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1. Ten policy priorities to promote quality in early childhood education and care for children under age 3

Abstract

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) for children under age 3 is a growing sector across OECD countries. The 2018 Starting Strong Teaching and Learning International Survey provides rich information on the settings where children under age 3 spend their time, including the practices staff use to facilitate children’s learning, development and well-being. This chapter discusses policy implications based on the main findings from this report, identifying ways that countries can support the quality of ECEC environments for children under age 3.

    

The first three years of children’s lives are critical to their development. It is during this period that children grow and learn at a faster rate than at any other time in their lives, laying the foundation for their understanding of the world. Children in this age range are also heavily reliant on others to help meet their basic needs and to facilitate their interactions with the world around them. High-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) can thus be a powerful way to promote young children’s learning, development and well-being.

The OECD Starting Strong Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS Starting Strong) is the first international survey that focuses on the workforce in ECEC. The workforce is integral to ensuring quality in ECEC and their responses to the survey provide timely insight into the contexts where young children spend a majority of their time outside the home. TALIS Starting Strong approximates quality in ECEC settings through staff’s and leaders’ responses to questions covering many aspects of ECEC, including the characteristics of the settings and of the workforce as well as the practices staff use with children.

Process quality is the aspect of ECEC that is most proximal to children’s learning, development and well-being. The quality of interactions in ECEC settings, including how staff engage with children and with parents/guardians, constitute process quality. TALIS Starting Strong was designed to approximate process quality in four major domains: 1) facilitating language, literacy and numeracy development; 2) facilitating socio-emotional development; 3) facilitating group organisation and individual support; and 4) facilitating engagement of parents/guardians. TALIS Starting Strong was also designed to describe characteristics of the ECEC workforce and ECEC settings. The goal of TALIS Starting Strong and of this publication is to compare ECEC settings and practices within and across countries to identify policy strategies to improve ECEC for all children.

The rapid growth of children under age 3 requires that ECEC settings for this age group be specifically adapted to the evolving needs of these children. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the complexity of providing education and care for this group: As people around the world distance from one another, children under age 3 continue to require close contact with others to meet their basic needs and to ensure their positive development and well-being. Countries are faced with the challenges of maintaining ECEC to support essential workers, making the ECEC workforce essential in many cases. In contrast to other levels of education, ECEC for children under age 3 cannot be replaced, even temporarily and imperfectly, with virtual programming.

Although data were collected prior to the pandemic, TALIS Starting Strong investigates the working conditions of staff in ECEC settings for children under age 3, as well as the practices they use. These data are important for identifying strengths of the ECEC sector and for learning about areas where policies can better support this important workforce and, ultimately, young children. This report focuses specifically on ECEC for children under age 3 in recognition of the unique nature of this period of a child’s development and the specific role of ECEC staff working with this age group.

This publication includes results from staff (those who work regularly in a pedagogical way with children) and leaders (those with the most responsibility for administrative, managerial and/or pedagogical leadership in the ECEC setting) in settings for children under age 3 in four countries (Denmark, Germany, Israel and Norway). This chapter describes the main findings of the report and their policy implications. Chapter 2 describes the policy contexts of ECEC for children under age 3 as well as the governance and organisation of this sector in each of the four participating countries. Chapter 3 investigates the characteristics of settings, such as location and size, as well as those of the workforce, including education and experience in the ECEC sector. Finally, Chapter 4 describes the practices that staff use with children and links these aspects of process quality to characteristics of settings and the workforce. Figure 1.1 summarises the framework used to understand the quality of ECEC for children under age 3 and the structure of this publication.

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Figure 1.1. Framework for the analysis of the quality of early childhood education and care environments for children under age 3 in TALIS Starting Strong
Figure 1.1. Framework for the analysis of the quality of early childhood education and care environments for children under age 3 in TALIS Starting Strong
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The foundations of education and care for children under age 3

ECEC supports two main policy goals: promoting child development and well-being and supporting parents’ participation in the workforce. Although these goals are closely connected, they also span traditional policy areas around education, labour, health and social welfare. The intersection of these different areas can create challenges for governments to develop coherent, family-centred policy approaches, but also presents unique opportunities to advance multiple policy goals simultaneously.

This intersection of policy areas is relevant at all levels of ECEC, but particularly pronounced for children under age 3. Policies around maternal and infant health as well as parental leave take precedence during the first weeks or months of a child’s life. However, increasingly, children are transitioning from sole parental care to enrolment in ECEC settings before age 3, with wide variation both within and across countries in who participates in ECEC during these early years (see Chapter 2). Variations in participation in ECEC can contribute to differences in educational outcomes observed among children from different socio-economic or demographic backgrounds. Children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds benefit the most from high-quality ECEC environments, but are less likely than other children to enrol due to the cost of ECEC, smaller incentives to enrol children in ECEC for parents with lower earning capacity and a lower supply of high-quality ECEC services in disadvantaged areas.

Regardless of where children under age 3 spend their time, they learn through interactions with the people around them. Responsive interactions with caregivers, characterised by warmth and sensitivity to a child’s needs and interests, help young children become increasingly engaged with their environments. In this way, caregivers, whether they are parents, guardians or staff in ECEC settings, are also teachers for very young children, providing both education and care through their interactions with children. These sorts of responsive interactions form the core of process quality in ECEC settings, supporting the positive outcomes for children that are associated with participation in high-quality ECEC.

Policy pointer 1: Ensure equitable access to quality early childhood education and care

The availability of settings for children under age 3 has not necessarily kept pace with the growing demand for ECEC for children in this age group. TALIS Starting Strong data show that many settings maintain waiting lists of children who want to enrol and that settings in urban areas are more likely to have waiting lists than those in more rural areas (see Chapter 2). In addition, in Germany and Norway, where ECEC settings can include children under age 3 as well as older children, ECEC settings in urban areas serve larger proportions of children under age 3 compared to settings in more rural areas (see Chapter 3).

These findings suggest that the supply of ECEC for children under age 3 may not adequately meet the demand, which may be concentrated in more urban areas. Policy makers can help expand the availability of high-quality ECEC in areas where waiting lists are typical by considering opening new centres, fostering local partnerships between providers of training programmes for ECEC and ECEC centres to help address shortages of staff, and developing the provision of high-quality home-based settings. Furthermore, ensuring that ECEC settings outside of urban areas are equipped to work with children under 3 can encourage more families to enrol their children.

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Cities and rural areas have varying availability of early childhood education and care for children under age 3
Cities and rural areas have varying availability of early childhood education and care for children under age 3

Source: OECD (2019[1]), TALIS Starting Strong 2018 Database, http://www.oecd.org/education/school/oecdtalisstartingstrongdata.htm.

Policy pointer 2: Promote family engagement in early childhood education and care

The close connections between education and care for children under age 3 mean that children benefit from strong partnerships between their parents/guardians and ECEC staff. Across countries, most staff participating in TALIS Starting Strong report that parents/guardians can easily get in touch with staff in the ECEC setting. However, fewer staff report that other ways to engage families, such as by encouraging families to play and carry out learning activities at home, are very common in their settings (see Chapter 4 and Figure 1.2).

Interactions between ECEC staff and parents/guardians are an important aspect of process quality and a key way to promote children’s learning, development and well-being. Policies can support ECEC staff to effectively engage with families by making this a central component of curriculum frameworks and by ensuring that staff are prepared through their initial and ongoing training to work closely with families. Although working with parents/guardians and families is a common element of pre-service training in most countries, only a small majority (61%) of staff in centre-based settings in Israel indicate that this topic was covered in their initial training programme. This type of initial training is more common in Germany, but staff nonetheless rank engaging with families among their top professional development needs (see Chapter 3). In addition to training staff to engage with families, campaigns to raise public awareness of the importance of close co-operation between ECEC and parents/guardians can encourage families to engage more closely with ECEC staff as well.

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Figure 1.2. Use of practices to facilitate parent/guardian engagement in centre-based early childhood education and care settings
Percentage of staff who report that the following practices describes “very well” how they engage with parents or guardians in this ECEC centre
Figure 1.2. Use of practices to facilitate parent/guardian engagement in centre-based early childhood education and care settings

* Estimates for sub-groups and estimated differences between sub-groups need to be interpreted with care. See Annex A for more information.

Source: OECD (2019[1]), TALIS Starting Strong 2018 Database, http://www.oecd.org/education/school/oecdtalisstartingstrongdata.htm.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934147137

Policy pointer 3: Give attention to the costs of high-quality early childhood education and care

The central importance of responsive interactions for high-quality ECEC means that staff need to be able to give adequate individualised attention to all children. Therefore, staff in ECEC settings for children under age 3 need to be able to interact with children as part of small groups, even more so than at other levels of education. These smaller groups imply higher costs per child due to the number of staff required. The exact costs and the extent to which they are shared between public and private entities vary across countries and across ECEC settings within countries, but strong investment in the ECEC workforce and appropriate group sizes is necessary to ensure high-quality ECEC for children under age 3.

The combined public and private expenditures in Germany and Norway on ECEC for children under age 3 reflect the greater costs for this age group compared with education for older children. In contrast, in Israel, expenditures on ECEC for children under age 3 are less than those for other levels of education (see Chapter 2). These expenditure differences are evident in the number of staff in ECEC settings and the group sizes reported in TALIS Starting Strong. Specifically, in Norway, leaders report a greater average number of staff per setting than in other countries, despite also having a smaller number of children per setting (see Chapter 3).

Having more children attend a single setting can lead to economies of scale, or create challenges around managing larger numbers of children, staff and resources. In Israel and Norway, larger centre size is associated with more practices to facilitate numeracy development and play and to engage parents; the opposite is true in Denmark (with low response rates) and Germany (see Chapter 4). Although different policy responses are needed for these different contexts, governments need to ensure that quality is supported regardless of the size of the centre. In Israel and Norway, this can involve helping smaller settings to access materials and resources, including adequate staff time and ongoing professional development for current staff, to help promote practices around quality. In Denmark and Germany, larger centres may need support to ensure that all classrooms/playrooms within the setting have sufficient materials and resources to help staff engage in high-quality interactions with all children throughout the day.

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The organisation of early childhood education and care offerings for children under age 3

Given the intersection of policy areas relevant for families during children’s early years, countries follow different approaches in the organisation and governance of ECEC for children under age 3. Among the countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong for this age group, Denmark, Germany and Norway have integrated systems of ECEC, meaning that a single government authority oversees ECEC for children under age 3 as well as pre-primary education for children age 3 and older. Although overseen by a single authority, regulations can differ depending on the age ranges of children within groups and settings (OECD, 2019[2]). In Israel, a split system of ECEC governance exists, with different ministries responsible for ECEC for children under age 3 than for those over age 3. Even within this split system, different requirements and regulations exist depending on the age ranges of children within groups, reflecting the varying needs of infants under age 1, young toddlers and older toddlers.

As these different regulations reflect, children under age 3 are not a homogenous group. Because they are developing more rapidly than at any other point during their lifetimes, their abilities and interests shift quickly. For example, as infants gain mobility and begin to explore their environments more independently, their needs change as well, meaning that children who are close in age can be quite different from one another in their development. ECEC staff must be prepared to adapt to these rapid changes, continuing to be responsive and sensitive to all children in their groups.

In addition to different types of governance for ECEC for children under age 3, different types of settings are also common. In Denmark, Germany and Norway with integrated systems, children aged 0-5 enrol in the same settings while in Israel, children under age 3 and those aged 3-5 attend different settings. Home-based ECEC is an option in many countries, including all four countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong for children under age 3, although home-based settings were not included in the survey in Norway. These settings typically involve a single staff member working at home with a small group of children. In contrast, centre-based settings generally include multiple classrooms/playrooms and staff members working in teams. With fewer children, home-based settings can provide a good fit with the individualised attention required for children under age 3. However, quality may not be supported in the same ways in home-based settings as in centre-based ones. For instance, in Germany, staff in home-based settings have a lower educational attainment than staff in centre-based settings.

Policy pointer 4: Ensure staff initial training reflects the unique needs of children in this age group

As children under age 3 are developing rapidly, ECEC staff need to be well prepared to work effectively with this age group. Although initial training specifically to work with children is common among staff participating in TALIS Starting Strong, it is not universal. This type of training is most common in Germany, where more than 90% of staff have had such training, and also in home-based settings in Israel. However, in centre-based settings in Denmark, Israel and Norway, a substantial minority (25-30%) of staff lack this educational background (see Chapter 3). Policies can help address this gap by setting initial training requirements for new staff. Such requirements can include both traditional training modules as well as work-based learning components to give future ECEC staff direct experience working with children under age 3. Ongoing professional development can ensure current ECEC staff are well equipped to meet the demands of working with groups of very young children.

Staff also need specific training to successfully individualise practices to support children’s development. Staff in all four countries report regularly adapting practices to children’s individual needs. However, practices around connecting activities to children’s lives and adapting activities to children’s cultural backgrounds are less common than practices around adapting to individual children’s interests and level of development, which could reflect a willingness to treat all children equally or a lack of preparation to adapt practices in these ways (see Chapter 4 and Figure 1.3). Staff’s educational background contributes to greater use of adaptive practices. As such, training and professional development can be enhanced to help staff integrate more adaptive practices into their work, particularly related to children’s daily life and cultural backgrounds. A greater focus on these specific types of adaptive practices can also serve as a way to engage more closely with families.

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Figure 1.3. Use of practices to adapt to children’s interests and needs in centre-based early childhood education and care settings
Percentage of staff who report that they use the following practices “always or almost always” in their work with a target group of children
Figure 1.3. Use of practices to adapt to children’s interests and needs in centre-based early childhood education and care settings

* Estimates for sub-groups and estimated differences between sub-groups need to be interpreted with care. See Annex A for more information.

Note: The target group is defined as the first group of children staff were working with on the last day before the day of the survey.

Source: OECD (2019[1]), TALIS Starting Strong 2018 Database, http://www.oecd.org/education/school/oecdtalisstartingstrongdata.htm.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888934147156

Policy pointer 5: Review the working hours and the allocation of time across tasks in home-based settings

Working in small settings, home-based ECEC staff must carry out a wide variety of tasks. These include working directly with a small group of children who may have a wider age range than in most centre-based classrooms/playrooms, planning and preparing activities with children as well as managing administrative aspects of providing ECEC. As such, it is not surprising that home-based staff in TALIS Starting Strong report working more hours per week than staff in centre-based settings. In Germany, home-based staff work, on average, 47 hours per week, whereas their colleagues in centre-based settings work an average of 32 hours per week. In Israel, home-based staff work an average of 49 hours per week compared with 34 hours per week on average among their centre-based peers.

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Staff in home-based settings work long hours
Staff in home-based settings work long hours

Source: OECD (2019[1]), TALIS Starting Strong 2018 Database, http://www.oecd.org/education/school/oecdtalisstartingstrongdata.htm.

Staff in home-based settings often work long hours to meet the demand from families with long working days. However, working long hours and having multiple tasks to perform generates stress for staff in home-based settings. In Germany, staff in home-based settings indicate keeping up with changing requirements from authorities and too much administrative work as important sources of stress. In addition, with the long hours worked by home-based providers, finding additional time for engaging in professional development activities can be a challenge. In Denmark and Germany, home-based staff report similar needs for professional development as centre-based staff. In Israel, more than one-third of home-based staff report a strong need for professional development in several areas, including facilitating learning in literacy and oral language and in the arts.

Policy makers can review the working hours of staff in home-based settings with a view to providing flexibility to families, but also to protect staff against too long working hours. Regulated working hours can include time for tasks to be performed without children. Furthermore, developing networks of home-based providers can enable these staff to find time for tasks to be performed without children and to participate in peer-learning activities.

Policy pointer 6: Use monitoring to support process quality and quality improvement in all settings

Monitoring ECEC settings through external evaluation helps ensure that minimum standards are met across all settings and can enhance quality. In order to enhance quality, monitoring must include the various factors that support quality in ECEC and provide opportunities for quality improvement. This means that monitoring must address both structural and process aspects of quality in addition to administrative and funding aspects. For process quality, monitoring needs to include staff’s interactions with children, their ability to adapt practices to individual children’s needs and interests, and support for parent/guardian engagement, with the objective to help staff improve their practices.

Less than half of leaders in Germany and Norway report inspections regarding process quality occurring at least annually. Although the percentage of leaders reporting this type of inspection is higher in Israel, more leaders report that monitoring around structural quality and facilities occurs annually or more frequently. Inspections regarding process quality are even less frequent in home-based settings in Germany and Israel.

Monitoring can create administrative burden and stress for staff if inspections occur too often or if the evaluations are not clearly defined and connected to strategies for improvement. Frequent monitoring of home-based settings can also pose unique challenges, as these settings can be more dispersed, requiring more resources to make inspection visits. Developing a clear monitoring framework can help ECEC settings work continuously towards quality improvement goals, even in the absence of frequent inspections.

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Early childhood education and care staff as professionals

ECEC staff working with children under age 3 must address the multiplicity of children’s needs and their level of development, which can differ even more than for children in pre-primary education. Staff working with very young children need to cater for these needs and engage in various education and care activities and interactions to foster children’s development, learning and well-being. These activities and interactions include accompanying children in a number of routines in their daily life, fostering their cognitive and socio-emotional development, as well as engaging with parents to support children’s development and well-being both in ECEC settings and at home.

The ECEC sector for children under the age of 3 needs a range of professionals with different profiles to perform this variety of tasks. In home-based settings, one single staff has to perform the various roles and tasks. In ECEC centres, teachers work in tandem with assistants in many countries, each having different roles and responsibilities. This is the case in Denmark, Germany and Norway among the participating countries, where teachers represent less than half of staff working with children in a pedagogical way. Assistants are prevalent in these countries, as well as other staff such as interns and staff for individual children in some countries. However, the background and training of assistants varies across countries: In Norway, required qualifications vary between assistants and teachers whereas in Germany, staff in both roles often have the same level of educational attainment. In small centres, staff may have to perform a broader set of tasks than in large centres.

Assistants do not exist in Israel, with teachers accounting for a large majority of staff. The lack of distinction between the roles of teacher and assistant in Israel reflects the “educare” approach used in settings for children under age 3. This approach highlights the close connection between education and care for children in this age group.

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Different types of staff roles are common in centres for children under age 3
Different types of staff roles are common in centres for children under age 3

Source: OECD (2019[1]), TALIS Starting Strong 2018 Database, http://www.oecd.org/education/school/oecdtalisstartingstrongdata.htm.

Staff working in the sector also have very diverse backgrounds in their education, training and experience. Policies need to adjust to the diversity of situations and characteristics of staff and ensure that all staff benefit from opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge needed to work with very young children.

Policy pointer 7: Ensure that all staff have opportunities and possibilities to develop their competencies throughout their careers

Some studies have found that staff with higher levels of education, and in particular who have pursued education and training after secondary school (ISCED 4 and above), engage in better interactions with children under age 3, such as to foster language development. Findings from TALIS Starting Strong show that staff with a higher educational background make greater use of practices to adapt to children’s needs and interest when working with groups of children.

A majority of staff in the four participating countries have pursued education and training after secondary school, but the percentage of staff with a low level of education is not negligible. In centre-based settings, the percentage of staff with secondary school as the highest level of formal education amounts to 19% in Germany, 32% in Norway and 37% in Israel; the percentage for Denmark (with low response rates) is in a similar range. In Germany, almost 60% of staff working in home-based settings have not pursued an education beyond secondary school.

The education background of staff varies across settings and categories of staff and is linked to their role. In Germany, teachers are more likely to have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent (ISCED level 6 and above) than assistants, but they both spend similar amounts of time working directly with children and working on other tasks. In Norway, almost all teachers have attained at least ISCED level 6 while only a minority of assistants have, and assistants rarely undertake tasks without children (e.g. documenting children’s development). In Israel, where there are no assistants, the majority of staff have a post-secondary degree, but less than a bachelor’s degree (ISCED level 4 or 5). In countries with integrated systems (Denmark, Germany and Norway), education levels of staff in centres are similar for staff regardless of whether their target group includes a minority or majority of children under age 3.

The topics covered in initial training in Norway are more comprehensive than in Germany, and to an even greater extent, than in Israel. Staff experience in the sector also differs across countries. In Germany and Norway, staff generally have worked several years in the ECEC sector before working with children under age 3 while staff in Israel have had, on average, most of their experience in the ECEC sector with children under age 3.

As staff have different educational backgrounds, experiences, and roles and responsibilities, they need to continue to develop their skills and knowledge throughout their careers in ways that correspond to their needs. A particular focus can be put on ensuring that staff who have not pursued a post-secondary education continue to develop their skills. Staff in home-based settings may be more in need of professional development related to their pre-service educational backgrounds, but they may also lack opportunities to participate in ongoing training due to their long working hours. They may also lack opportunities to learn from peers due to the nature of their work.

All staff need to benefit from training opportunities. The barriers to professional development reported by the largest percentages of staff are that professional development is too expensive and that there are not enough staff to compensate for their absence in the four countries (OECD, 2019[2]).

Flexible forms of training, such as learning from peers and mentoring, can help staff improve their practices with children. These informal forms of professional development do not require release time from working with children, as they can be easily combined with staff’s usual schedules. Government also needs to investigate options to lower the financial cost of training for staff in settings or countries where this is an important barrier.

Policy pointer 8: Provide comprehensive training opportunities, including working with diverse families/children with special needs, and encouraging all forms of learning

Professional development should cover the major areas of knowledge needed to work with children. In terms of area of training, staff in the four countries most frequently report a need for professional development in topics such as child development, facilitating creativity and problem solving, and working with children with special educational needs. However, there are differences across countries and settings. In Germany, where a majority of staff in home-based settings have not pursued education beyond secondary school, staff indicate training needs in several core areas, including learning theories.

Working with parents/guardians or families is crucial for this age group and was included in the pre-service training of a majority of staff, albeit to a lesser extent in Israel. In many settings, staff indicate a need for professional development in the area of working with parents/guardians or families, with more than half of staff in centre-based settings in Germany reporting this as an area of moderate or high need. Staff in home-based settings report smaller needs in this area, perhaps due to their closer links with parents.

As staff face a diversity of professional development needs and have very different profiles, a multiplicity of training opportunities, both in terms of format and content, can be offered to them. Work-based learning may have multiple advantages for staff working with young children. It can be adapted to staff’s profiles and needs, cover multiple aspects and provide practical experience. In centres, leaders can play an important role in developing a stimulating learning environment for staff through co-operation and exchanges about their practices. Policies can help home-based providers continue to develop and update their skills and knowledge through tailored professional development approaches. These can include providing coaching and mentorship that can take place when children are present.

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The status of the profession and shortages of staff

Attracting and maintaining a high-quality workforce is a key challenge for the ECEC sector in general, but even more so in the sector for children under the age of 3. This is due in part to the low status of the profession in many countries, stereotypes such as the profession being only for women, a misunderstanding of the interplay between care and education activities, and a lack of awareness of the importance of the first years of life for development and success later.

The situation has somewhat changed thanks to decades of work on the importance of investing in the early years of life, and public investment in ECEC has increased in many countries. However, this has often benefited pre-primary education. Staff working with children under the age of 3 are still not always seen as professionals.

Most recently, due to the global pandemic, ECEC was no longer available in many countries. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for settings for children under age 3, but perhaps more importantly, the complexity of working with children from this age and the need for such professionals. For parents with young children, working from home while trying to foster their children’s development at the same time was an important source of stress and frustration of not managing to combine the two as successfully as they would have liked. Firms, societies and policy makers may have better realised the importance of settings and staff for children under age 3.

Policy pointer 9: Create options for career progression and ensure salaries are aligned with staff’s education, skills and responsibilities

A majority of leaders in Germany and Israel report that staff shortages limit their effectiveness. Similarly, around half of leaders in Denmark (with low response rates), Germany and Israel report that shortages of staff for the number of children enrolled hinder the centre’s capacity to provide a quality environment for children “quite a bit” or “a lot”. The situation is different in Norway, with a minority of leaders reporting that staff shortages limit their effectiveness or the capacity to provide a quality environment. Staff shortages have implications for staff, as this can increase their workload and lower their opportunities to participate in training. Reducing group sizes by recruiting more staff is indicated as a top spending priority if the budget was increased by 74% of staff in Norway, 78% in Germany and 84% in Israel.

Staff shortages is an important challenge for the ECEC sector as a whole and for settings for children under the age of 3 more particularly. At the same time, part of the demand for ECEC services for the youngest children is unmet. Even though the four participating countries have high ECEC enrolment rates for children under age 3 compared to other OECD countries, there is room to expand enrolment. Attracting more qualified staff is therefore crucial for the sector.

Staff are committed to the sector and express a very high level of satisfaction with their work. Across the four countries, 96-98% of centre-based staff agree or strongly agree that they “enjoy working at this ECEC centre”. Similarly, from 94% of centre-based staff in Germany to 97% in Norway agree that “all in all, they are satisfied with their job”. Staff in home-based settings in Denmark (with low response rates), Germany and Israel also report very high levels of job satisfaction.

However, satisfaction with salary is low in the four participating countries, particularly among staff in centre-based settings: only 16% of staff in Israel, 29% in Germany and 30% in Norway are satisfied with the salary they receive (Denmark, with low response rates, is similar to Germany and Norway). Salaries to some extent reflect the social value attached to a job. In line with low satisfaction with salaries, relatively small percentages of staff feel valued by society: from 37% of staff in centre-based settings in Germany to 58% in Norway. In Israel, staff working with children under age 3 feel less valued by society than their colleagues in pre-primary education, but no difference is observed for the other countries (OECD, 2019[2]). However, these percentages are above those for lower secondary education where only 26% of teachers feel valued by society, on average, in OECD countries (OECD, 2020[3]).

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Staff are satisfied with their work, but not with their salaries
Staff are satisfied with their work, but not with their salaries

Source: OECD (2019[1]), TALIS Starting Strong 2018 Database, http://www.oecd.org/education/school/oecdtalisstartingstrongdata.htm.

In order to attract more candidates to the sector, it is important to raise the status of the profession and break down stereotypes about who can join the profession.

The ECEC sector for children under age 3 needs to offer attractive financial packages to the various categories of staff while at the same time ensuring that staff receive the education and training needed to work as child development professionals. The sector is often supported by private funding, even more than pre-primary education as is the case in Israel among the participating countries. If increases of staff salaries are financed through higher fees paid by families, inequality in access may rise. Most countries have limited room for increased public expenditure, and ECEC budgets compete with the budgets of both other levels of education and other public policies. However, increasing public investment in ECEC for the youngest children can be a priority for many countries given the benefits for the children enrolled, parents, and societies and economies more broadly. Increased public investment can target staff salaries and the quality of education and training for staff to ensure that staff can work as professionals and to raise the status of the profession.

It is also important to develop pathways from other professions (e.g. in the education or health sectors) to an ECEC career and create options for career progressions to make the career more attractive. Pathways from other professions can be facilitated by systems to recognise experience and skills acquired in other jobs or informally, for instance for staff working in the informal sector. The recognition of skills and abilities acquired informally can also facilitate career progression, for instance from assistants to roles with more responsibilities. In addition, communication campaigns can raise awareness of broader pools of candidates and help fight stereotypes, for instance to attract more qualified candidates and more men to the profession.

Policy pointer 10: Investigate how to address some sources of work stress

As staff working with children under age 3 have different working environments and conditions depending on their role and the type of setting where they work, they also have different sources of stress.

In the four participating countries, sources of stress reported as important by the largest percentages of staff in centres include a lack of resources, having too many children in their classroom/playroom, having extra duties due to absent staff and having too many additional duties. A large percentage of staff also indicate excessive work documenting children’s development as a source of stress in Denmark (with low response rates) and Germany in both centre-based and home-based settings. In home-based settings in Germany, staff also indicate keeping up with changing requirements from authorities and too much administrative work as important sources of stress while in Israel, being held responsible for children's development, well-being and learning is an important source of stress for almost half of home-based staff.

Policies need to take into account the multiplicity of the working conditions and environments. Addressing staff shortages can help mitigate stress in centres. Providing training options to staff who lack knowledge and competencies in core areas of children’s development can help low-qualified staff feel more confident in their work. As children under age 3 require continuous attention, tasks to be performed without children can generate stress. Setting aside some time for these tasks through a better allocation of roles within centres and regulated working hours in contact with children in home-based settings can help staff perform this variety of tasks. While it is important to monitor several aspects of process and structural quality, the administrative burden should not be too high, especially in home-based settings or small centres in which it is more difficult for staff to have time without children.

References

[3] OECD (2020), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume II): Teachers and School Leaders as Valued Professionals, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/19cf08df-en.

[2] OECD (2019), Providing Quality Early Childhood Education and Care: Results from the Starting Strong Survey 2018, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/301005d1-en.

[1] OECD (2019), TALIS Starting Strong 2018 Database, OECD, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/education/school/oecdtalisstartingstrongdata.htm.

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