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European Parliament backs universal access to early education

17/05/2011

The European Parliament has called for greater investment in early years education and care, in a resolution adopted on 12 May. MEPs’ conclusions, drafted by UK Socialist Mary Honeyball, also consider there is a need for better qualified and remunerated staff in the sector, as well as more Europe-based research in order to help achieve and update EU targets.

The parliamentary resolution, which is non-binding, was adopted with 506 votes in favour, 27 against and 55 abstentions. Many of the abstentions and opposing votes came from MEPs from other UK political parties.

Good start = brighter future

The resolution recognises that early childhood education and care (ECEC) is particularly vital because of the brain and cognitive development at this time of life After the vote, Mrs Honeyball stated, “Those who have received a high standard of care and attention plus some education in their earliest years prior to statutory education achieve better at school, are healthier and are more likely to be employed than those who were not so fortunate.”

Given the numerous benefits, the resolution regrets that ECEC “tends to receive less attention and lower investment than any other stage of education, despite clear evidence that investment in it brings great returns." It also notes that poor and vulnerable families have been shown to benefit most from publicly funded access to ECEC services. Member States should introduce a compulsory nursery school year, according to MEPs.

European framework

Parliament "calls for the development of a ‘European framework’ for early childhood education and care services". MEPs believe the services "should ideally be universal for all parents and children, regardless of their background or financial status".

The concept of a European framework is not intended to be one-dimensional or prescriptive. Mrs Honeyball said, “As far as the EU is concerned, Europe is made up of a rich and diverse mix of educational traditions, with early education provided in a host of different ways across the continent. And it is important that these services are available for all, in a way that does not stigmatise children by focussing just on people from disadvantaged social or economic backgrounds”.

Better qualified and paid staff

While MEPs recognise that Member States measure “quality” of education in different ways, they underline that the capacities and qualifications of staff have the “most notable impact” on standards.

Many Member States don''t require specific qualifications for carers of early age children and many workers in this field are relatively low paid. MEPs would like more training to be provided and, ideally, for all qualified ECEC staff to be paid a salary in line with that of primary school teachers. Furthermore, MEPs would like to counter the stereotype of ECEC jobs as being only for women, and see measures to attract more men to the sector.

MEPs’ consider that reaching out to families is also vitally important and that more could be done to provide advisory services for parents, both at crèches and in the home. In general, services "should be fully participative, involving all staff, parents and, where possible, children themselves".

More EU research needed

MEPs are concerned that research is lacking in early years education. While more has been carried out in the US, the findings cannot always be readily applied to differing contexts in the EU. MEPs are favourable to the EU''s 2020 Strategy and Barcelona targets , but they feel that more and better research could help the EU to revise them.

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