance, sports… )
Encouraging children to engage in cultural production
as a way to express themselves
Involving children in community-based projects
(festivals, cultural events,…) and valuing their
contributions (through exhibitions, documentaries…)
Co-constructing pedagogical knowledge together with
children
Adopting a rights-based approach to ECEC in which
children’s right to citizenship encompasses their full
participation in the social and cultural life of their
community
8
Promoting democracy, solidarity, active citizenship,
creativity and personal fulfilment
9
Knowledge of working with
parents and local communities
Analysing the needs of local communities to work
effectively with parents and disadvantaged groups
Adopting a democratic and inclusive approach to the
5
Common European Principles for Teacher Competences and Qualifications, 2005; Improving the quality of teacher education, 2007b; Improving competences for the 21st
century, 2008b
6
Council Conclusions on ECEC, 2011; Communication on ECEC, 2011b; Conclusions on preparing young people for the 21st century, 2008; Key competences for Lifelong
Learning, 2007c.
7
Council Conclusions on the education of children with a migrant background, 2009b.
8
UNCRC, 1989 - art. 31, Charter of fundamental Rights of the European Union, 2010 art. 24.
9
Communication on ECEC, 2011b; Council Conclusions on the social dimension of education and training, 2010a; Conclusions on preparing young people for the 21st century,
2008; Communication on improving competences for the 21st century, 2008b; Council conclusions on strategic framework for European cooperation in education and
training, 2009a.
CoRe Final Report 37
(knowledge about families,
poverty and diversity)
10
Establishing relationships with parents based on
mutual understanding, trust and cooperation
Enabling open communication and reciprocal dialogue
with parents
Creating systematic opportunities fostering dialogue
and exchanges (e.g. documentation, but also
welcoming practices…)
Involving parents in the decision-making processes
(collegial bodies, parents-teachers committees,… ) and
taking their perspectives into account
Co-constructing pedagogical knowledge together with
parents and supporting their parental role
Organising initiatives involving parents as well as
members of local communities (e.g. workshops,
debates and open conferences,…)
Building up support for ECEC services within local
communities
Establishing collaborative relationships with other
professionals (e.g. health and social services)
education of young children and families in order to
sustain social cohesion
11
Recognising the educational responsibility of parents
as main educators of their children during the early
years
12
Knowledge of team working
(interpersonal communication and
group-work dynamics)
13
Continuously reviewing practices individually and
collectively
Sharing and exchanging expertise with colleagues in
Adopting a democratic and critically reflective
approach to the education of young children
14
10
Findings from the case studies point to the importance of building reciprocal relationships with parents in a context of diversity. The survey shows, however, that many
formal professional competence profiles and training profiles mainly focus on knowledge and competences about working with children, therefore neglecting the essential
work with parents and local communities. In order to address the complex situations of children and families in contexts of social change, it is desirable to integrate
practitioners’ competences within a coherent framework that embraces all aspects of care, learning and participation.
11
Council conclusions on ECEC, 2011; Communication on ECEC, 2011b; Council Conclusions on the social dimension of education and training, 2010a; Council conclusions on
the education of children with a migrant background, 2009b; Council conclusions on strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training, 2009a;
Improving the quality of teacher education, 2007b.
12
Council conclusions on ECEC, 2011; Communication on ECEC, 2011b; Improving the quality of teacher education, 2007b
13
Whereas findings from the case studies emphasise the importance of collegiality and teamwork, the survey shows that many formal professional competence profiles
and training profiles focus solely on knowledge and competences about individual practice with children.
14
Communication on ECEC, 2011; CiS Working for Inclusion, 2011; Council conclusions on the professional development of teachers and school leaders, 2009c; Improving the
quality of teacher education, 2007b.
CoRe Final Report 38
team meetings
Engaging in discussion and learning from
disagreement
Developing educational practices together with
colleagues through joint work
Co-constructing pedagogical knowledge through
documentation and collective evaluation of
educational practices
Knowledge of working in contexts
of diversity (anti-biased
approaches, intercultural
dialogue, identity…)
Developing inclusive practices that facilitate the
socialisation of children and families within a plurality
of value systems and proactively address discrimination
Facilitating intercultural dialogue within ECEC services
and in the wider community through parents’
involvement
Dealing with unpredictability and uncertainty
Elaborating a pedagogical framework that sustains
inclusive practices within ECEC services
Adopting a democratic and inclusive approach that
values diversity
15
Knowledge of the situation of
ECEC in the broader local,
national and international
context
Actively engaging with local communities in promoting
children’s and families’ rights and participation
Networking with other professionals (e.g. professional
associations, trade unions) and engaging in local
political consultation
Rights-based approach to ECEC that promotes
children’s and families' active citizenship, solidarity
and lifelong learning
16
Health and care of young children
and basic knowledge of social
protection
Implementing appropriate practices in relation to
children’s safety, hygiene and nutrition
Commitment to child welfare and well-being
17
Table: Individual competences
15
Council Conclusions on ECEC, 2011; Communication on ECEC, 2011b; Council Conclusions on the social dimension of education and training, 2010a; Council conclusions on
the education of children with a migrant background, 2009b; Conclusions on preparing young people for the 21st century, 2008; Improving the quality of teacher education,
2007b; Council conclusions on strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training, 2009a.
16
ET 2020, 2010a; UNCRC, 1989; Charter of fundamental Rights of the European Union, 2010 art. 24.
17
UNCRC, 1989; Charter of fundamental Rights of the European Union, 2010 art. 24.
CoRe Final Report 39
7.5.2 Institutional competences
Developing practitioners’ competences is also a responsibility of professional teams. Competences in fact evolve constantly from individuals to the group
and vice versa, qualifying institutions as a whole. The case studies have shown that alternations between theory and practice are crucial for developing
these competences in actual or future early childhood practitioners. Moreover, the case studies have opened windows into interesting practices that show
how this could be realised by illustrating diverse possible pathways for the education and professional development of reflective practitioners. In the table
below the elements of competent ECEC and training institutions are explored in further detail.
Table: Institutional competences
Knowledge
Practices
Values
ECEC institutions
Pedagogical knowledge with a
focus on early childhood and
diversity
Knowledge of situated learning
and community of practices
(Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger,
1998)
Elaborating a shared pedagogical framework orienting
practitioners’ educational work (e.g. ISSA, DECET,
professional profile of the centre)
Arrange paid time for all staff to plan, document and
review educational work collectively
Adopting systematic procedures for documenting
educational practices and for evaluating the outcomes
of pedagogical choices on children’s and families’
experiences
Providing opportunities for joint work (inter-vision and
supervision)
Offering ongoing pedagogical guidance to all staff
Elaborating an organised framework for continuous
Democracy and respect for diversity
18
Understanding of professional development as a
continuous learning process that encompasses
personal and professional growth
19
Conceiving professional learning as a recursive
interaction of practising and theorising that needs to
be supported coherently across the different stages of
a professional career
20
Conceiving ECEC institutions as critically reflective
communities that reciprocally interact with the
18
Council Conclusions on ECEC, 2011; Communication on ECEC, 2011b; Council Conclusions on the social dimension of education and training, 2010a; Council conclusions on
the education of children with a migrant background, 2009b; Conclusions on preparing young people for the 21st century, 2008; Improving the quality of teacher education,
2007b; Council conclusions on strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training, 2009a.
19 Council conclusions on the professional development of teachers and school leaders, 2009c; Common European Principles for Teacher Competences and Qualifications,
2005; Improving the quality of teacher education, 2007b.
20 Joint progress report on the implementation of the Education and Training 2010 work programme, 2010b; Council Conclusions on the professional development of
teachers and school leaders, 2009c; Communication ‘Improving competences for the 21st century: an agenda for European cooperation on schools ’, 2008b.
CoRe Final Report 40
Knowledge of learning
organisations and reflective
approaches (Argyris & Schön,
1978; Schön, 1983, 1987;
Argyris, 1992)
Knowledge of school leadership
(collaborative management
styles and distributed
leadership)
professional development of practitioners, assistants
and centre leaders (induction, in-service
professionalising initiatives...)
Providing continuing professional development
programmes strongly rooted in practices and tailored to
the needs of practitioners working in local communities
Offering diversified opportunities for continuing
professional development (centre-based initiatives,
action-research projects, competence portfolio, inter-
generational learning initiatives, networking and
mobility exchanges)
Providing incentives for taking part in continuing
professional development activities (credits for career
mobility)
Offering the possibility to combine work with
attendance at training institutes/university courses
Providing opportunities for horizontal career mobility
through the diversification of roles and responsibilities
Providing opportunities for vertical career mobility of
low-qualified staff
Organising regular meetings with colleagues, parents
and local communities (open conferences, joint
projects,...)
Providing additional pedagogical support to
practitioners working in disadvantaged areas (specific
continuing professional development programmes,
counselling…)
Recruiting a diverse workforce that reflects the diversity
of the communities in which ECEC institutions are
changing needs of children, parents and the wider
society
21
Conceiving ECEC institutions as a forum for civil
engagement that fosters social cohesion
22
21
Council conclusions on the professional development of teachers and school leaders, 2009c.
22
Joint progress report on the implementation of the Education and Training 2010 work programme, 2010b; Council Conclusions on the social dimension of education and
training, 2010a; Council conclusions on the education of children with a migrant background, 2009b; Council conclusions on the professional development of teachers and
school leaders, 2009c; Communication ‘Improving competences for the 21st century: an agenda for European cooperation on schools ’, 2008b.
CoRe Final Report 41
operating
Training institutes
Pedagogical knowledge with a
focus on early childhood and
diversity
Knowledge of adult learning
and reflective approaches
(Schön, 1987)
Knowledge of situated learning
and communities of practices
(Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger,
1998)
Providing programmes that are based on a well-
balanced combination of theory (academic research)
and practice (practical experiences in ECEC settings)
Providing programmes aimed at developing cultural
awareness and expression (e.g. activity & culture
subjects)
Offering differentiated learning devices: lectures, small-
group workshops, project work, work placement...
Providing individualised support through tutoring
activities, both in the training centre and on work
placement
Providing opportunities for sharing reflections on
practical experiences within peer groups
Providing inclusive and flexible professionalising roots
that widen access to non-traditional learners and
disadvantaged groups
Elaborating strategies for the validation of non-formal
and informal learning
Encouraging mobility opportunities
Offering specialised opportunities in inter-cultural
education (lectures, small-group workshops,
fieldwork,…)
Conceiving professionalisation as a process that
encompasses social and cultural promotion to
enhance LLL and social inclusion
23
Understanding professionalisation as a continuous
learning process that encompasses personal and
professional growth
24
Understanding professionalisation as a learning
process that takes place in interaction
Conceiving professional learning as a recursive
interaction of practicing and theorising that needs to
be supported coherently across the different stages of
professional career
25
Table: Institutional competences
23
Joint progress report on the implementation of the Education and Training 2010 work programme, 2010b.
24
Joint progress report on the implementation of the Education and Training 2010 work programme, 2010b.
25
Joint progress report on the implementation of the Education and Training 2010 work programme, 2010b; Council Conclusions on the social dimension of education and
training, 2010a; Council Conclusions on the professional development of teachers and school leaders, 2009c; Council conclusions on the education of children with a migrant
background, 2009b; Communication ‘Improving competences for the 21st century: an agenda for European cooperation on schools ’, 2008b.
CoRe Final Report 42
7.5.3 Inter-institutional and inter-agency competences
A systemic approach to professionalisation needs to look beyond the walls of the individual institution. This implies putting in place structural measures to
foster close collaborations with other provisions that may take different forms, according to the local context and the needs of children and families. The
CoRe case studies provided interesting insights into how this could be realised within the framework of inter-agency cooperation. The table below outlines
how a competent relationships among institutions could be developed in order to promote the welfare of children through inter-agency cooperation.
Table: Inter-institutional and inter-agency competences
Knowledge
Practices
Values
Knowledge of inter-agency
cooperation
Knowledge of community
development
Promoting networking between ECEC institutions of
the same district
Structuring cross-sectoral approaches to care and
education services (health care, child protection,
social services)
Outreaching towards families living in difficult
conditions
Democracy and respect for diversity
26
Assuming a partnership approach to the education
and care of young children in order to foster social
cohesion
27
26
Council Conclusions on ECEC, 2011; Communication on ECEC, 2011b; Council Conclusions on the social dimension of education and training, 2010a; Council conclusions on
the education of children with a migrant background, 2009b; Conclusions on preparing young people for the 21st century, 2008b; Improving the quality of teacher education,
2007b; Council conclusions on strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training, 2009a.
27
Council Conclusions on ECEC, 2011; Communication on ECEC, 2011b; Common European Principles for Teacher Competences and Qualifications, 2005.
CoRe Final Report 43
Cross-disciplinary knowledge
(health & care, pedagogical and
sociological)
Outreaching towards families with special needs
children
Fostering close collaboration between ECEC
institutions and primary schools to ensure smooth
transition through organised forms of inter-
professional collaboration
Strengthening partnership between ECEC and training
institutes
Promoting cooperation between ECEC institutions and
local authorities in charge of educational policy-
making through systematic political consultation
Promoting international cooperation through mobility
exchanges and transnational projects
Conceiving of care and education as integrated in
order to meet all children’s needs in a holistic way
28
Adopting inclusive educational approaches
29
Adopting a cross-disciplinary approach to professional
development through partnership
30
Table: Inter-institutional and inter-agency competences
28
Council Conclusions on ECEC, 2011; Communication on ECEC, 2011b; Communication from the Commission ‘An EU agenda for the rights of the child ’, 2011a.
29
Council Conclusions on ECEC, 2011; Communication on ECEC, 2011b; UN Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities, 2006.
30
Joint progress report on the implementation of the Education and Training 2010 work programme, 2010b, Council conclusions on the professional development of teachers
and school leaders, 2009c.
CoRe Final Report 44
7.5.4 Competences of governance
Finally, a competent system also includes aspects of general governance. The aspects characterising competent governance of ECEC systems are outlined in
the table and further discussed in the paragraphs below.
Table: Competences of governance
Knowledge
Practices
Values
31
Knowledge of the situation of
ECEC in local, regional, national
and international contexts
Knowledge of children’s and
families’ rights
Knowledge of diversity in all its forms
and anti-discriminatory practices
Knowledge of comprehensive
strategies for tackling poverty
and socio-cultural inequalities
Adequately resourcing ECEC in order to provide
generalised equitable access to high-quality ECEC in
particular for children with a socioeconomically
disadvantaged background or with special educational
needs
Designing efficient funding models in the framework of
coherent educational public policies
Adopting an integrated approach to ECEC services at
local, regional and national level
Co-constructing with all stakeholders a coherent
pedagogical framework that ensures coordination
between:
- ECEC curriculum
- Qualification framework for professional preparation
of ECEC staff
- Quality, monitoring and evaluation framework
- Governance framework addressing administrative
responsibilities(at local, regional and national level)
Ensuring cross-sectoral collaboration between different
Children’s right to active participation in society
Children’s right to develop their full potential
through education and successful learning
Respect and inclusion of diversity
Education as a public good
Democracy, social inclusion and economic
development
31
Council conclusions on ECEC, 2011; Communication from the Commission ‘An EU agenda for the rights of the child ’, 2011a; Joint progress report on the implementation of
the Education and Training 2010 work programme, 2010b; Council conclusions on the social dimension of education and training, 2010a; Charter of Fundamental Rights of
the European Union, 2010; ET 2020, 2010; Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe: Tackling Social and Cultural Inequalities (Eurydice, 2009); Council conclusions on
the professional development of teachers and school leaders, 2009c; Council conclusions on the education of children with a migrant background, 2009b; Conclusions on
preparing young people for the 21st century, 2008; Council conclusions on strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training, 2009a; Improving the
quality of teacher education, 2007b; UN Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities, 2006; UNCRC, 1989.
CoRe Final Report 45
policy sectors (education, culture, social affairs,
employment, health and justice)
Supporting professionalisation of ECEC staff through:
- policies that address coherently initial preparation,
induction and continuous professional development of
all staff (practitioners, assistants, centre leaders)
- investments in various forms of pedagogical guidance
- policies promoting career mobility of low-qualified
staff through flexible qualification pathways
- enhancing the prestige of the profession by ensuring
favourable working conditions
Promoting policies to address the gender gap
Table: Competences of governance
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46
1. ECEC as a public good
The successful examples provided by the CoRe case studies are all embedded in a coherent public
policy. Competent systems flourish under ECEC governance that is built on consultation with key
stakeholders, particularly at local level. Attempts to regulate the sector or the ‘market’ (in
marketised ECEC systems) tend to result in discontinuity between professionalising initiatives at
different levels of the system, and consequently fail to qualify the entire ECEC system (English case
study).
The literature review shows that high levels of systemic professionalism are more difficult to achieve
when ECEC is predominantly private and market-oriented. In these cases employers tend to restrict
investments in salaries as well as time for professional development and supervision and therefore
affect the reflective competences of the system (e.g. Moss, 2008).
2. Curricula and competence profiles
The OECD (2006) recommends that curricula or pedagogical frameworks are developed at regional or
national level, framing the values of ECEC in society, albeit not in narrow prescriptive terms, and co-
constructed with different stakeholders in participative ways. Our survey supports this approach. The
existence of general pedagogical frameworks can foster the coherence of training curricula, the
relation between initial professional preparation and employment, intergenerational transmission
among colleagues, and strengthening the integration of work experience and formal education .
A coherent policy framework needs to address all components of the competent system. National
policies should ensure the following aspects are in place and interrelated:
A curriculum framework, addressing overall goals, principles and competences for working with
young children from birth to at least compulsory school age, regardless of the institutional
setting.
A qualification framework addressing professional preparation and professional development for
all members of the ECEC workforce, including assistant and support staff.
A quality framework addressing criteria for the level of quality required from all early childhood
services, and ways to develop good practices.
A monitoring and evaluation framework ensuring data on the ECEC sector are collected
systematically and evaluations involving all key stakeholders are conducted regularly.
A framework for governance addressing policy responsibilities at different levels of government
(e.g. municipal, regional, national) and linking early childhood policies to a wider policy context
(e.g. education, welfare, citizenship, equality).
It must be noted, however, that detailed (prescriptive) curricula also carry the risk of narrowing down
the discretionary space of training institutions as well as of practitioners, and may jeopardise
experimentation and innovative possibilities.
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3. Employment conditions
Precarious work conditions, which are the reality for early childhood practitioners in many countries,
and in particular for those working with the youngest and most vulnerable children, impede
individual learning and, in consequence, professionalisation of the entire field.
Policies to increase professionalisation focusing only on initial professional preparation, without
addressing employment and work conditions, have proven to be ineffective. Individual and team
competences flourish when supported by local and/or national policies. This includes a combination
of regulations on work conditions and on professionalism. Working conditions for individual
practitioners are a key factor in developing a competent system (Early, Maxwell, & Burchinal, 2007).
Regarding work regulations, policies that guarantee decent wages (e.g. pay parity with primary
school teachers) reduce staff turnover and enhance professional and social status. Equally important
is the right to time without children (‘non-contact time’), in order to meet with colleagues within the
institution and with colleagues of other services.
4. Towards unitary systems
The constant need to coordinate policies between different government departments with
fragmented responsibilities for aspects of the ECEC system ties down scarce resources and has
proven to be ineffective. The integration of services for all young children either in the education or
welfare system in a unitary system tends to result in more coherent policies, increased
professionalism, higher qualification requirements and better wages (OECD, 2006; UNESCO, 2010).
The findings of our study also suggest that the content of ECEC is deepened in cases where
professionals are generic, rather than specialised in one field of work or one specific age group. In
the Danish case, the preparation of the paedagog entails a focus on broad competences, enabling
them to work in welfare organisations for all ages. In the case of ESSSE, the future éducateurs jeunes
enfants work in several socio-pedagogical settings for young children and their parents. This is an
inspiring approach to incorporating competences for working with parents into the curriculum.
5. Investment in pedagogical advice/support
Investments in continuous pedagogical support have the potential of strong impact on the quality of
ECEC services, as they lead to continuous professional development of the workforce. There is
substantial evidence that investment in initial professional preparation is cost-effective if
complemented by a coherent policy on professional development, supported by specifically qualified
staff (e.g. pedagogistas, pedagogical coordinators or advisers).
Continuous professional development, accompanied by specially qualified staff needs to take place
over extended periods of time and needs to be focused on transforming collective and individual
practices.
Coherent support and professional development policies can effectively increase competence at
team level and result in high levels of professionalism even in teams with low-qualified practitioners.
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48
6. Addressing the gender gap
The Care Work in Europe project (Cameron & Moss, 2007) has shown that it is imperative to
overcome the notion that care work is what women naturally do’, and actively to address the gender
gap in the ECEC workforce. The SEEPRO project shows that this is still very far from the reality, given
the extremely low percentage of men in ECEC. Experts agree that the number of men working in
ECEC must rise to 10% (European Childcare Network, 1996; Care Work in Europe, 2007; Children in
Europe, 2008; Seepro, 2010).
The case study on the Danish paedagog can be of some inspiration. The generic approach (which
qualifies students to work across a variety of educational settings) and the recognition of students’
previous work experiences have contributed to attracting more men into the ECEC field in Denmark
than in any other EU Member State.
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49
8 Policy recommendations
8.1 Recommendations following from previous research
8.1.1 Recurrent preconditions
Investments in staff competences may yield beneficial effects, but need to be accompanied by other
preconditions. These have been well documented in previous research and international policy
reports. In this report, therefore, we limit ourselves to a brief overview of the most important
preconditions and recommendations that have been developed by previous research.
A key document in this context is the 1996 Quality targets in services for young children (European
Commission Network on Childcare and Other Measures to Reconcile Employment and Family
Responsibilities, 1996). The document provides a comprehensive set of 40 ‘targets’ (which were
deemed achievable within a 10-year time frame at the date of publication), addressing necessary
conditions and responsibilities across all layers of the ECEC system, including a focus on adequate
public investment. Other key documents with policy recommendations drawn from research
evidence include the findings of the EPPE study (Sylva, Melhuish, Sammons, Siraj-Blatchford, &
Taggart, 2004), the OECD Starting Strong I+II reports (OECD, 2001, 2006), the ‘Children in Europe
Policy Paper’ (Children in Europe, 2008), UNICEF ‘Report Card 8’ (UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre,
2008), a report on early childhood policies in Europe (NESSE, 2009), a EURYDICE review focusing on
early childhood and inequality (Eurydice, 2009), and the aforementioned ‘Care work in Europe’ and
SEEPRO studies (Cameron & Moss, 2007; Oberhuemer et al., 2010).
Recurrent preconditions that are known to enhance service qualities are:
staff/child ratios,
group size,
working conditions ( all qualified ECEC staff should be ideally paid a salary in line with that of
primary school teachers)
continuity of staff
8.1.2 Adequate public investment
In several EU countries ECEC saw considerable growth in the 1970s, resulting in an ageing workforce
today. Considering that large parts of the workforce will be retiring in the next decade, with
simultaneous and considerable expansion of ECEC, we can expect the introduction of many new
workers to this field. This situation offers unique opportunities for raising staff qualification. Yet at
the same time it is a challenge not to lose the expertise (know-how and know-why) that has been
built up in the field. Whether the foreseeable change in the workforce will be an important step
forward or indeed a regression crucially depends on policy decisions regarding staff competences.
Public investment in ECEC is crucial and a series of policy documents advise that at least 1% of GDP
should be allocated to ECEC (European Commission Network on Childcare and Other Measures to
Reconcile Employment and Family Responsibilities, 1996; OECD, 2006; UNICEF Report Card 8;).
Many of these previous reports have also included policy recommendations on staff qualifications
and/or staff competences.
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50
8.1.3 Increasing the proportion of graduates (at BA level, ISCED 5)
Researchers agree that the level of initial professional preparation for ECEC core practitioners should
be set at BA level (ISCED 5) and many international reports recommend minimal percentages of BA-
level practitioners in ECEC. Sixty per cent is usually mentioned as a benchmark (European Childcare
Network, 1996; EPPE, 2004; Care Work in Europe, 2007; UNICEF, 2008; Eurydice, 2009).
Our study supports this recommendation. Quality of ECEC would need at least one qualified (ISCED 5)
staff member in each ‘classroom’ or with each group of children who shares responsibilities with
other qualified team members. Furthermore, our study sheds some light on the content of these
programs for initial professional preparation as well as on their structure.
Although our study clearly supports the need to raise the level of qualifications for early childhood
practitioners, we also want to point to recommendations made by a working group of experts on
Teacher Education (Common European Principles for Teacher Competences and Qualifications,
2005): (school) teaching is seen as a graduate profession at Master's level. There can, in principle, be
no justification for applying different (lower) standards to the early childhood profession. From a
systemic perspective it needs to be added that inclusive professionalisation needs diversification as
well as a general increase of formal qualifications. This means that the full range of qualifications,
including MA and doctoral level, needs to be available to the ECEC profession.
8.2 CoRe recommendations at regional and national level
8.2.1 Ensure equal and reciprocal relationships between theory and practice
Besides the obvious and essential body of knowledge and the acquisition of specific skills, it is crucial
that graduates are offered possibilities to build reflective capacities. Therefore, reciprocal
relationships between theory and practice are essential. The case study of ESSSE (Lyon, France)
shows how higher education programmes offered by universities/training institutes/colleges can be
organised in close collaboration with ECEC institutions. Their close collaboration guarantees a
reciprocal interaction between theory and practice in both learning environments, and supports the
development of critical reflection as a core professional competence during initial professional
preparation. The case study on the Danish paedagog shows other possibilities of including practical
aspects within tertiary education institutions (e.g. through the activity-and-culture subjects). It also
provides a source of inspiration for possible ways of shaping a body of knowledge related to a holistic
vision of the child and children’s learning through a focus on broad competences, including social and
cultural competences.
This approach, suggested in CoRe case studies, is widely recognised in international literature (Bayer,
2000; Galliani & Felisatti, 2001-2005; Nigris, 2004; Wittorski, 2005; Barbier, 2006).
8.2.2 Build leadership capacity
Building leadership capacity is a crucial precondition for ensuring strong, reciprocal and equal
relationships between theory and practice. At European level, this has long been recognised for
compulsory education. Effective leadership is seen as a ‘major factor in shaping the overall teaching
CoRe Final Report
51
and learning environment, raising aspirations and providing support for children, parents and staff’
(Council of the European Union, 2009c). The Council's conclusions on the professional development
of teachers and school leaders conclude that ‘it is of key importance that school leaders are not
overburdened with administrative tasks and concentrate on essential matters, such as quality of
learning, the curriculum, pedagogical issues and staff performance, motivation and development
(Council of the European Union, 2009c, p.3). The increasingly complex task of early childhood
education and care institutions requires the same level of attention and investment in leadership
capacities. The English model of introducing and supporting the role of early years professionals as
potential change agents is one example of a national approach to building leadership capacity.
8.2.3 Develop effective policies that address the entire ECEC system
The case studies and survey conducted by CoRe provide ample evidence that increasing staff
competences is a multi-layered matter. It is not a question of choice between the different levels.
There may be different starting-points according to the specific ECEC context in different countries
(e.g. an immediate need to introduce qualification pathways for formally unqualified workers or the
necessity for better coordination between training institutions and service providers) but in order to
be effective, policies will have to address the entire early childhood system.
The following recommendations have to be considered in this context. They acknowledge and
cherish European diversity, the wealth of inspiring practices, and the considerable variation of ECEC
provision both between and within European countries and regions, based on diverse historical and
socio-cultural backgrounds. They do not aim at unifying professionalisation of ECEC systems across
the 27 EU Member States. The focus is on addressing the systemic conditions for improving
professional practice, and for developing and supporting multiple pathways towards systemic
professionalisation of the entire workforce including auxiliary workers.
8.2.4 Rethink continuous professional development
The quality of services and the competence level of staff depend on, but are not only the result of,
individual initial preparation. Different pathways to professionalisation are possible and there is
ample evidence, both from literature and from the case studies, that comprehensive and long-term
in-service professional development initiatives can yield beneficial effects equal to those of initial
professional preparation. Short-term in-service training courses (e.g. a few days per year), however,
are not sufficient. This demands a re-think of existing approaches to continuing professional
development towards more sustained and comprehensive approaches. The case studies from Ghent
and Pistoia show for example that practitioners can substantially enhance their reflective practices
through participating in continuing professional development programs within the framework of
practice-based research and action-research projects. The case of Slovenia shows how centre-based
professional development initiatives, supported by school directors, are critical factors in
determining the quality of teamwork (teachers and assistants) and the improvement of pedagogical
practices at school level.
The cases of Pistoia and Ghent may serve as a source of inspiration in terms of how local
policymakers can organise systems of comprehensive support that enable low-qualified practitioners
to develop impressive reflective competences. These cases give some insights into the role of the
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pedagogista (or pedagogisch begeleider, pedagogical coordinator, adviser people who support the
team in the development of their professional competences).
8.2.5 Increase job mobility
Both horizontal and vertical mobility need to be further developed within the early years system;
‘dead-end jobs’ are no incentive for individual development (OECD, 2006; SEEPRO, 2010). The CoRe
study supports these previous findings and demonstrates that different pathways are possible to
enhance job mobility through professional development.
The experiences of Croatia show opportunities for accrediting in-service professional development or
prior learning experiences. These, however, need to be accompanied by a formal recognition that
enables vertical job mobility.
The case study from the collège cooperatif of ESSSE (Lyon, France) shows another possible pathway:
combining work and tertiary education in a close collaboration between the initial training institute
and ECEC provisions enables unqualified staff to reach the ISCED 5 level. The case of Jydsk University
College (Aarhus, Denmark) also offers an interesting example of how pedagogical co-helpers can
access pedagogue professional preparation programs through a system of credits (merit education
pedagogue).
8.2.6 Include assistants in adapted qualifying routes
According to the findings of the CoRe survey, a large part of the workforce in many countries consists
of assistants with either no or low formal qualifications. Policies for professionalisation and job
mobility need to consider that in most EU countries lower-qualified assistants have less access to
continuing professional development than their qualified peers.
The role of the assistant needs more attention, especially in relation to the EU goals of combating
child poverty and fostering diversity and social cohesion, as stated in the ET 2020 and the
Commission's communication on ECEC (2011b). In contexts of socio-economic and ethnic diversity,
underrepresented groups (e.g. members of ethnic, cultural, linguistic minorities and marginalised
groups) need to be specifically targeted to ensure their access to professional qualifications.
The CoRe survey, as well as the case studies, documents several possible ways to take up this
challenge. In some cases unqualified staff gain access to higher education while remaining on the job
(see for instance the case of ESSSE, France), whereas in others specific recruitment strategies are put
in place to facilitate the access of ethnic minorities to initial professional preparation programs for
pedagogues (e.g. the pre-course at JYDSK-VIA University College). In cases in which collegial
orientation to professional learning tends to prevail within ECEC institutions (e.g. Pistoia, Slovenia,
Ghent), auxiliary staff benefit from the same professional development initiatives as their qualified
peers and share a culture of reflection. The case of the English early years professional status shows
another possibility: introducing a graduate professional status that albeit not a qualification can
help acknowledge previously acquired competences in the field.
As these examples suggest, a competent system offers opportunities (and time) for all members of
the workforce, including assistants, to take part in planning and evaluation activities.
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8.3 CoRe recommendations at European level
In line with ET 2020, the Commission's Communication on ECEC (2011b), and the Council conclusions
on ECEC (2011), it is very important that the European Commission continues to promote ECEC as a
public good of general interest and as an integral part of the educational systems of Member States,
aiming at free and universal access with specific resources directed at the most disadvantaged and
marginalised groups.
The quality of provision and every child’s right to education need as much attention as the quantity
(accessibility and affordability). Early childhood education and care can promote social inclusion and
form the basis for lifelong learning. Considering the key role of the workforce in terms of quality,
outcomes and achievement, there should be as much attention given to their qualification and
competence in European policy documents as those of school teachers.
The European Commission should be proactive in initiating and encouraging discussions within and
across Member States about the purpose, goals and values of education, including early childhood
education, in order to promote holistic views on education that foster all aspects of individual, inter-
personal and social development.
Systematically initiating open and critical learning communities is crucial for reflection and joint
learning for practitioners, management, policymakers and researchers. Therefore, transnational
exchanges of different professional groups involved in ECEC need to be stimulated.
As a consequence, we strongly support the decision of the Commission to promote exchange of
policies and practices regarding ECEC through the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). Qualification
and professionalisation of the ECEC workforce should be named as a specific theme within the OMC.
Within its capacities, the European Commission should take initiatives to:
Work towards a European framework for quality of early childhood provision to complement
the agreed quantitative targets. Quality indicators developed within this framework should
have a specific (but not an only) focus on the workforce and systemic approaches to
professionalisation;
Develop European guidelines to support Member States to implement research and policy
recommendations;
Document and disseminate good practice examples in order to ensure they are accessible by
policymakers and practitioners;
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Support and conduct European research that is conscious of, and relevant to, the diverse
contexts of European ECEC systems;
Make accessible the wealth of European research, literature and debate that exists beyond
the English-language world;
Systematically encourage, fund and build transnational and multidimensional networks and
critical learning communities of practitioners, parents, local and national policymakers and
academics.
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