Policy makers increasingly recognise the need to invest in early childhood education and care (ECEC) so that all children have a strong start. Investing in the early years means, first and foremost, investing in the professionals who work with children in ECEC settings, since they matter more than anything else in children’s lives outside their families. They shape children’s first experiences outside their home into enriching and happy activities and help children to develop and learn.

However, many countries stumble in building, attracting and retaining a high-quality workforce in the sector. Relatively low status, low wages and stereotypes about the profession often deter good candidates to join the sector. To meet a growing demand for high-quality ECEC professionals, countries will need to work harder, not just to make ECEC jobs financially more attractive but also – most importantly – to make them intellectually more appealing, so that highly motivated staff and centre leaders feel supported, have opportunities to develop their skills, and can work with a high level of professional autonomy within a collaborative culture. These are the topics explored in this second volume on the results the OECD Starting Strong Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS Starting Strong), which collected data in 2018 from ECEC staff and centre leaders in nine OECD countries.

The survey shows that high standards for ECEC initial preparation programmes with some practical training can not only prepare new staff for their work with children, but also provide a basis for skills development throughout their careers. In addition to broad participation in in-service training, the quality of training matters. Dimensions of quality that relate to staff practices with children include the thematic breadth of training and opportunities to deepen knowledge acquired in initial preparation through ongoing professional development. What is more, training and informal learning through collaboration with colleagues can reinforce each other, as two key avenues through which ECEC professionals can develop their skills throughout their career.

The survey also shows that ECEC staff are generally confident about their ability to promote children’s socio-emotional development, but less so about working with a diverse group of children and using digital technology to support children’s learning. As demands increase on ECEC staff to address diversity and to foster an effective and safe use of technology, be it in their pedagogical work or in communication with parents, these are areas of training that can be prioritised by policies.

More generally, ECEC staff show a high level of satisfaction with the profession, but their views on the working conditions are less positive. Low satisfaction with salaries, limited opportunities for career progression, and limited human and material resources in ECEC centres are often associated with staff disengagement with work and stress. Tight financial constraints in many countries, which are likely to be exacerbated in the years to come following the COVID-19 pandemic, means that there will be limited room for higher salaries or additional resources in centres, for instance to reduce the number of children per staff. The report points to alternative pathways to help staff cope with various sources of stress that do not necessarily lead to direct fiscal cost, although they require a well-thought out and well-designed policy effort to deliver effects. This includes support from leaders, a co-operative climate, effective training and autonomy at work.

For any firm or institution, leadership is considered a key determinant of the organisational climate, and the quality and efficiency of service delivery. Yet leadership and management practices in ECEC centres have thus far attracted little attention from both researchers and policy makers. This report shows that when leaders spend more time on pedagogical functions, staff adopt attitudes and practices linked to quality in ECEC settings. When staff perceive more opportunities for participating in centre decisions, they co-operate more with colleagues and report greater satisfaction with their job. Leaders themselves need to be supported and trained for their job. Collaboration with national or local institutions is clearly an area for further improvement, as centre autonomy can be limited and responsibilities shared between leaders and authorities. Leaders identify national/local policies as an area for high training need and changing regulations as an important source of stress in their work.

The major promise of high-quality ECEC is to give all children effective opportunities to learn and develop. TALIS Starting Strong points to both hope and concern. On the one hand, ECEC staff training profiles respond to the diversity of children in ECEC settings: staff who work with a higher diversity of children are trained to work with children from diverse backgrounds. However, engagement with parents, which is so important for children from diverse backgrounds, is more frequent in centres with a larger diversity of children only in a tiny number of countries. And staff in more challenging centres are not systematically supported with appropriate working conditions.

As most countries will face significant financial pressures following the COVID-19 pandemic, the risks are high that investment in children’s early years takes a back seat as other priorities appear more urgent. At the same time, the financial fragility of the ECEC sector may discourage potential candidates or current staff to join or remain in the profession. Thus, past investment and progress in providing a better foundation for the well-being of children could be compromised. TALIS Starting Strong provides an empirical foundation for policy makers to make the right strategic choices and develop effective policies and practices to secure a high-quality ECEC workforce to support the next generation. Nothing could be more important. While children are just a small percentage of our populations, they are 100% of our future.


Andreas Schleicher,

Director for Education and Skills

Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary General

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2020

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at