Education Talks | The question of quality in early years education

What is the significance of the EU quality framework
on early childhood education and care? Children’s experiences
in early year services across Europe have the potential to be really influential
in their current lives, in their future lives and in fact throughout their life. So it is really critical that we make
those experiences the best quality that we possibly can for children and for their families. When the Quality Framework came out in 2014,
it was a proposal, a draft set of statements and even in that format, it has already
made some impact in policy across Europe. What does ‘quality’ mean? How can families,
communities and local services contribute? Children develop best in an environment
where all stakeholders, all adults who work in the support of
their care and education, work in partnership with
a common shared set of goals and understandings and so those really important relationships
are the starting point of quality. It is really important that
staff, practitioners, teachers, parents and wider families and societies
and communities work together, work together to share their understanding of
how children best develop and learn. We also need a shared vision of
what quality looks like in practice. That can be expressed through
curricula or programmes of learning that are informed by best evidence
around how children develop and learn. We also really importantly need
to find support at the macrosystem level so policymakers need to provide
the resources, the governance infrastructure and all of those elements
that are going to create what has often been
described as a competent system which supports quality at all levels from the top at policy making
right through to the experiences that children have. Can quality ECEC have an impact on
the inclusiveness and efficiency of education systems? Early childhood education
can lay foundation stones that really give children
the potential and build their capacity to benefit from the offer of education
right throughout the education system and indeed into their professional lives
and in their personal lives as well. In early childhood we build strong foundations
through fostering learning dispositions such as creativity,
self-regulation, problem-solving. We create children who understand each other,
who can be members of communities and societies. We foster empathy and unfortunately
in the current climate across Europe, we could do with
a lot more empathy and compassion. How can the status of practitioners
working in early childhood education be improved? But what is really important
as well is the fact that you need highly qualified skilled adults
to work with those young children, to support those really
positive learning interactions, to find those teachable moments where children make that breakthrough
in their learning and development. Those adults need
to be qualified appropriately but they also need
to find the work rewarding. They need to be recognised and
valued for the work that they do. Unfortunately, too often across Europe,
the early childhood workforce tends to be the poorer relations in the education system
and that is something that we must change. We really need to understand
that the starting point for improving the quality of
experiences for young children is to ensure that we have
a strong, competent, confident workforce who feel fulfilled in their work so they come in with that positive attitude
that models learning for young children. We need to recognise that the work that
early childhood professionals do is critical. If they cannot do a good job
working with our youngest children, then we are always going to be catching up
in the remainder of the education system. They need to be given parity of status
and parity of recognition and value. What is your view on the transition
from early years to primary school? Transitions are something that is positive
if they are supported correctly. Our first transition from
the close, warm connectedness of our families into an early year service is becoming
more and more common for children across Europe. In recent times
the numbers of children being funded to attend free earlier services
has increased quite dramatically. This presents challenges for the next stage,
the next transition: the one into primary school. Because now we have a cohort of
young children across Europe who have had hopefully the experience of
high quality early education and care and this has developed their capacity,
their learning dispositions, their skills, their empathy, their ability to communicate, and primary schools and
primary teachers need to be ready for that. They need to understand that
there has to be continuity both in the experiences but also in the way in which children
are recognised as competent, confident learners.

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