1. Context of the review

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) holds tremendous potential for children, families and societies when it is of high quality. High-quality ECEC is foundational for children’s development, learning and well-being and supports children’s outcomes later in life, including school performance, labour market participation and physical and mental health. Moreover, quality ECEC can foster increased intergenerational social mobility, social integration and poverty reduction (OECD, 2018[1]). Children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, in particular, can benefit from high-quality ECEC.

The OECD’s Quality beyond Regulations policy review supports countries and jurisdictions to better understand the different dimensions of quality in ECEC and the policies that can enhance process quality in particular. As part of its participation in this project, Luxembourg asked the OECD to conduct an in-depth review of their ECEC system, particularly of the non-formal sector. Non-formal education in Luxembourg encompasses ECEC for young children who are not yet enrolled in the formal education system, as well as education and care for school-age children provided outside of school hours (e.g. before- or after-school care). The review focuses on the quality of ECEC in Luxembourg, particularly on policies that can support process quality, emphasising aspects related to workforce development and quality assurance and improvement.

The overarching objective of the review is to provide policy recommendations to strengthen the performance of the ECEC system in Luxembourg in line with national policy goals. The review analyses the strengths and challenges of existing ECEC policies in Luxembourg from a comparative international perspective and provides recommendations for future policy development.

Specific objectives include:

  • informing ongoing and future policy design and implementation through recommendations on policy development and guidance on key considerations in view of the national context

  • providing an opportunity for Luxembourg to learn from other OECD countries and international good practices to generate new thinking on ECEC quality development.

This first chapter discusses Luxembourg’s main strengths and challenges regarding governance and organisation, funding, access, and equity of ECEC. Further, it makes recommendations to inform discussions on ongoing and future policy developments, summarised in Box 1.1. The review took place when Luxembourg was pursuing several reforms of its non-formal education system, including a reform of continuous professional development, revisions of the monitoring framework and changes to the governance of the system. Recommendations made in this chapter and subsequent chapters build on this policy agenda as communicated at the time of writing while indicating areas for additional changes.

Awareness of the importance of ECEC has grown among policy makers worldwide. In OECD countries, the expansion of provision of pre-primary education (ISCED 02) and targeted measures for children from disadvantaged backgrounds resulted in an increase in enrolment rates, reaching universal or near-universal participation for children aged 3-5 in several countries. In most OECD countries, participation is universal or near-universal in the year before primary school entry, which constitutes significant progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals education targets. As access to ECEC increases, policy makers are shifting their attention to ensuring the quality of provision for all children. In particular, process quality has been identified as the primary driver for children’s development in ECEC (Melhuish et al., 2015[2]). Process quality refers to children’s experience of ECEC and includes their interactions with other children, staff, space and materials, their families and the wider community.

Despite the growing recognition of the importance of high-quality ECEC, funding for ECEC has remained lower than for later stages of education. On average in 2019, OECD countries spent 0.87% of gross domestic product (GDP) on ECEC as compared to 1.5% and 1.9% of GDP on primary and secondary education, respectively (OECD, 2021[3]). In about half of OECD countries, expenditure on children aged 3-5 enrolled in ECEC as a percentage of GDP decreased between 2013 and 2017 (OECD, 2020[4]). Furthermore, the proportion of private expenditure is higher in pre-primary education than in primary education. More children are enrolled in private institutions in ECEC than in primary and secondary education, which further highlights differences across stages of education (Figure 1.1).

In addition, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created challenges for the continued operation and funding of ECEC services around the world, which highlighted the importance of ECEC in multiple ways. The need to continue to provide ECEC services to allow parents to go to work became evident, particularly in the case of essential workers. Discussions also centred on the long-term effects for children that the closure of services could imply. Close interactions with educators and peers are essential to provide children with cognitive and emotional support, which can be more challenging to ensure through online platforms than for later stages of education (OECD, 2021[5]). With the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affecting global health, economy and social welfare, government support will be needed to ensure that children have access to quality ECEC despite the challenging context.

The OECD’s Quality beyond Regulations policy review supports countries and jurisdictions to better understand the different dimensions of quality in ECEC and the policies that can enhance process quality in particular (Box 1.2).

The complex nature of quality in ECEC requires multi-faceted policy solutions. The review framework conceptualises the linkages between process quality and five high-level policy levers that can be instrumental in building ECEC systems that foster children’s daily experiences: quality standards, governance and financing; curriculum and pedagogy; workforce development; monitoring and data; and family and community engagement (Figure 1.2).

As part of the Quality beyond Regulations policy review, this specific country policy review focuses on the quality of ECEC in Luxembourg, particularly on policies that can support process quality. Building on the five policy levers of the Quality beyond Regulations policy framework (Figure 1.2), the review puts a specific emphasis on aspects related to: 1) workforce development (including staff training on pedagogical practices and preparedness to support multilingualism); and 2) quality assurance and improvement (including the governance and regulatory context, and monitoring of the implementation of the national curriculum framework for non-formal ECEC). Equity and diversity are included as a cross-cutting dimension.

The scope of the review focuses on all registered, licensed or otherwise regulated ECEC settings. ECEC typically refers to all regulated settings serving children between 0 and 5 or 6 years old (see Box 1.3). However, the main focus of the review is non-formal settings, which serve children from birth until entry into the formal schooling system at age 3 or 4, as well as children up to entry in secondary schools during out-of-school time (i.e. before and after school as well as during lunch breaks and school holidays in so-called maisons relais). The review also discusses, to a lesser extent, ECEC within the formal sector, which begins with an optional year for children at age 3 before two years of compulsory ECEC from age 4. Furthermore, as Luxembourg is implementing an ambitious programme for multilingual education in ECEC, the country has asked for a special focus on this programme in the review.

The review is based on a mixed-method design and uses a combination of both quantitative and qualitative analysis, drawing on both national and international data and evidence. The review process entailed the preparation of a country background report (CBR) (SNJ, 2021[8]). This CBR consists of a self-assessment conducted by the Luxembourgish authorities following the review’s conceptual framework and detailed guidelines from the OECD. The data from the CBR are a primary source of information for this publication.

The review was undertaken by an OECD-led team providing an independent analysis of ECEC policies in the country. The OECD review team comprised Stéphanie Jamet (Head of the OECD team for Early Childhood Education and Care), Victoria Liberatore (OECD), Elizabeth Shuey (OECD), Katharina Ereky-Stevens (University of Oxford) and Kathy Sylva (University of Oxford). The review team engaged in virtual conversations between May 2021 and October 2021 to collect a broad cross-section of evidence and views on ECEC policies from key stakeholder groups in Luxembourg. In addition, limited in-person meetings and site visits, given the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, took place in October 2021. Annex A provides a detailed description of the objectives and schedule of these meetings.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a wide range of stakeholders, including those in government departments, national agencies, inspections, training providers, non-governmental organisations, providers of ECEC services, researchers and others. The OECD review team also spoke to leaders and staff from four types of ECEC settings. Each meeting contributed to the review team’s understanding of ECEC in Luxembourg and the role of different actors.

The missions were designed by the OECD in collaboration with the Luxembourgish authorities. The co-ordination of the work within Luxembourg was undertaken by the National Youth Service (Service national de la jeunesse), a public service created by law that is integrated with the Ministry of Education, Children and Youth (Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de l’Enfance et de la Jeunesse).

The review was organised with the support of the European Commission (EC), which co-financed the review in the context of a broader partnership established between the OECD and the EC for the project. A representative of the EC participated as an observer in some of the review’s visits (Livia Ruszthy and Géraldine Libreau). The EC was not involved in the drafting of this report, and views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union.

The review aims to identify strengths, challenges and policy recommendations with a particular focus in the areas of workforce development, and quality assurance and improvement. In addition to this introductory chapter, this report includes two thematic chapters on the two main areas of the review and a summary of the assessments and recommendations. The scope of the review does not directly include issues related to governance and funding of ECEC; however, as these shape the core conditions for the two main areas of analysis, they are discussed as context to the review in this chapter.

Workforce development and quality assurance and improvement are powerful policy levers that can help drive improvement in the sector. The workforce’s preparation, ongoing professional development and working conditions are key to boosting staff practices, which are one of the most proximal factors to children’s experiences in ECEC, together with policies around curriculum and pedagogy. The ECEC workforce in Luxembourg reflects the highly multilingual and multicultural society in which it is embedded. While this diversity can be a strength for tailoring services to the wide range of needs and preferences from families, it also poses a challenge for building a shared understanding of quality in the sector and for promoting the language skills that are foundational for young children growing up in Luxembourg. The quality assurance and improvement system is crucial to track and improve ECEC quality, ensuring successful implementation of the ambitious policies for the sector and value for investments in the early years.

Luxembourg’s Ministry of Education, Children and Youth (Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de l’Enfance et de la Jeunesse, MENJE) is responsible for implementing formal ECEC and guaranteeing non-formal ECEC through a licensing and service agreement process (see Box 1.3). Within MENJE, the National Youth Service (Service national de la jeunesse, SNJ) is responsible for many aspects of non-formal education, notably the development and implementation of the relevant curriculum framework (Bildungsrahmenplan) as well as continuing professional development for staff working in this sector. SNJ collaborates with another unit within MENJE, the Department for Children (Direction générale du secteur de l’Enfance) to monitor quality in non-formal ECEC settings. Responsibility for the formal ECEC sector falls across other units of MENJE but is mainly overseen by the Department for Fundamental Education (Direction générale de l’Enseignement fondamental), which covers both pre-primary and primary education in Luxembourg.

Participation in ECEC is widespread in Luxembourg. In 2019, approximately 61% of children under age 3 were enrolled in non-formal ECEC in Luxembourg, which is above the OECD average of 25% for participation in ISCED 0 settings among this age group. Furthermore, over 87% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in the first optional pre-primary education year (éducation précoce, Box 1.3) in 2017, representing strong engagement with formal ECEC in the year before compulsory schooling begins.

Luxembourg has invested in supporting access to both non-formal and formal ECEC, with a particular goal of fostering multilingualism: children ages 1-4 are legally entitled to 20 hours of free non-formal education in centre-based settings that meet requirements to provide programming in both Luxembourgish and French. From age 3, children are entitled to a place in formal ECEC through the schooling system.

Expenditure in ECEC in Luxembourg reflects this commitment to supporting access and represented 0.5% of GDP in 2018, similar to the OECD average of 0.6% (from both public and private sources). The modest investments as a percentage of GDP must be understood in the context of Luxembourg’s overall strong economy, including the highest GDP per capita among OECD countries (OECD, 2022[9]). The annual expenditure per child aged 3-5 in 2018 in Luxembourg was well above the OECD average (USD 20 921 compared to USD 9 123, converted using purchasing power parity [PPP]; Figure 1.4) (OECD, 2021[3]).

ECEC services in the formal sector are offered through the schooling system, which is predominantly public. Only 11% of children ages 3-6 attend ECEC in private schools, well below the OECD average of 33% for pre-primary education (OECD, 2021[3]). In the non-formal sector, ECEC services are offered through municipalities or private providers that are either contracted by the government (structures conventionnées) or not contracted by the government (structures non-conventionnées). Contracted providers are typically non-profit organisations, whereas non-contracted providers are mostly commercial enterprises. In addition, approximately 4% of the places available in non-formal ECEC are with home-based providers (assistants parentaux) (Box 1.3).

As of 2019, contracted services in the non-formal sector represented approximately 74% of the centre-based ECEC and out-of-school-time places available for children ages 0-12. However, for children from birth until school entry, these contracted services represent only approximately 30% of available centre-based ECEC places. This difference means that very young children tend to be enrolled in commercial, for-profit settings, whereas school-age children are more likely to spend their out-of-school time with non-profit providers. The ECEC sector expanded dramatically in Luxembourg in the last decade, with contracted places for children more than doubling between 2009 and 2019 and non-contracted places growing even more, to more than five times their availability in 2009. The rapid expansion of ECEC settings in the last decade has placed qualified ECEC staff in high demand.

The growth in the non-formal education sector corresponds with the government’s introduction of a subsidy funding scheme (chèques-service accueil, CSA) in 2009. The CSA funding is intended to increase access to high-quality ECEC and out-of-school-time programming to advance equity goals. All children ages 0-12 living in Luxembourg are entitled to benefit from the CSA, and children living in neighbouring countries can also benefit from the programme under certain conditions (e.g. a parent is employed in Luxembourg). As of 2019, almost 60% of children of this age group who reside in Luxembourg receive CSA. The amount of the CSA is tailored to family circumstances to reduce (or eliminate) the costs of ECEC for socio-economically disadvantaged households.

Nearly all ECEC providers in the non-formal sector are eligible to receive CSA funding: in 2019, all contracted ECEC settings, and all but six non-contracted settings received CSA funding. In addition, most (approximately 98%) home-based providers participate in the CSA system. Government payments through the CSA system to ECEC providers are the same regardless of whether the setting is contracted or non-contracted. It is capped at EUR 6 per hour per child (up to 60 hours per week) for centres and EUR 3.75 per hour per child for home-based settings. The widespread participation of ECEC providers in the CSA system means that families should generally be able to choose an ECEC provider that best meets their needs and goals for their children. However, centre- and home-based options are not equally distributed throughout the country, and as access to non-formal education is not an entitlement, demand for certain types of providers can exceed supply in some municipalities. Furthermore, parental fees in home-based and non-contracted centre-based settings are uncapped.

In addition to subsidising families’ costs, the CSA system administers 20 hours of free ECEC to children ages 1-4 in centre-based settings as part of a programme to provide early support for multilingualism. Beginning in 2022, out-of-school time services in the non-formal sector will also be fully free to families from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on schooldays, underscoring the government’s commitment to reducing access barriers and encouraging participation of all children in these programmes. These entitlements to free ECEC in the non-formal education sector complement the free public-school offer (éducation précoce and éducation préscolaire) from age 3.

Costs to parents is a main barrier to ECEC participation in many countries, particularly for low-income families. But between the free and subsidised ECEC available to families, Luxembourg has some of the most affordable childcare costs for families among OECD countries (Figure 1.5). A real strength of its ECEC system is the mix of both universal and targeted entitlements. Nonetheless, ECEC in Luxembourg does have costs for families. Access to the 20 free hours of non-formal ECEC does not begin until children are age 1, leaving a gap for families between fully funded parental leave and access to some hours of free ECEC. This gap in social supports disproportionately affects lower-income families, who often also have less flexibility in their jobs.

Considering the high costs of ECEC for infants and the unique challenges in providing good quality group care for this age range, ECEC for very young children may still carry a high cost burden for families in Luxembourg. Luxembourg does not regulate the fees that non-contracted ECEC settings charge families, and this is the main sector offering ECEC for children under age 3. Combining information on the fees charged by non-contracted settings with the uptake of these fee-based services by diverse families would enable the government in Luxembourg to better understand the successes and limitations of the current approach to free and subsidised ECEC (see Chapter 3).

Luxembourg is a small country, with a population of just 634 730 in 2021, approximately 6% of which is children under age 6 (Le Portail des Statistiques, 2021[11]). Yet, this number reflects the strongest population growth among European Union countries in the last decade, highlighting the role of migration in shaping the country’s demographics (Eurostat, 2021[12]). Luxembourg has the highest share of a foreign-born population among OECD countries, with 47.3% of the population falling in this category (OECD, 2022[13]). In addition, the country’s small geographic area facilitates cross-border workers, who numbered nearly 200 000 in 2020, from neighbouring Belgium, France and Germany. These workers are eligible to benefit from the CSA system to subsidise participation of their young children in ECEC in Luxembourg.

In addition to the migration dynamics that mean the population of Luxembourg has a myriad of language backgrounds, the country has three official languages: Luxembourgish, French and German. These languages are not restricted to certain geographic areas of the countries but rather are applied in different aspects of life and education. As such, multilingualism is a valued part of the Luxembourgish identity, and the government is committed to supporting multilingual education beginning in early childhood.

Luxembourgish is the main language of ECEC in the formal sector, yet in the 2019/20 school year, only 33.7% of students enrolled in formal education in Luxembourg spoke Luxembourgish as their main language at home (LUCET/Université du Luxembourg/SCRIPT, 2021[14]). Since 2017, multilingual initiatives in the formal and non-formal sectors have aimed to support young children’s development across languages.

In the formal sector, this means including a playful initiation to French during the ECEC years, as well as recognising the many other home-languages children bring with them to school. The approach is holistic and child-centred, taking into account the needs, interests and talents of all children, in an effort to acknowledge and valorise their existing multilingual potential. The curriculum for ECEC in the formal sector includes language skills – listening, speaking and first steps towards reading and writing – that are to be developed during these early years of schooling. Minimum levels of competence are defined for children in the primary school years, when literacy education begins in earnest and is done in German.

In the non-formal sector, a new multilingual education programme was also launched in 2017, building as well on a playful initiation to languages. ECEC centres serving children aged 1-4 are obligated to implement the multilingual education programme in order to receive CSA funding. The multilingual programme aims to promote the different home languages of children but places specific emphasis on ensuring children are exposed to both French and Luxembourgish. To support this goal, at least one person with basic fluency (language level C1) in French and one in Luxembourgish must be employed. In addition, each centre must appoint a pedagogical referent (référent(e) pédagogique pour l´éducation plurilingue) who co-ordinates the implementation of multilingual education for the setting. A specific 30-hour training course is offered free of charge by the National Youth Service for these designated referents. In addition, all ECEC staff in the non-formal sector must have content on language development included in their ongoing professional development.

The multilingual education programme benefits from input from a scientific council, which was involved in establishing the programme and advises on its ongoing implementation. In addition, parents are viewed as key partners in this programme, and their involvement in sharing their languages and cultures in ECEC settings is a core pillar of the programme.

The government in Luxembourg recognises the importance of early childhood as a time to promote language development and begin to give all children opportunities to learn the multiple languages that will enable them to participate fully in Luxembourgish society. However, despite the strong commitment to ongoing professional development to train staff in this new multilingual programme model, the country faces a shortage of qualified personnel to fully implement the multilingual vision in non-formal ECEC. Notably, the requirement to have a fluent speaker of Luxembourgish on staff is a challenge, particularly for non-contracted settings, where wages are lower compared with contracted settings (see Chapter 2). Although centres that participate in the multilingual programme receive additional funding through the CSA system to help attract and retain the staff necessary to implement this programme, the limited supply of ECEC staff fluent in Luxembourgish needs to be addressed.

In addition to ongoing training on pedagogy and multilingualism, MENJE could consider creating incentives for qualified ECEC staff to pursue courses in Luxembourgish. For instance, regional officers who are responsible for monitoring and strengthening quality could make recommendations to settings to encourage participation in Luxembourgish courses for staff who need it. This approach could increase the number of ECEC staff with good knowledge of the Luxembourgish language, remove barriers to finding personnel with these language skills who may lack training in ECEC and target those who may be motivated to stay in their ECEC settings. Specific language training may be particularly useful for ECEC staff who work in Luxembourg but completed their qualifications to work in ECEC outside the country.

There is also a general shortage of staff with sufficient and appropriate training to successfully implement the ambitious multilingual programme. As discussed in Chapter 2, this comes from limitations of the initial training programmes staff undertake to qualify to work in the non-formal ECEC sector, as well as a diversity of training experiences related to staff coming from neighbouring countries to work in Luxembourg. The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a backlog of pedagogical referents seeking the basic training to fulfil their duties, although it is also recognised that trainings are needed more broadly for ECEC staff and for leaders especially, in order to fully embed the principles of multilingual education in ECEC settings (see Chapter 2). Similarly, training for the regional officers responsible for monitoring the implementation of the multilingual programme is occurring in parallel, and these officers need ongoing support to ensure their work with ECEC settings is aligned with the intent of the multilingual programme (see Chapter 3).

Luxembourg is unique in its recognition of non-formal education as a continuum of services for children from birth through adolescents’ transition into adulthood, guided and regulated through a unifying curriculum framework (Cadre de référence national sur l’éducation non formelle des enfants et des jeunes). This curriculum framework for non-formal education includes dedicated sections on ECEC for young children who are not yet enrolled in the formal education system, and for children who are simultaneously attending formal education, as well as for older youth. The curriculum framework was first introduced in 2013 before becoming compulsory in 2017. A revision of the non-formal curriculum framework published in 2021 aims to introduce more coherence between different chapters and include new ones on children’s participation and rights, on the transition phases and on ethics concerning work with children. Review and renewal of the curriculum is intended to occur every three years. The next edition is expected to focus on making the text more accessible for practitioners.

Importantly, the curriculum framework for non-formal education recognises that children’s learning and development is actively occurring regardless of whether they are in a school-based formal education setting. Furthermore, the designation of “non-formal” for this sector distinguishes it both from formal education, but also from informal learning: The non-formal education sector is rooted in a social pedagogical approach and guided by clear goals around children’s learning, to support their overall educational needs and to foster their individual interests. The intentional ways in which staff in ECEC settings accompany children as agents of their own learning is viewed as a key mechanism for enhancing and sustaining high quality in the sector.

The curricula for formal and non-formal education are seen as complementary. The curriculum for the formal sector (Plan d’études de l´école fondamentale) covers both pre-primary and primary schooling, with a separate supplement for the first, non-compulsory year of formal education. The learning areas identified in the formal education curriculum are also reflected in the non-formal curriculum framework (Figure 1.6), although covered for broader age groups in the latter. One goal of this high-level alignment is to facilitate transitions for children between non-formal and formal settings, both for children’s initial entry to the formal system and throughout the day as children move between formal and non-formal education.

The alignment of the formal and non-formal curriculum frameworks notwithstanding, non-formal education in Luxembourg is carefully distinguished from formal education in several ways. For example, unlike formal education, non-formal education does not have defined competences that children of different ages should achieve, and as such, non-formal education has no system of assessment for individual children’s skills. This does not preclude ECEC staff from observing children’s individual development, discussing with parents and documenting these learning journeys; however, the goal is to support and develop children’s interests while providing opportunities for exploration across the areas described in the non-formal curriculum.

The carefully articulated curriculum framework for non-formal education, and its compulsory status for all non-formal ECEC settings in Luxembourg, including home-based providers, is a strength for building a high-quality ECEC system. The concept of process quality is embedded in the curriculum framework, with its emphasis on building relationships and learning through interactions with others and with the environment. Furthermore, the non-formal curriculum framework includes a dedicated section on working with children from birth to entry into the formal schooling system; this is another strength of Luxembourg’s approach as not all countries have a curriculum framework for these first years of ECEC. Having a required curriculum framework for this stage of development recognises the foundational learning that occurs in ECEC during these years and explicitly supports children’s transitions through the educational system. It also provides guidance for staff in intentionally supporting children’s exploration and engagement with others and with their environments, thereby contributing to the professionalisation of this workforce.

However, the availability of staff ready to implement this framework poses a challenge. The government makes strong investments in ongoing professional development, recognising the central role on-the-job experience and continuing learning have for this workforce. Still, the curriculum framework is a complex document that requires more than a few days of professional development to master, particularly for ECEC staff with limited initial education to support this aspect of their work and with limited time to devote from their working hours (see Chapter 2).

In addition to continuing to provide strong training and professional development opportunities for ECEC staff to learn about the curriculum framework and its practical application, MENJE might consider progressively implementing requirements for ECEC centres to employ staff with higher educational qualifications and more specific knowledge of the curriculum framework for non-formal education. This role could overlap with the multilingual pedagogical referent, or with the leadership of the setting, provided that there is sufficient administrative support to allow a setting leader to engage actively and regularly in pedagogical work alongside staff. The goal of systematically including such a person at the centre level would be to improve the regular, pedagogical support for ECEC staff as they implement the non-formal curriculum framework. Eventually, this pedagogical role could be expanded to include a larger proportion of staff within each centre, effectively creating teams of lead pedagogues working alongside staff with existing, more limited, qualifications (see Chapter 2). To some extent, this model may already be in place informally in contracted ECEC settings, where salaries are higher than for non-contracted settings, thereby creating rewarding career opportunities and facilitating the retention of multilingual pedagogical referents.

For small centres that might already face difficulties in attracting and retaining a multilingual pedagogical referent, the burden of filling or creating this type of position could be prohibitive in the near term. In the short term, this problem can be addressed by encouraging centres to make use of the educational support available through the reforms to the continuous professional development system. This support is available without costs to centres and is intended to develop the educational practice of a team, to develop the educational concept or to help a team on a particular project. For centres lacking a permanent pedagogical referent or when the pedagogical referent has not yet been fully trained for their role, use of this newly available educational support should be strongly encouraged by regional officers.

The sector will need time to develop and recruit for this role, with new people entering the workforce as well as through upskilling existing ECEC staff. A move towards recognising greater and more targeted educational attainment in the ECEC workforce will require more differentiated pay scales in the non-formal sector overall, and better alignment between salaries in contracted and non-contracted settings. Eventually, this strategy could create a career pathway in the non-formal sector that could lead to lower staff turnover and increased quality for children.

Despite overall strong investment in ECEC in Luxembourg, the clear divisions in the ECEC sector (formal versus non-formal and contracted versus non-contracted) contribute to an array of services that are unevenly resourced, and therefore often of uneven quality.

Staff qualifications are a primary area of difference between the formal and non-formal education sectors in Luxembourg (see Chapter 2). In the formal sector, ECEC teachers must have a bachelor-level (ISCED Level 6) qualification, the same level of education as their peers teaching later stages of schooling. Staff in the non-formal sector, on the other hand, are only required to have a technical qualification as part of their secondary education (i.e. ISCED Level 3), with one staff member required to have an ISCED 6 (or above) qualification in centres serving 40 children or more. In addition to the low level of qualifications required for ECEC staff in the non-formal sector, the training available in Luxembourg covers a broad range of social areas (including working with the elderly and with people with specific handicaps). This broad training can provide a good foundation for future ECEC staff to develop more specific skills on the job, but it does not necessarily suggest a strong attachment to the field of early childhood itself. These differences in human resources between formal and non-formal education are large and create different needs for ongoing training to support the conditions for high-quality ECEC. The different departments within MENJE that oversee formal and non-formal education respond to the specific needs of the teachers and staff for whom they are responsible, often leaving little room to consider the sector as a whole.

Wages in Luxembourg are high compared to neighbouring countries, reinforcing the interests of commuters who live abroad but work in Luxembourg. Nonetheless, compared to other sectors within the country, salaries for ECEC staff in the non-formal sector, and specifically in non-contracted settings, are relatively low. Staff working in contracted settings benefit from a collective pay agreement with regular increases, whereas staff working in non-contracted settings are only protected by the national minimum wage. In addition, contracted ECEC settings receive government support for 75-100% of their operating costs, including physical buildings, limiting the high overhead associated with real estate in Luxembourg. This is in addition to the fact that contracted settings receive the same level of CSA benefits per child as non-contracted settings. Contracted settings also receive funding from the government to use towards staff professional development, although the funding mechanism for professional development is changing and has now been extended to non-contracted settings (see Chapter 2 for information on reforms to this system). These government-provided financial supports for contracted settings enable them to offer the higher wages required by their workforce, thereby attracting more qualified staff (in particular those who speak Luxembourgish), leading to what is viewed by stakeholders and the monitoring system as settings with higher quality ECEC for children.

In order to compensate for the lower levels of government financing in the non-contracted sector, staff wages are generally lower, contributing to a workforce with lower qualifications or who commute from abroad and lack the language skills required by the multilingual programme and who may bring divergent views on quality in ECEC from those that are described in the curriculum framework for non-formal education. ECEC budgets in the non-contracted sector must ensure both the viability of the setting without the same financial supports received in the contracted sector, as well as some degree of profitability to encourage private providers to enter the market. These private providers are concentrated in the services available for children under age 3 or 4 (when formal education becomes available), compared to the non-profit, contracted providers who dominate the sector for out-of-school-time programmes. As highlighted by the rapid growth in the non-contracted sector following the introduction of the CSA system, the private sector is essential to the supply of ECEC in Luxembourg. Thus, the government must carefully balance requirements in the sector that could improve quality but lead to higher costs for non-contracted settings with the need to encourage private actors to enter and stay in the market.

The ongoing reforms to the professional development system aim to rebalance, to some extent, financial resources and quality across contracted and non-contracted settings, making investments more equitable across the two types of settings. With this important shift in policy, it will be essential for the government to carefully monitor implementation of the requirements for professional development across types of settings as well as related indicators of quality (see Chapter 3). The new professional development strategy can support quality improvements through the stronger investment in staff in the non-contracted sector, but it is not clear how the associated savings to private providers will be used in the system. Given the for-profit nature of many non-contracted providers, this additional government investment may serve to increase profitability rather than being passed along to families in the form of lower prices for ECEC or otherwise reinvested in quality improvement strategies to benefit children. With the need for private sector ECEC, government support for profitability is not inherently problematic, provided that strong mechanisms are in place to simultaneously ensure high quality. The government recognises these issues around ECEC supply and profitability and is implementing new monitoring strategies in an effort to better track and improve quality throughout the non-formal sector (see Chapter 3).

With system reforms ongoing and in multiple areas, it will also be important for Luxembourg to look carefully at the real costs of implementing high-quality ECEC that is consistent with the regulations and vision for this sector. Conducting research to better understand the costs to settings (both contracted and non-contracted) of providing high-quality ECEC will inform the best longer-term strategies for efficiently allocating the government’s strong investments in ECEC across different types of providers. Such a review could inform the appropriateness of the divergent wages and working conditions in contracted and non-contracted settings, with a goal of eventually aligning wages more with qualifications than with the type of setting in which staff work. As implementation of new policies begins, in the near term, it would also be beneficial for the government to reflect on and articulate the expected outcomes of strategies to enhance quality in non-contracted settings in particular. This type of exercise can be useful for guiding the monitoring of policy implementation and for setting clear expectations for the field.

Another area where attention to the balance of government investment is needed is for home-based providers. Although operating costs are lower for home-based compared with centre-based ECEC, home-based providers in Luxembourg currently receive little per child from the CSA system compared with centre-based providers. The inclusion of home-based providers in the quality assurance and improvement system for the non-formal sector is a strength of the Luxembourgish ECEC system that can be complemented by strategic investments in this workforce (see Chapter 2).

Ensuring that all types of ECEC are of high quality is foundational for building equity for children. When quality is lower in some parts of the system, disadvantages can accumulate unevenly, limiting the potential of ECEC to support learning, development and well-being for all children. Moreover, suboptimal quality can disincentivise participation in ECEC, potentially limiting valuable opportunities for young children. Luxembourg has invested heavily in supporting equitable access to ECEC through free and subsidised offerings available to all families; however, the government lacks clear information about families who do not take up these ECEC benefits and about the quality and types of settings that are accessed by children with diverse characteristics. Without systematic monitoring of whom the supports for accessing ECEC are reaching and how variations in the quality of ECEC are distributed across the population of children in Luxembourg, it is not clear if the investments are sufficiently targeted to enhance equity (see Chapter 3).

In general, children from socio-economically disadvantaged families are less likely than their more advantaged peers to participate in ECEC (OECD, 2017[16]). This difference in ECEC access compounds with other sources of family, neighbourhood and societal disadvantage, creating gaps between children of different backgrounds that widen as they advance through school (OECD, 2017[17]). Among students who participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018, the vast majority reported having attended ECEC, and the typical number of years of participation increased in most countries between PISA 2015 and PISA 2018 (OECD, 2020[18]). However, gaps in ECEC participation contribute to differences in later educational outcomes, as seen in the disparities in reading scores for students who had attended several years of pre-primary education compared with those who had little exposure to pre-primary education (Figure 1.7). These gaps are partially explained by students’ and schools’ socio-economic profiles. In Luxembourg, the differences in reading performance between students who participated more in pre-primary education and those who did not are similar to the OECD average, with a clear advantage for students who had experience in pre-primary education.

These findings from PISA provide valuable insight into the links between academic performance in adolescence and participation in ECEC in a comparable manner across countries. However, students participating in PISA in 2018 attended ECEC settings more than a decade ago. The landscape of ECEC services has shifted in Luxembourg in the intervening time. In addition, PISA findings rely on students’ memories of their ECEC participation. Thus, although the PISA data are an important indicator of how ECEC is associated with later stages of education systems internationally, findings must be interpreted with these caveats in mind. This highlights the importance of examining questions of equity and access with an approach that is more timely and tailored to Luxembourg’s specific context.

Data from Luxembourg’s national standardised testing programme covering the period 2014 to 2020 show that upon entry to primary school, children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds have lower performance in Luxembourgish listening comprehension, early literacy and mathematics than their more advantaged peers (Figure 1.8). Children’s home language also plays a role, with children who speak Luxembourgish or German at home performing better on these early assessments than other language groups. These differences are found despite two years of compulsory pre-primary education and could therefore be investigated by looking at the characteristics of pre-primary and non-formal education settings attended by children from different family backgrounds (see Chapter 3).

The diversity of families and children participating in ECEC is immense in Luxembourg, most evidently in relation to children’s language backgrounds, but also in relation to parent values and expectations of ECEC. While language barriers, knowledge of procedures, or differences in values and beliefs can create barriers to participation (Eurofound, 2012[19]), these factors can also lead families with different background characteristics to choose or find access to different types of ECEC providers. This can cause a division between different types of providers and risk of segregation across ECEC services. Segregation can impact the degree of social mix that has been found to be beneficial to children’s development, and it can create challenges for providers who serve those children and families with more disadvantages or needs (de Haan et al., 2013[20]; Early et al., 2010[21]; Kuger and Kloczniok, 2008[22]).

Some OECD countries have designed specific financial measures to enable ECEC settings to offer good quality to groups of children with diverse needs, and to offer specific support for children with additional needs, especially for children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes, who are at risk for social exclusion. These measures are often translated into subsidies or lump sums paid to settings if they meet specific conditions or run particular educational programmes. For example, in England (United Kingdom), depending on a child’s family circumstances, such as their income or whether a child is in foster care, a centre can receive additional yearly funding for each child who qualifies (Early Years Pupil Premium, EYPP). In addition, disability access funding is available to providers to help them provide appropriately tailored education and support.

Similarly, in Ireland, the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) has been established to create a more inclusive environment in ECEC settings, providing different levels of universal and targeted support for children in response to children’s needs and the specific preschool context. Support under AIM includes advice and mentoring from specialists, specialised equipment and funding for additional assistance where needed. This programme is a child-centred model designed to enable full participation in ECEC for children with special needs or disabilities, and builds on the Irish Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Charter and Guidelines for ECEC (DCYA, 2016[24]).

Identifying young children with special education needs is challenging in early childhood, but awareness of the signs that children could benefit from additional supports and early intervention from professionals can help families and ECEC staff identify individualised strategies for promoting children’s development, learning and well-being. MENJE already has a Department on Inclusion (Direction générale de l’inclusion) that can be leveraged to support efforts to identify and support young children with special education needs. An inclusion programme targeting professionals in the non-formal sector (Incluso) is in place. However, the available funding through existing inclusion initiatives can be made more visible to ECEC settings and providers of professional development and regional officers, who are well-positioned to help identify settings where additional inclusion resources would be merited. Similarly, the specialist services that schools in the formal sector receive to collaborate with teachers and assist children with specific needs in the classroom through the policy initiative “a school for every child” (une école pour tous) would benefit non-formal ECEC settings as well.

Importantly, measures to support ECEC settings can exist alongside measures for extended free access that are provided directly to families, like those that exist in Luxembourg through the CSA system. As Luxembourg works to fully implement new policies around staff professional development and quality assurance and improvement, the government can consider prioritising the roll-out of these programmes in settings serving larger numbers of children from socio-economically disadvantaged and language minority backgrounds. Additional supports for the implementation of programming to support key policy goals, such as the multilingual programme, can also be targeted to ECEC settings serving more children from these demographic groups. These supports can be financial; for instance, designated funding to recruit pedagogical referents, as well as more tailored specialist supports like those available through AIM in Ireland.

In addition, home-based providers are not included in the multilingual programme. Attention is needed to ensure that children enrolled in home-based settings nonetheless have access to aspects of this programme to support their early exposure to multiple languages. This could be accomplished by having home-based providers participate in networks with centres or agencies that can offer regular experiences for children that are led by pedagogical referents or other specialised staff.

As well as creating or prioritising supports, Luxembourg can take steps to enhance equity in ECEC through increased transparency, public outreach and engagement with a wider range of stakeholders. Although these activities are already a part of the non-formal education sector to some extent, more can be done to encourage and formalise them, as well as to learn from policies in the formal education sector. Ongoing efforts to educate teachers in the formal sector about the objectives and content of the curriculum framework for non-formal education are an important component of this outreach and should be bolstered to help create bidirectional co-operation between the formal and non-formal sectors.

Notably, SNJ develops materials targeted to parents to help them understand the curriculum framework for non-formal education. These efforts are essential to helping diverse families understand the opportunities available for their children in the non-formal sector. Moving forward, SNJ can more actively and deliberately engage families in the process of creating these resources to ensure they effectively reach their target audience. Along these lines, parents and children can be more involved in future revisions to the curriculum frameworks applicable to ECEC. Luxembourg consults a relatively low number of stakeholders in these processes than many other OECD countries (OECD, 2021[6]).

Engagement with families should not be limited to those whose children already participate in the non-formal sector but must also include parents who are not yet engaged with this system or may not be seeking childcare. Families need to understand that non-formal education is distinct from formal education but that the non-formal sector nonetheless has clear educational objectives and can provide valuable opportunities for young children regardless of parents’ employment status and need for childcare. Luxembourg may wish to look at strategies to support stronger parental engagement and involvement in non-formal ECEC by creating clear expectations for the sector to prioritise this dimension of quality. Opportunities for parents to participate alongside children in ECEC centre activities can create a two-generational approach to supporting the public service mission of ECEC in Luxembourg, which is to integrate children into community life and to prepare them for Luxembourg society and school (MENJE, 2018[25]). An ECEC offer that allows for strong parental involvement can also appeal to families who may otherwise opt to care for children solely at home. The non-formal sector could also learn from strategies in the formal sector that are used to involve parents in governance and oversight; the anticipated creation of a nationally representative parent authority for non-formal education will help in this regard.

Non-formal education in Luxembourg has experienced rapid growth and change in recent years. Overall, the expansion of this sector reflects thoughtful investment and Luxembourg’s strong commitment to providing high-quality ECEC for all children. With the integration of SNJ and the Department for Children into MENJE in 2013, the country formally recognised ECEC and out-of-school time programming as core components of education rather than simply work supports for parents. The curriculum framework for non-formal education is an ambitious vision for the field that is a driver of ongoing policy reforms around workforce development and quality assurance and improvement.

The new policies and ongoing reforms for ECEC in Luxembourg could benefit from stronger collaboration, both at the level of governance and on the ground in ECEC settings, between the formal and non-formal sectors. Within MENJE, responsibilities for different aspects of ECEC are divided across several departments. For the non-formal sector, SNJ and the Department for Children have primary responsibility, whereas the Department for Fundamental Education has primary responsibility for ECEC in the formal sector. Additional departments within the Ministry (e.g. the Service for Co-ordination of Research and Innovation in Pedagogy and Technologies [SCRIPT], the Department for Professional Development) have cross-cutting missions relevant to both sectors. Strong communication between these different departments is essential to efficiently capitalise on Luxembourg’s investments in education overall and in ECEC specifically.

With the rapid pace of reforms and changes in the non-formal sector, intentional efforts are needed to keep all relevant actors moving forward together. As discussed in Chapter 3, this is especially relevant for SNJ and the Department for Children with regard to building and implementing a coherent quality assurance and improvement system. However, stronger collaboration should also be a priority between departments overseeing the formal and non-formal sectors as well. Building a greater understanding between these departments is an important step towards fully integrating the educational mission of the non-formal sector in Luxembourg’s education system.

Having strong communication within the government will also help to strengthen the alignment of goals and practices for ECEC providers in the formal and non-formal sectors. The alignment of the curriculum frameworks for the two sectors underscores the intention for these different ECEC settings to work together and complement one another. In practice, however, the divergent contexts of formal and non-formal ECEC, including of staff and teacher training profiles, the approaches to quality assurance and improvement and the goals and expectations for the two sectors, can create steep challenges for co-ordination. Requirements and incentives for the two sectors to work together must be bidirectional: currently, while the two sectors are required to identify strategies to engage with one another, there is a feeling in the non-formal sector that this is not fully reciprocal. The organisation of ECEC in Luxembourg, with many children moving between the formal and non-formal sectors daily or even multiple times throughout the day, requires careful attention to the shared responsibility of supporting children in these transitions.

Strong collaboration and cohesion between the formal and non-formal ECEC sectors can support the distinct objectives and roles of the two types of programming, both of which put children at the centre. The reform currently underway to expand access to non-formal education for school-age children by eliminating costs to parents and reducing administrative procedures may encourage even more children to benefit from the unique educational experiences offered in this sector. Whether serving an expanded group of children or simply improving conditions for families already participating in both sectors, implementing this policy change offers a meaningful opportunity to simultaneously examine and improve the alignment of opportunities throughout the system from the perspective of children and families.


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