2. Staff education, training and skills development in early childhood education and care

Providing opportunities for developing the skills of early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals is a key pillar to attract, maintain and retain a high-quality ECEC workforce. There are many ways for staff to acquire and develop the knowledge and skills that increase their professional competence and thus their ability to effectively promote children’s learning, development and well-being. Pre-service education and training serve to attract and chiefly determine the skills of the younger generation, while it remains the foundation on which experienced staff can build their continuous professional development. In turn, in-service training is key to maintaining a high-quality workforce and retaining it by offering options for skill upgrading and career progression. Informal learning is another engine for skills development, most notably through professional collaborative activities and knowledge sharing among peers.

Education and training policies for the ECEC workforce need to be consistent in ensuring that staff can acquire the necessary skills, which vary according to their role, initial education and experience. This requires policies that provide coherent pathways for skills development across career stages and transitions accessible to all staff. Designing such pathways calls for aligning the content of pre-service and in-service training with the needs of staff with enough granularity as well as creating conditions for combining structured and informal learning opportunities. These issues are crucial to make the profession more attractive to potential candidates, keep staff motivated and engaged, and provide opportunities for career growth.

Policy makers can support ECEC staff in becoming lifelong learners and inquisitive professionals. Adopting a broad vision of initial preparation that comprises both pre-service programmes and support for staff during their first years on the job, and promoting professional learning and collaboration as embedded in the ongoing work of ECEC centres are key policy pointers for helping ECEC staff to continuously learn and grow (OECD, 2019[1]). In turn, ECEC staff and centre leaders have the professional responsibility to seek, identify and engage in available training activities; collaborate with colleagues to find creative solutions to their challenges at work; and integrate new knowledge and skills into their practice.

The Starting Strong Teaching and Learning International Survey 2018 (TALIS Starting Strong) is the first international survey to provide systematised information regarding the format and content of initial preparation programmes and professional development activities in the ECEC sector. This fills an important gap and complements more commonly available data about qualifications requirements for ECEC staff. Teachers, assistants and centre leaders surveyed in TALIS Starting Strong provided information on their initial preparation programmes, their work experience and the types of in-service training they received to become and grow as early childhood professionals. They also had the opportunity to report their needs for further professional development, their engagement in collaborative professional activities, their sense of self-efficacy and their practices with children. By gathering this information, the survey improves the scope and reliability of data on the ECEC workforce across countries, a contribution of particular importance in light of the diversity of training offerings and pathways to working in the sector.

The goals of this chapter are to:

  • investigate the alignment between the pre-service and in-service training of ECEC staff, and how it varies depending on the role and experience of staff

  • characterise ECEC staff participation in professional activities that promote informal learning

  • explore the associations between the education and training trajectories of ECEC staff, their self-efficacy beliefs, and their practices with children

  • examine how ECEC staff education and training profiles vary across ECEC centres that serve more and less diverse groups of children

  • discuss policy implications in terms of the design and targeting of training opportunities for ECEC staff.

The notion of professionalism in the ECEC sector is evolving to address the increasing quality demands that societies place on early childhood education and care. ECEC staff are considered as professionals not only because they undertake formal training as required by governments, but also because they upgrade their expertise and skills on their own initiative, because they seek to advance and share knowledge through collaboration with peers, and because they own their professional practice and feel engaged to improve the quality of their work.

TALIS Starting Strong sheds new light on multiple aspects of the professionalism of the ECEC workforce. This chapter focuses on skills development pathways for ECEC staff as they derive from their participation in pre-service and in-service education training opportunities and from informal learning at the workplace, as well as on their associations with professional beliefs and practices. The chapter’s analytical framework builds on the richness of the data from TALIS Starting Strong to characterise such pathways (Figure 2.1). In the pre-service phase, key indicators of interest are the completion of an education or training programme that prepared staff specifically to work with children, the contents of such programmes, and whether they involved a practical component. This complements the characterisation of the ECEC workforce by level of educational attainment presented in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong 2018 (OECD, 2019[2]).

Opportunities for skills development beyond initial preparation programmes are examined through both formal and informal on-the-job professional development activities. As part of in-service training, the chapter looks at both induction activities organised by ECEC centres and at professional development activities undertaken by staff in the 12 months prior to the survey, examining their format and contents. The focus is therefore placed on recent training activities, acknowledging that the training record of staff may extend further back in time than this one-year window. In addition, the chapter explores opportunities for informal learning as it may stem from staff engagement in collaborative professional practices. Besides looking at participation, the chapter examines the breadth and alignment of pre-service and in-service training, aiming to shed light on differences across countries in the education and training trajectories of ECEC staff.

The second part of the chapter then explores associations between training indicators and a range of staff-level attitudinal and behavioural outcomes: perceived needs for further professional development, self-efficacy beliefs, collaboration with colleagues and practices with children. When possible, these associations are examined in relation to both the overall scope of training and to training in specific domains.

Throughout this chapter, the training trajectories and outcomes of ECEC staff are compared according to their roles with the target group (i.e. teachers vs. assistants, for countries for which the distinction can be made) and levels of experience (novice vs. experienced). In terms of staff roles, and according to the initial distinction made to determine participation in TALIS Starting Strong (see the Reader’s Guide), teachers are those staff with the most responsibility for a group of children, whereas assistants are those staff supporting the teacher with a group of children.1,2 In terms of experience, staff are considered novice if they have worked for three years or less in the ECEC sector, and experienced if they have worked for more than three years in the sector. This categorisation of novice staff aligns with the empirical literature and developmental models of educators’ career stages (Kyndt et al., 2016[3]) and reflects the relatively large proportion of recent entrants into the ECEC profession: with a cut-off point of three years of work experience in ECEC, 27% of staff in TALIS Starting Strong are classified as novice across countries. In order to capture variation in training profiles for staff with different levels of experience and different responsibilities, the chapter combines the two criteria and breaks down results into four categories of staff: “experienced teachers”, “novice teachers”, “experienced assistants” and “novice assistants”.3 This yields a granular portrayal of the training trajectories and needs of different ECEC professionals. In the final section of the chapter, as a way of bringing an equity perspective to the distribution of staff according to their education and training profiles, analyses compare centres with varying proportions of children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes and whose first language is different from the language used in their ECEC centre.

The chapter distinguishes nine broad thematic areas of training for ECEC staff, based on the list of training topics included in the TALIS Starting Strong 2018 questionnaires (Table 2.1). These areas reflect major themes of ECEC education and professional development programmes as identified in the research literature and the conceptual framework of TALIS Starting Strong (OECD, 2018[4]; Sim et al., 2019[5]). In three cases, the classification involves clustering multiple topics into a single thematic area, based on theoretical reasoning and exploratory factor analysis revealing a common underlying structure for each set of topics.4 The area “Playful learning” groups questionnaire items related to facilitating play, creativity and problem solving. The area “Diversity” groups items about staff responding to the needs of diverse groups of children. The area “Pedagogy” groups items related to learning principles as well as to facilitating learning in specific subject matter areas. Staff are considered to have covered an area when they report that the corresponding topic was included in their training. For areas aggregating multiple topics, it is assumed that staff covered an area if they report training on at least some of the grouped topics, based on the premise of shared contents and approaches in these clusters.5

While the information collected by TALIS Starting Strong does not capture the full complexity of training offerings and pathways to working in ECEC, the survey makes an important contribution given the dearth of systematic information for comparative analysis and the great heterogeneity in the characteristics and contents of ECEC training programmes within and across countries (Bertram and Pascal, 2016[6]; Pardo and Adlerstein, 2016[7]). More specifically, the use of a consistent reference list of topics for describing the contents of pre-service and in-service training, as well as their perceived needs for further professional development, makes it possible to analyse the alignment of the training undertaken and sought by ECEC staff across different stages of their career. This chapter introduces a set of new indicators about participation in and alignment between pre-service and in-service training (Box 2.1) that are used in the analyses presented in the following sections. Further analyses may combine these indicators with information about other quality dimensions of professional development not collected by TALIS Starting Strong 2018, such as the duration of training or the qualifications and experience of trainers.

Pathways for skills development result from a combination of learning opportunities prior to and during service. Staff can acquire valuable skills and knowledge for their work through both structured education and training activities and through informal channels, in particular from collaborating and exchanging with colleagues. Pathways across career stages can vary in terms of the format and content of training activities, as well as on the relative degree of alignment across these stages. Based on their prior training and actual experience and challenges in working with children, ECEC staff can identify areas for further professional development and seek new training opportunities.

Evidence regarding the impact of ECEC pre-service education and training on process quality and child development, well-being and learning is inconclusive, partly due to the great variety of features of initial preparation programmes (OECD, 2018[4]). Nonetheless, the literature documents improvements in the competencies that ECEC staff develop linked to increases in qualification requirements for ECEC staff beyond secondary education (Lin and Magnuson, 2018[8]) and to specialised training with an explicit focus on working with children (Fukkink and Lont, 2007[9]). Evidence from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) indicates that, across countries, 15-year-olds who attended ECEC programmes staffed by trained supervisors scored 15-20 achievement points higher than peers who were supervised by untrained staff (Balladares and Kankaraš, 2020[10]). While the lack of systematic information on the pedagogical approaches, contents and delivery modes of initial preparation programmes for the ECEC workforce poses a major difficulty for determining its effectiveness (Sim et al., 2019[5]), there is little doubt about the importance of aligning these programmes with the effective learning and developmental principles that inform effective ECEC programmes (Phillips et al., 2017[11]).

As shown in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong, about three in four staff across countries report having at least some post-secondary education (ISCED Level 4 or above) and having completed an education or training programme that prepared them to work with children. Training specifically to work with children is, however, not universal, ranging from 64% of staff in Iceland to 97% of staff in Germany. The association between staff levels of educational attainment and training specifically for working with children is not uniform across countries and often linked to country-specific pathways to a career in ECEC. Similarly, training focused on working with children is more common among teachers than assistants in some countries, but equally prevalent in others (OECD, 2019, pp. 104-105[2]). As for leaders, the completion of training programmes focused on early childhood and on pedagogical leadership is also common across countries, but not universal (OECD, 2019, p. 127[2]).

Differences in initial preparation may exist between experienced and novice staff as a result of changes over time in the requirements for entering the profession. However, such gaps may gradually disappear as some staff actually complete their training specifically for working with children during their first years in the profession rather than in pre-service programmes strictly speaking. Across countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong, the percentage of teachers and assistants having completed an education or training programme focused on working with children as part of their initial preparation is higher among teachers and assistants with more than three years of experience than among novice teachers and assistants, but differences within countries tend to be small in magnitude (see Table C.2.1).

For ECEC staff, the opportunity to gain practical experience can bring additional benefits to their initial preparation specifically to work with children. Across countries, teacher training policies increasingly recognise the importance of practical training modules (a “practicum”) designed to ensure that future staff acquire some experience in real settings before they formally start to work in school or ECEC settings. A mandatory and extended period of clinical practice as part of initial teacher education is indeed a common feature of high-performing and equitable education systems in PISA. In these modules, teacher candidates typically receive extended training to help them bridge theory and practice at the beginning of their career; where the practicum included in initial teacher-preparation programmes is short, novice teachers often benefit from intensive induction or mentoring programmes (OECD, 2018[12]). Research documents a variety of arrangements for workplace-based learning and mentoring practices in ECEC initial preparation programmes across countries, highlighting the need for improving co-operation between schools for educators and ECEC settings, and for setting competence and working conditions standards for mentors (Oberhuemer, 2015[13]).

Among staff whose initial training focused specifically on working with children, on average 70% of pre-primary staff and 68% of staff in centres for children under age 3 across countries completed a preparation programme that included a practical component (see Table C.2.1). At the pre-primary level, the proportion of teachers with preparatory practical training is the highest in Japan and Israel. Among pre-primary assistants, it is the highest in Korea and Germany, where it is also high in centres for children under age 3 (Figure 2.2). Differences in practical training by years of experience are only observed in Germany, in favour of experienced teachers in centres for children under age 3, and in Korea in favour of novice assistants.

Across countries, the percentage of staff not having completed a pre-service period of workplace-based learning may reflect the diversity of entry pathways into ECEC professions, which include non-standard qualifications and training in related fields. Moreover, the results may not yet capture the impact of recent reforms. Initial analyses of responses to an OECD policy questionnaire indicate that practical placements have become a common feature of initial preparation programmes for ECEC in all of the countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong. For instance, a period of workplace-based learning is now a requirement for working as a teacher in ECEC settings in all countries but Iceland, where it is, however, common practice (OECD, 2019[15]). For instance, in Denmark, student ECEC teachers must complete the equivalent of more than one year of practical placements under the supervision and guidance of a qualified ECEC teacher, with both receiving financial compensation for their work during this time (OECD, 2019, p. 24[16]).

The relevance of workplace-based training as part of initial preparation for ECEC staff is reflected in the number of thematic areas in their pre-service education and training. Rather than limiting the number of areas that staff covered, programmes that included a practical training component lead staff to cover a wider range of contents than programmes with a workplace placement, which may maintain a more theoretical orientation. Across the nine thematic areas considered in the TALIS Starting Strong Survey (see Table 2.1), a greater percentage of pre-primary staff whose initial preparation programmes included a practicum than of staff whose programmes did not covered each of these areas in their pre-service training (Figure 2.3). This is also reflected in the average number of areas covered by pre-primary staff in their pre-service training, which is higher for those with practical training in Iceland, Israel, Japan and Turkey, and in Norway for staff in centres for children under age 3 (see Table C.2.2). By contrast, differences in coverage of the nine thematic areas across staff roles with the target group and levels of experience are less common. Nonetheless, a pattern for less frequent coverage of thematic areas by assistants, relative to teachers, is found in Israel and Norway at pre-primary level, for instance with regard to pedagogy or working with parents and families, whereas in Japan, novice teachers tend to have covered more areas in their pre-service training than experienced teachers, including working with a diversity of children and facilitating children’s transition to primary education (see Table C.2.2).

Overall, results suggest that initial preparation programmes that include a practical component tend to be more ambitious in their design than programmes without such an orientation, and that gaining experience in real settings does not come at the expense of covering a narrower curriculum. To the contrary, training programmes that offer future ECEC staff an opportunity to bridge theory and practice through workplace-based learning tend also to expose teachers and assistants to a broader range of training contents. This appears to be more pronounced in thematic areas that are less commonly integrated into pre-service education for ECEC staff, such as working with a diversity of children, working with parents and families, or classroom/playgroup/group management.

Importantly, the opportunities that practical modules may generate for extending the thematic scope of initial preparation programmes do not appear limited to programmes at a specific level of qualifications. Independent of the actual level of educational attainment of ECEC staff, training programmes focused on working with children that included a practicum generally cover a broader range of topics than programmes without this practical dimension. For instance, in Germany, Iceland, Israel, Japan and Turkey, pre-primary staff with educational qualifications at a bachelor’s level or higher (ISCED 6 or above) covered a higher number of training areas when their programme required a practical placement than when it did not, and covered the same number of areas in other countries. As noted in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong, countries like Germany and Iceland encourage practical placements in ECEC centres as part of vocationally oriented bachelor’s or master’s degree initial preparation programmes (OECD, 2019[2]). However, among staff with qualifications below a bachelor’s level, the thematic breadth of programmes with and without a practical module varies less, reflecting perhaps less curricular differentiation across vocational programmes (see Table C.2.3).

While in all the countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong the majority of staff report having completed a pre-service programme that prepared them specifically to work with children, a priority area for upgrading the skills of the ECEC workforce remains to support staff lacking this type of initial preparation, which in all countries but Germany and Japan still represents at least one in five ECEC staff. Identifying the characteristics and working conditions of this group can help design skills development opportunities that help compensate for the lack of a specific ECEC focus in their pre-service education. Across countries, and at both the pre-primary level and in centres for children under age 3, staff not having completed a pre-service education or training programme focused on working with children are more typically working as assistants than as teachers, and are more often novice rather than experienced staff. They also tend to represent a substantially higher proportion of staff with lower educational qualifications in all countries except Korea and Turkey. Moreover, in several countries, staff without pre-service training specifically to work with children tend to have fixed-term rather than permanent contracts, and are also more likely to work part-time rather than full-time (Table C.2.11). While education and training requirements vary according to staff roles in many countries, the types of contracts and working conditions of some staff may act as a barrier for upskilling to the level of colleagues whose initial preparation programmes focused more strongly on working with children, and may thus require induction and in-service training activities specifically targeted at this group of staff to fill gaps in their pre-service education.

The potential of continuous and high-quality training for the professional growth and skills development of educators is now recognised by the inclusion of continuous professional development as an indicator of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2015[17]). Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of quasi-experimental studies support the view that well-designed in-service training programmes can be effective levers of process quality in ECEC settings, although evidence of subsequent improvements in children’s developmental and learning outcomes is thinner (Werner et al., 2016[18]; Markussen-Brown et al., 2017[19]; Egert, Fukkink and Eckhardt, 2018[20]; Egert, Dederer and Fukkink, 2020[21]; Joo et al., 2020[22]). Research suggests that comprehensive programmes with individualised approaches such as coaching are more effective than single and collective-only activities in increasing staff use of more intentional and interactive practices with children, a result attributed to the wider range of learning opportunities that a combination of training formats and personalised feedback can provide for ECEC professionals (Markussen-Brown et al., 2017[19]; Egert, Dederer and Fukkink, 2020[21]).

High-quality ongoing professional development is not only important for staff to stay abreast of the latest advances in teaching and care practices and of changes in curricula, it can also help to retain staff by building a sense of professional identity, increasing job satisfaction and creating opportunities for career development (OECD, 2019[16]). However, in-service training may also increase turnover within the sector by enabling individual staff to leave their workplace and join another ECEC centre that is offering more attractive working conditions. Overall, though, high-quality in-service professional development that promotes sector-specific skills likely creates greater incentives for staff to remain in ECEC professions, boosting commitment and retention rates (Totenhagen et al., 2016[23]; Irvine et al., 2016[24]).

TALIS Starting Strong provides evidence of widespread engagement in ongoing professional development among ECEC staff. As reported in the first volume, more than three-quarters of ECEC staff in any of the participating countries report having taken part in in-service training activities during the 12 months prior to the survey, with levels being the highest among staff with educational attainments at ISCED Level 6 or above in most of the countries (OECD, 2019[2]). Participation differentials also exist by staff role and years of experience (Figure 2.4). Involvement in recent professional development activities is generally higher among teachers than among assistants in all countries where the distinction is relevant at both the pre-primary level and in centres for children under age 3. Generally, however, across countries, gaps in participation in recent in-service training activities between experienced and novice staff are small among both teachers and assistants.

Starting Strong data also indicate that, across participating countries, pre-primary staff in assistant roles tend to participate in a smaller variety of ongoing professional development activities than staff in teacher roles, especially in Denmark (with low response rates), Israel, Korea and Norway, while differences between experienced and novice staff appear minor, both among teachers and assistants (see Table C.2.4). Traditionally, in-service training has taken the form of single or a short series of externally provided learning courses. Across countries, courses and seminars remain the most common type of training activity by a large margin, whereas online activities and activities integrated in qualification programmes are the least common (Figure 2.5). Differences in participation rates between teachers and assistants are the greatest for courses/seminars attended in person, but also substantial for other types of activities, such as on-site coaching, peer and self-observation, participation in professional networks, or observation visits to other ECEC centres. In turn, across countries, novice teachers and assistants appear as likely as more experienced colleagues to participate in most types of activities, with the exception of courses and seminars, which are less often attended by novice staff, and, as expected, of induction and mentoring activities, in which they participate more frequently than staff with more years of experience in the sector.

Beyond participation rates, ECEC research comparing different types and features of training activities has come to highlight the strengths of a centre-embedded (i.e. on-site) approach to professional development. Training activities taking place in workplace settings tend to create better conditions for integrating past experiences, build on staff’s and leaders’ collegiality, and account for the specific context of the centre (Opfer and Pedder, 2011[25]). Professional development is more likely to shape the actual beliefs and practices of teachers and assistants when training contents can be easily connected to their everyday challenges and their immediate work context. Moreover, centre-embedded professional development is seen as a cost-efficient approach to support staff and leaders because it builds on resources and personal relationships (e.g. trust) that are already in place within ECEC settings (Kraft, Blazar and Hogan, 2018[26]). Recent research identifies coaching and mentoring arrangements, two examples of centre-embedded approaches, as effective models of in-service professional development for ECEC staff (Kraft, Blazar and Hogan, 2018[26]; Elek and Page, 2019[27]).

Centre-embedded models for professional training are attracting growing interest in many ECEC systems. TALIS Starting Strong collects information on four types of such activities: 1) observation visits to other ECEC centres; 2) peer or self-observation and coaching as part of a formal arrangement; 3) on-site coaching by an external coach; and 4) induction or mentoring activities. On average across countries, less than half of ECEC staff at the pre-primary level report having participated in each of these activities in the 12 months prior to the survey: only 44% of staff received coaching by an external person; slightly less than 40% of staff engaged in formal peer or self-observation activities or visits to other centres; and only 32% were involved in induction or mentoring activities. Notably, though, more than half of pre-primary teachers in Israel took part in each of these activities as part of their recent professional development, and so did, to a lesser extent, teachers in Korea and Japan, who also show high levels of involvement in observation visits to other centres and in induction or mentoring arrangements. Levels of participation in these activities are also relatively low for staff in centres for children under age 3, except coaching and mentoring for teachers in Israel. Across countries and all four types of centre-embedded training, moreover, assistants, both novice and experienced, report substantially lower levels of participation than teachers, which may reflect different training entitlements according to staff roles with the target group.

Centre leaders provide a complementary perspective into the professional development opportunities available to staff at the time when they join their ECEC centres. Leaders report on the availability of induction activities organised by their centres with the goals of supporting novice staff in their transition to working in the ECEC field and of helping experienced staff to adapt to their new centres. These induction programmes can take the form of either structured or informally arranged activities. Induction programmes serve not only to introduce staff to a new group of colleagues and a new setting, but can also create a positive dynamic for engaging in subsequent continuous professional development.

According to leader reports, virtually all centres in all countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong offer some induction activities to new staff, with programmes typically including at least 6 different activities out of the 11 listed in the survey, at both the pre-primary level and in centres for children under age 3, and with few differences between centres of different size across countries (Table C.2.5). At both levels, most centres provide opportunities for new staff to meet and work together with more senior colleagues, including through supervision schemes, while online activities and reduced workload are the least commonly proposed induction formats (Figure 2.6). This suggests an emphasis on using induction activities to promote interactions with colleagues as they arrive in their new centres.

There is great variation across countries in the use of mentoring arrangements as part of induction activities. TALIS Starting Strong defines mentoring as a support structure where more experienced staff support less experienced colleagues, reflecting the nature of this professional development strategy as a socially situated and interactive practice that builds on the capacities of ECEC professionals (Nolan and Molla, 2018[28]). At the pre-primary level, mentoring for novice staff or for staff new to the centre is available in over 85% of ECEC centres in Iceland, Japan, Korea and Turkey, but only in about 60% of centres in Germany, and in less than 50% of centres in Chile and Denmark (with low response rates). Chile has, however, recently introduced measures to extend this practice in its ECEC and school systems (Box 2.2).

Reducing the workload for new staff is another induction strategy used to very different degrees across countries. About 75% or more leaders in Japan, Korea and Turkey report that their centres offer this possibility as part of their induction arrangements, while 30% or less of leaders report so in Germany, Iceland or Norway. The extent to which countries rely on this practice appears, however, unrelated to the yearly total statutory working time for their ECEC staff as reported in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong (OECD, 2019[2]).

Strategies for enhancing the competences and recognition of ECEC staff through ongoing professional development take diverse approaches across countries, often providing a variety of support measures, such as financial incentives for providers or leave entitlements and mentoring schemes for staff (Box 2.2).

Besides implementing policies to promote staff participation in professional development activities, ECEC systems are increasingly exploring ways to improve the contents and design of in-service training, including through better alignment with initial preparation programmes for ECEC professionals. TALIS Starting Strong provides information on the areas covered by ECEC staff in their recent in-service training, allowing for an analysis of the alignment with both the contents of staff pre-service training and their perceived needs for further professional development.

Across countries, topics related to child development, play and diversity are the most commonly covered areas in in-service training activities for pre-primary staff, whereas facilitating children’s transitions and child health and personal care are the least frequently included areas in these programmes (Figure 2.7). TALIS Starting Strong data paint a picture of broad similarity between the thematic areas of pre-service and in-service training programmes. Importantly, however, more pre-primary staff report having covered contents about working with a diversity of children in recent in-service training than in their initial preparation programmes, whereas the coverage of topics related to child health or personal care is much less frequent. Child health and personal care is also an area more frequently covered in training activities for assistants than for teachers, but otherwise differences in areas of in-service training by staff role with the target group are small, as are differences between novice and more experienced staff (Table C.2.6).

Additional information in TALIS Starting Strong helps to contextualise these results. When asked about barriers to participation in professional development, on average across countries, about 33% of pre-primary staff and 24% of staff in centres for children under age 3 agreed or strongly agreed that no relevant professional development was available to them, which may reflect insufficient alignment with needs, but also poor communication about existing offerings. At the pre-primary level, this perception is shared by more than 50% of staff in Chile and Korea, but by less than 15% in Norway. In centres for children under age 3, reports of a lack of relevant training activities range between 33% of staff in Denmark (with low response rates) and 11% in Norway.

Staff also provided their views on whether high-quality professional development should be a spending priority if the budget for the ECEC sector was to increase. On average across countries, 61% of pre-primary staff considered this goal of high importance, with higher percentages in Chile, Israel and Turkey. This potential allocation of the budget is perceived of greater importance than many other alternatives, but less pressing than reducing group sizes and increasing salaries.

As in the case of staff lacking pre-service training focused on working with children, ECEC systems may put in place specific support measures for staff not participating in in-service training activities, who represent around one in six staff across countries at both the pre-primary level and in centres for children under age 3, both less than one in ten in Korea and Norway, at both levels. While TALIS Starting Strong cannot determine whether lack of participation in professional development activities extended beyond the 12 months prior to the survey, identifying some of the characteristics of this group of staff can help design targeted actions that enable a more sustained commitment to a lifelong professional learning journey. Across countries, lack of participation in recent in-service training activities is more common among assistants than among teachers, while inconsistently related to the number of years of experience in the sector. However, across countries, the share of staff not taking part in recent on-the-job training opportunities tends to be greater among staff with lower rather than higher educational qualifications, on short fixed-term rather than permanent contracts, and working part-time rather than full-time (Table C.2.11). Targeted entitlements or incentives for continuous professional development for ECEC staff with relatively low educational attainment and a more precarious employment situation may thus help to improve staff upskilling and retention in the sector.

For all staff, informal learning through collaborative activities and knowledge sharing within teams can play a key role for developing skills to work with children, but also for making the profession more appealing and retaining staff.

Informal learning is often defined in contrast to formal learning. Activities that promote informal learning are typically less structured in terms of time, space, goals and support; do not follow a curriculum; and are undertaken at staff’s own initiative rather than being mandated (Desimone, 2009[29]; Richter et al., 2011[30]). Importantly, though, informal and formal learning should not be understood as being in opposition, but rather as a continuum (Kyndt et al., 2016[3]). For instance, formal activities can translate implicit insights into more systematised and explicit learning while informal activities often provide authentic settings for staff to apply knowledge acquired in more abstract terms. Informal learning is usually embedded in the classroom or centre context, as interaction and sharing with children and colleagues take place primarily at workplace settings in direct connection to everyday tasks and challenges. A systematic review of the literature documents that educators’ informal learning activities can promote their subject and pedagogical knowledge and shape their professional beliefs and dispositions (Kyndt et al., 2016[3]). Peer collaboration and feedback are considered core proxies of informal learning activities (Richter et al., 2011[30]; OECD, 2020[31]). Moreover, since lack of time and of staff to compensate for absences remain two important barriers for ECEC staff to participate in professional development, as shown in the first volume (OECD, 2019, p. 114[2]), informal opportunities for skills development are also central for facilitating a lifelong learning approach.

In TALIS Starting Strong, information on collaborative professional practices is a privileged window into the opportunities for informal learning for ECEC staff. Importantly, survey respondents reported about their own personal engagement in collaborative activities rather than about the prevalence of collaboration at the centre level. This level of measurement provides good grounds for exploring associations with individual staff’s own participation in training and perceived needs for further professional development.

On average across countries, between one-half and two-thirds of pre-primary staff reported engaging either daily or weekly in discussions with colleagues about various topics, including approaches to children’s development, well-being and learning; the development or needs of specific children; planned activities; and approaches to evaluating children. Informal discussions therefore appear to be the most common form of collaborative activity. Engaging in joint activities across different groups of children, exchanging pedagogical materials with peers, and providing feedback to colleagues about their practice are relatively less frequent, but still reported to occur on a daily or weekly basis by four in ten staff across countries (Figure 2.8).

These percentages mask, however, substantial variation between countries. For instance, about two-thirds of pre-primary teachers in Germany engage in joint activities across different groups of children, including age groups, on a daily or weekly basis, whereas only about one-third of teachers do so in Chile or Korea. In turn, more than eight in ten pre-primary teachers in Iceland and Norway report daily or weekly discussions with colleagues on the development or needs of specific children, whereas less than two-thirds do so in Israel, Korea or Turkey. Further, analysis using the scale of staff engagement in collaborative practices (see Annex B) further suggests broadly similar levels of collaboration with colleagues among teachers and assistants, as well as minor differences between novice and experienced staff in each of these roles (Table C.2.8).

A practice of special relevance is the provision of feedback to other staff in the centre about their practice. Peer feedback among educators is an important form of collaboration that involves close and reflective interaction in a context of trust and shared experiences. Much professional knowledge and skills are implicit and learnt on the job, and ideas transmitted in peer discussions may influence staff practice more than relatively detached training events, because they reflect situated and co-constructed knowledge (Lefstein, Vedder-Weiss and Segal, 2020[32]). According to data from TALIS 2018, across countries, 64% of the primary education teachers who received feedback in the year prior to the survey reported that it led to improvements in their pedagogical competencies (OECD, 2020[31]). However, feedback exchanges with other staff are the least common collaborative practice among those listed in the TALIS Starting Strong questionnaire, with around a third of ECEC staff across countries engaging in such exchanges less often than monthly or not at all. Yet again, variation is substantial between countries: whereas in Norway two-thirds or more of both teachers and assistants at the pre-primary level engage in weekly or daily feedback exchanges with colleagues, less than a third do so in Japan or Korea, albeit differences may partly reflect different understandings of this practice across countries (Table C.2.8). Further, providing feedback is a type of collaboration where differences by staff role are pronounced. At the pre-primary level, assistants are less likely than teachers to give feedback to colleagues on a weekly or daily basis in Chile, Israel, Korea and Norway. In turn, experienced teachers appear to provide feedback more often than novice teachers at the pre-primary level in all countries except Chile and Turkey, while less consistent differences are observed among novice and experienced assistants. In centres for children under age 3, both teachers and assistants in Norway report again the strongest involvement in this practice (Figure 2.9).

A central goal of this chapter is to explore the alignment between pre-service and in-service training for ECEC staff (see Box 2.1). This is done, first, by comparing indicators of the thematic breadth (i.e. number of areas covered) of the initial and recent training received by staff actually trained to work with children and having participated in ongoing professional development activities.6

Across all the countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong, ECEC staff covered a greater number of thematic areas in their pre-service education and training (specifically to work with children) than in their recent in-service training activities (Figure 2.10). This is unsurprising given the different goals and length of initial preparation programmes and ongoing professional development. On average, out of the nine thematic areas considered in this chapter (see Table 2.1), ECEC staff at both pre-primary level and working in centres for children under age 3 covered between seven and eight different areas in their pre-service training in all nine participating countries.

More variation exists, however, regarding the breadth of in-service training across countries. For instance, on average, staff in Korea report having covered 6 or 7 thematic areas in their professional development activities during the past 12 months, whereas staff in Germany and Turkey report having covered 3 to 4. This may reflect differences across countries in the curricular design of in-service training offerings, in the incentives or conditions for covering a greater number of training topics, or in the approaches that staff adopt for finding a balance between variety and focus in their training choices. However, thematic breath by itself is only a limited proxy for the quality of professional development, which encompasses many other dimensions.

Variation between countries in the number of thematic areas that staff covered at both stages mirrors variation in the breadth of in-service training. This is another indication that, in all the countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong 2018, ECEC staff generally had some prior exposure to the topics of their recent professional development activities during their initial preparation programmes, rather than encountering these topics for the first time. More fine-grained analysis of the curricular contents of the education and training programmes for ECEC staff are needed to corroborate these findings.

Staff training trajectories in each of the nine thematic areas considered in this chapter provide another perspective into the alignment of initial preparation programmes and in-service training in the ECEC sector. For each area, it is possible to estimate the percentage of: staff who did not cover the area neither in their initial training nor in their recent professional development activities; staff who covered the area in their pre-service training only; staff who covered the area in recent professional development activities only; and staff who covered the area in both their pre-service and recent in-service training (Figure 2.11). This yields insights into the relative overlap or complementarity of the training received by ECEC staff at different stages of their careers.

Analyses of staff training trajectories in each area indicate again that in-service training activities rarely expose ECEC staff to thematic areas that were not already covered as part of their initial preparation programmes. In other words, for a large majority of staff across countries, the contents of in-service professional development activities tend to overlap thematically with those that were part of their pre-service education and training for working in the sector. This is illustrated by the length of the light blue bars in Figure 2.11, which shows the percentage of pre-primary staff for whom each thematic area covered in recent in-service training was actually “new”, and which is below 10% in any given area. Instead, ECEC staff tend to use their in-service training activities as an opportunity to revisit topics already covered in their initial preparation to enter the profession, including for contents that are less frequently part of pre-service training programmes. Overall, these training trajectories suggest a “build-on” training approach by which ongoing professional development serves primarily to deepen or update areas that were included in initial preparation programmes, rather than having a strong differentiation in curricular contents. Alignment in terms of topical coverage between pre-service and in-service training can be beneficial for staff in many respects. Staff may revisit training contents over time to deepen their understanding of key topics on the area or to update their approaches and practices in light of recent developments. This is consistent with a notion of evolving fields of knowledge that change with the emergence of new pedagogical frameworks and new demands and expectations on the roles and competences of ECEC staff.

The alignment between the thematic areas of pre-service and in-service training programmes varies substantially between countries (Table C.2.10). It appears highest in Korea, where, for instance, the percentage of staff covering contents related to child health and care or to classroom/playgroup/group management at both stages (of 89% and 71%, respectively) is about 20 percentage points higher than in any other country, and also relatively high in other areas. Levels of cumulative training across areas are also high in Chile, Israel and Japan. By contrast, the degree of alignment between pre-service and in-service training is the lowest in Turkey, where the percentage of staff with cumulative training is 30-50% for any of the 9 thematic areas, and to a lesser extent in Germany. In both cases, this appears linked to staff covering a smaller number of topics in their recent in-service training activities than in other countries (see Table C.2.9).

In turn, staff training trajectories of repeated coverage or lack of training may be seen as indicators of the weight that different thematic areas take in ECEC initial preparation and continuous professional development programmes. Across countries, contents related to child development, playful learning and working with a diversity of children are those most often covered by pre-primary staff in both pre-service and recent in-service training, whereas contents related to facilitating children’s transitions to school and to classroom/playgroup/group management are those for which a larger share of staff lacks training (see Table C.2.10).

The success of skills development strategies for ECEC staff hinges on both the supply of high-quality professional development and on staff’s disposition to upgrade and apply their knowledge and skills. In this regard, it is crucial that opportunities for professional development respond to ECEC staff needs. TALIS Starting Strong asked staff to report the areas where they feel the need for further professional development, as well as their incentives and barriers for participation in training. Staff assessments of priority areas for skills development are an important input for efforts to design more effective professional development programmes.

As shown in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong, across countries, staff at both the pre-primary level and in centres for children under age 3 reported a high level of need for professional development in all the topics grouped in the area “Diversity” (OECD, 2019, p. 112[2]). Working with children with special needs ranked the highest for staff at both levels of education in all countries but Korea, while working with children from diverse backgrounds and working with dual language learners were also among the top three most pressing needs for pre-primary staff in Chile, Germany, Iceland, and Turkey, and for staff at both levels of education in Denmark (with low response rates) and Norway. Other common priority areas included working with parents or families, general child development, and facilitating creativity and problem solving.

Staff needs for further professional development across the nine thematic areas distinguished in this chapter (see Table 2.1) reveal some differences by staff role and level of experience (Figure 2.12). As expected, across countries, novice teachers and assistants report more often than experienced colleagues a strong need for additional professional development in several areas, and most notably with regard to classroom/playgroup/group management and to working with parents or families. By contrast, the perception of a high level of need for additional training is similar in other areas among novice and experienced staff, for example among pre-primary teachers with regard to working with a diversity of children, an area that in most countries was more frequently included in the initial preparation programmes of novice teachers than in those of teachers with more years of experience (Table C.2.2). Differences by staff role are also pronounced, with teachers generally being more likely than assistants to report a high level of need in all thematic areas except pedagogy (Table C.2.12).

An important question when trying to improve professional development strategies for the ECEC workforce is how to interpret reports of self-perceived training needs. This is because receiving training in a given area may not just mitigate the perception that further professional development in the area is desirable, but may also stimulate such a belief. Staff reports of high needs for training can indeed reflect multiple scenarios and should not be interpreted solely as a sign of a lack of training in the corresponding area (Cooc, 2018[33]). For instance, staff may want to revisit a topic included in their training because they were dissatisfied with the quality of their original training, but also because the training was indeed effective and triggered further interest and a desire to invest more time on the topic. In addition, staff may have a recurrent need to stay up-to-date with developments in the knowledge base in certain areas.

This question can be examined by comparing the percentage of staff that, having varying levels of exposure to a thematic area (i.e. different training trajectories), still report a strong need for additional professional development in that area. Of particular interest are staff needs for further professional development for working with a diversity of children (Figure 2.13), since topics in this area were the top priority needs reported by ECEC staff in most of the countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong. Under the hypothesis that training mitigates the need for further professional development, the percentage of staff reporting a high level of need should, in principle, be greater for staff with no previous training in the area, and lower for staff whose training included relevant topics more recently and in more cases. Under the hypothesis that training in an area stimulates interest in further professional development in that area, the opposite holds.

TALIS Starting Strong data suggest that training for working with a diversity of children generally promotes rather than diminishes additional interest in this area among ECEC staff, as measured by reports of a high need for further professional development in this area (Figure 2.13). At the pre-primary level, a positive association between the percentage of staff reporting a high level of need for working with a diversity of children and the frequency of exposure to such contents as captured by different training trajectories can be observed in Germany, Japan and Korea, whereas for staff in centres for children under age 3, the same association is visible in Germany, Israel and Norway. Turkey is the only country where the mitigation scenario appears to hold, as the percentage of staff reporting a strong need for further professional development is the lowest among staff having covered the area in both pre-service and in-service training, and the highest among those not having received any training in the area. Differences across training trajectories are minor in other countries.

The general pattern of a positive relationship between receiving training and perceived needs for further professional development may be interpreted as reflecting the effectiveness of training in stimulating the interest of staff in improving their knowledge and skills in this area, including by increasing awareness about the complexity of the topics.

ECEC systems can strengthen their professional development policies by improving ways to assess the professional development needs of teachers, assistants and leaders. In turn, an effective assessment of such needs should inform efforts to improve the alignment between initial preparation programmes and in-service training activities. Countries like Germany and Israel implement measures in this direction (Box 2.3).

The relationship between staff engagement in collaborative practices and in more formally structured training activities can shed light on effective ways to develop the skills of the ECEC workforce. TALIS Starting Strong data can be used to analyse how the frequency with which staff collaborate with colleagues is associated with their participation in formal professional development activities and with the variety and thematic breadth of such in-service training, thereby providing insights for ECEC systems as to whether formal and informal learning opportunities complement or substitute each other as avenues for skills development.

Analyses using the scale of staff engagement in collaborative professional practices suggest that, across countries and both among pre-primary staff and staff in centres for children under age 3, a stronger engagement in collaboration with colleagues working in the same ECEC centre is positively and consistently associated with staff’s individual participation in recent in-service training, as well as with the variety of formats and the number of topics covered in such activities (Table 2.2). For instance, a one standard deviation increase in the scale of staff collaboration with peers is associated with a 60% greater likelihood that pre-primary staff participate in recent in-service training activities in Norway; a 40% increase in Korea; a 30% increase in Chile, Iceland and Japan; and with smaller increases in Germany, Israel and Turkey. On the contrary, collaboration with peers shows a weak and inconsistent association with the number of thematic areas in which staff report a high level of need for further professional development: more frequent collaboration is reported by pre-primary staff who perceive fewer needs for further training in Chile and Japan, but also by pre-primary staff reporting more areas of high need in Korea.

These results must be interpreted with caution, since the relationship between these practices may operate in both directions. Formal training activities may trigger collaboration if they stimulate knowledge sharing and joint work among colleagues, but it is also possible that staff seek to participate in a greater number of training activities and cover more topics after informal collaboration leads to exchanging recommendations or materials with peers. At the same time, certain motivational dispositions or contextual factors may also underlie staff engagement with both types of practices, albeit results are robust to the inclusion of an extensive set of control variables in the regression models. While TALIS Starting Strong data do not permit to infer causality, these results strongly suggest a positive interplay between the engagement of ECEC staff in workplace-based collaboration and in more structured training activities, and therefore opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills of ECEC professionals through formal and informal channels simultaneously.

Additional analyses suggest that this positive association holds for all the thematic areas of training considered in this chapter. Across countries, staff in the top quarter of the scale of engagement in collaborative practices tend to participate more often in in-service professional development activities in any of the thematic areas than staff in the bottom quarter of the scale, with differences being significant in a large majority of cases. By contrast, fewer differences emerge with regard to reported needs for further professional development. In Israel, staff more strongly engaged in collaborative practices are less likely to report a high need for further training in several areas, whereas in Japan and Korea, more frequent engagement in collaboration tends to appear associated with a stronger perception of needing further training (Table C.2.15).

Self-efficacy refers to the beliefs that staff have about their capacity to plan and implement specific instructional and care practices and to promote children’s development, learning and well-being (Bandura, 1997[37]; Tschannen-Moran and Hoy, 2001[38]). The importance of self-efficacy beliefs is predicated on their potential to influence efforts and behaviours to bring about desired goals. Research has documented positive links between educator self-efficacy and a range of outcomes, including self-reported and student-reported use of specific teaching practices (Zee and Koomen, 2016[39]). Several studies adapting self-efficacy scales to the ECEC context find that ECEC staff tend to have strong confidence in their ability to interact with children, but evidence on the links between staff self-efficacy and high-quality practices is inconclusive (Justice et al., 2008[40]; Guo et al., 2011[41]).

TALIS Starting Strong data reveal that ECEC staff tend to have a moderate or strong sense of self-efficacy across the 12 areas listed in the staff questionnaire, with the exception of the use of digital technology to support children’s learning (Figure 2.14). The topics for which staff tend to report a stronger sense of self-efficacy relate generally to children’s socio-emotional development, including instilling a feeling of security and self-confidence in children, promoting pro-social behaviour in children, and calming children when they are upset. Half or more of staff across countries report feeling that they achieve these tasks with “a lot” or “quite a bit” of ease. By contrast, staff tend to report lower levels of confidence in their ability to work with a diversity of children, be it in adapting their work to individual child needs, stimulating children’s interest in cultural differences and commonalities, or supporting children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This applies to between one-quarter and one-half of staff across countries, who report low or no confidence in their ability for this type of work (Table C.2.16). However, as shown in Chapter 3, these averages mask substantial variation across countries with regard to overall and area-specific levels of reported self-confidence, which are known to reflect cross-cultural differences in response styles (van de Vijver and He, 2014[42]).

By and large, staff role in the target group and years of experience in the sector are not consistently associated to their sense of self-efficacy, with no consistent patterns visible across countries. At the pre-primary level, the capacity to adapt work to an individual child’s needs is the area of work where staff with more than three years of work experience more consistently report higher levels of self-efficacy than colleagues with less experience, with large differences found between experienced and novice teachers in Iceland, Norway or Turkey, and between experienced and novice assistants in Chile and Israel. Korea is the country where more experienced teachers report a higher sense of self-efficacy than novice teachers in a greater number of areas (Table C.2.17).

The education and care sectors are often considered to be behind the digitalisation curve. Societal demands are growing for education systems to take advantage of the tools and strengths of new technologies to promote greater quality and equity in learning outcomes, while simultaneously addressing concerns around potential misuse, including cyberbullying and privacy issues. The question of educators’ ability to use digital technologies has thus become central to ongoing policy debates. Moreover, education systems have been compelled to explore the potential of technology in helping schools and ECEC settings to support children at a distance and in an asynchronous manner, as required, for instance, in home-based education and care arrangements during centre closures as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. In such situations, digital tools can facilitate access to pedagogical resources or opportunities for interaction between children and staff.

The use of digital technology (e.g. computers, tablets, smart boards) to support children’s learning is, by a large margin, the dimension of work with children where staff participating in TALIS Starting Strong express the lowest levels of self-efficacy. For instance, at the pre-primary level, the percentage of teachers who report “a lot” of confidence in their ability to use digital technology for these purposes is below 20% in all countries except Chile and Turkey, and while it is reasonable to expect that the integration of digital tools into initial preparation programmes has increased in recent years, it is only in Israel that novice teachers are significantly more confident than their more experienced peers in this respect (Table C.2.17). However, as noted above, results need to be interpreted with caution as social desirability bias may influence staff responses in different ways across countries. Moreover, staff self-efficacy for using technology to support children’s learning may also be linked to other factors, such as the quality of digital infrastructure in ECEC settings or staff expectations about the extent to which digital tools should be integrated into their work with children. It is also important to note that survey respondents likely considered uses of technology while the children were physically present in the ECEC centres, rather than a virtual or remote learning scenario. Recent reviews and examples of bespoke professional development programmes suggests that the major challenges for integrating digital technology into ECEC work relate less to the availability of effective tools than to the provision to staff of sound pedagogical guidance for a developmentally appropriate use of technology (Belo et al., 2016[43]; Trainin, Friedrich and Deng, 2018[44]).

Another goal of this chapter is to analyse the association between staff sense of self-efficacy and training indicators. This is done by using both the staff scale of self-efficacy for supporting children’s development, learning and well-being (see Annex B), and self-efficacy reports in relation to particular areas of work and training. Across the nine countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong, the sense of self-efficacy of ECEC staff is positively and consistently associated with the thematic breadth of their training. This holds true for both the number of areas that staff covered in their pre-service education and training programmes as well as for the number of areas that they covered in both pre-service and in-service training, especially at the pre-primary level (Table 2.3).

By contrast, participation in in-service training is not in itself associated with a stronger sense of self-efficacy for supporting children’s development in any of the countries. Associations between staff self-efficacy and perceived needs for professional development are also weak and inconsistent. Only among pre-primary staff in Iceland does a stronger sense of self-efficacy bear a negative association with the number of areas where staff report a high need for further professional development, whereas among pre-primary staff in Germany, Japan and Korea, the association is positive. These results need to be interpreted with care as potential links between the thematic breadth of training and staff sense of self-efficacy for supporting children’s development may operate in both directions. Covering a larger number of contents in training activities may boost staff confidence in their ability to work with children, but it is also possible that staff with a strong sense of self-efficacy seek to explore more topics in further training than staff who feel less confident in this respect.

The association between staff training trajectories and their sense of self-efficacy can also be explored more granularly in relation to specific areas of work, given the partial overlap between the training topics and self-efficacy items in the staff questionnaire. A case in hand is staff self-efficacy for helping children to develop creativity and problem solving, which is conceptually aligned with the training contents included in the thematic area “Playful learning”. Analyses suggest that, relative to staff with no training in this area, the likelihood that staff report a strong sense of self-efficacy for this task tends to increase most for staff who covered the area in both their pre-service and in-service training than for staff who covered it at one point in time only (Figure 2.15). For instance, pre-primary staff in Chile, Iceland and Israel whose training included contents related to facilitating play or facilitating creativity and problem solving in both initial and on-the-job training are more likely than colleagues with less training in this area to report a strong sense of self-efficacy for children to develop creativity and problem solving. The same holds true in Turkey, albeit differences in likelihood are small.

While the reference group of staff with no training in the area “Playful learning” is small in all the countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong, it represents a theoretically relevant benchmark for comparisons with other training trajectories. For instance, pre-primary staff in Iceland, Israel and Turkey with repeated training in the area are about twice as likely as staff with no training in the area to report a strong sense of self-efficacy, whereas staff in Israel and Turkey who covered the area in their initial preparation programmes only, as well as staff in Iceland who covered the area in recent in-service training only are about 50% more likely to do so. By contrast, training in the area leads to no or minimal differences in staff sense of self-efficacy among staff in centres for children under age 3.

Importantly, results for other dimensions of staff self-efficacy, namely adapting work to individual child needs, helping children to prepare for starting school, and monitoring and documenting child development, show a similar pattern, with associations reaching statistical significance among pre-primary staff in the majority of countries (Table C.2.19). Overall, results point again towards cumulative training across various career stages having the strongest effect on staff sense of self-efficacy in various areas of work, relative to lack of training or more occasional training.

Process quality in ECEC refers to the quality of interactions when staff engage with children and with parents, and when children interact with one another. Without strong process quality, ECEC falls short of promoting children’s early learning, development and well-being (OECD, 2018[4]). TALIS Starting Strong provides two indicators of process quality relating to the dimension of individual support and group organisation based on practices used by staff in their work with the target group: 1) adaptive practices, which include various practices to engage children depending on their backgrounds, interests and needs; and 2) behavioural support, which includes practices to ensure children’s behaviour is supportive to learning and development. As shown in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong, ECEC staff participation in education and training is positively associated with process quality, albeit these associations are not uniform either across or within countries. Staff who have training specifically to work with children report adapting their practices to support all children’s learning, development and well-being in pre-primary centres more than colleagues without this type of training in Chile, Israel, Japan, Korea and Turkey, as well as in centres for children under age 3 in Israel (OECD, 2019, p. 109[2]). Links to practices for providing behavioural support to children are, however, less consistent. Participation in some types of in-service training is also associated to staff reporting a greater use of adaptive practices and more behavioural support to children in a number of cases (OECD, 2019, p. 123[2]).

Further insights into the relationship between ECEC staff training and their practices with children emerge by looking at how these associations vary according to the breadth of training and to training trajectories in specific areas. The thematic breadth of the training received by ECEC staff shows a largely positive association with indicators of process quality in staff-children interactions, after accounting for a large number of other staff and centre characteristics. The number of thematic areas included in staff initial preparation programmes focused on working with children is positively associated with the use of adaptive practices in all of the participating countries except Germany at the pre-primary level, and in Israel and Norway for staff working in centres for children under age 3. Similarly, staff having covered more areas in their pre-service training engage more frequently in practices for providing behavioural support to children in Israel, Japan and Norway at the pre-primary level, and in Israel and Norway for staff working in centres for children under age 3 (Table 2.4, left panel).

The association between breadth of training and staff practices indicative of process quality is also positive when considering the number of thematic areas that staff covered in both their initial preparation programmes and their ongoing professional development activities. In the case of adaptive practices, a significant and positive relationship is observed in all of the participating countries, including Germany, at both the pre-primary level and among staff working in centres for children under age 3. It is noteworthy that in Germany, the association with adaptive practices is significant for the breadth of in-service training but not of pre-service training, as Germany is the country where staff participate in the lowest average number of in-service training activities and where staff cover the lowest average number of areas in such activities (Tables C.2.4 and C.2.9).

Regarding practices for behavioural support, the association holds true for staff in Norway at centres at both levels, and in Israel for centres for children under age 3 (Table 2.4, right panel). Results thus indicate that the coverage of a larger number of training topics is more consistently associated with staff providing individual support to children through adaptive practices than with the dimension of group organisation through behavioural support.

Policy makers and professional development planners in ECEC systems may also legitimately question whether thematic breadth is good in itself, or whether training contents need to be more closely connected to the targeted staff practices. Training programmes including a greater number of thematic areas may help ECEC staff to develop more flexible ways of thinking and to transfer knowledge and approaches from one area to another, but training with a more specific and in-depth focus may be more important for practices that require more specialised skills.

Variation in the use of specific practices between staff with different training trajectories in a related area can bring a more fine-grained perspective to this question. The TALIS Starting Strong staff scale of adaptive practices includes several items that bear a close connection to training contents in the area of working with a diversity of children, such as adapting activities to suit different children’s interests, levels of development or cultural backgrounds (see Annex B). This provides an opportunity to look at variation in the extent to which staff adapt to children’s needs and interests in relation to their exposure to these training contents, while accounting for other staff and centre characteristics. This analysis indicates that the use of adaptive practices with children is more frequent among staff who covered contents related to working with a diversity of children in both pre-service and in-service training than among staff with less exposure to these topics, as when covered in initial preparation only, in-service training only or not covered at all (Figure 2.16). The sole exception to this pattern is Germany, where recent in-service training in the area is more strongly associated with individual support practices than cumulative training for staff at both the pre-primary level and in centres for children under age 3. In a remarkably consistent way, though, a strong positive association is observed between training for working with a diversity of children, especially when also provided in-service, and staff use of adaptive practices with children, relative to staff whose training did not include contents in this area (Table C.2.22).

The same analysis can be carried out to examine staff use of behavioural support practices in relation to training in the area “Classroom/playgroup/group management” given their conceptual alignment (see Annex B). In this case, however, staff training trajectories show a weaker and less consistent association with staff’s use of such practices. A positive relationship between training in the area and frequency of behavioural support practices is, nonetheless, observed in Israel and Norway at the pre-primary level, being of a similar magnitude for training at different stages (Table C.2.22).

Overall, the absence of negative associations across outcomes and countries suggests that thematic breadth, measured as the number of areas that staff cover in their training, does not seem to translate into a poorer quality of professional development. The consistent direction of these associations suggests that a greater variety and alignment of training topics between in-service and pre-service training can generally promote the use of practices supportive of process quality among ECEC staff. Nonetheless, thematic scope must always be accompanied by a strong focus on the quality of the contents and delivery, and ECEC systems should remain wary of training programmes that are “a mile wide but an inch deep”.

Israel and Norway are the two countries where training indicators show a more consistently positive association with staff practices, as well as a positive relationship with staff self-efficacy. This points to a strong quality dimension of the professional development for ECEC staff in these two countries. For instance, for all teachers and assistants in Norway, levels of participation in ongoing professional development activities are the highest among countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong, and also high among pre-primary teachers in Israel (see Figure 2.4). Thematic breadth and alignment between pre-service and in-service training are high in Israel for both teachers and assistants and the pre-primary level, and also for teachers in centres for children under age 3 (Table C.2.9). Moreover, in both countries, levels of staff engagement in regular feedback exchanges with colleagues are also high, and especially in Norway (Table C.2.7). In turn, teachers in Israel, at both the pre-primary level and in centres for children under age 3, report the highest levels of participation in coaching and mentoring activities (Table C.2.4). This suggests that professional development strategies for shaping process quality in ECEC can take different routes, but that these are often characterised by well-aligned training offerings and personalised approaches.

Many countries have stepped up their financial support for ECEC provision in recent years in response to a growing consensus on the important role that early childhood education and care can play in promoting children’s early development and well-being and in helping disadvantaged children to have more equal chances in life (OECD, 2017[45]). Early childhood programmes are increasingly seen as a means of giving children from disadvantaged or immigrant backgrounds a strong start in life, and thus to mitigate the economic and linguistic disadvantages that could otherwise hinder their development and integration in society. Several countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong have a substantial share of ECEC centres with sizable groups of children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes or whose first language is different from the language used in their centre, partly as a result of policy efforts for improving access for minority and disadvantaged children (OECD, 2019, p. 150[2]). This represents an opportunity to support these children in their early development, but requires specials measures to adapt ECEC provision to their specific needs.

Evidence from PISA shows that socio-economic gaps in academic achievement tend to persist by age 15 after taking into account participation and length of exposure to ECEC programmes (Shuey and Kankaraš, 2018[46]). Reasons for the persistence of these gaps arguably include aspects of home learning environments, but also aspects such as the quality of ECEC programmes that children from different backgrounds attend. Numerous studies show indeed that cultural and social barriers continue to hinder access to high-quality ECEC provision for disadvantaged families, and that staff-child interactions tend to be of lower quality in groups with a greater share of children living in poverty or from immigrant backgrounds (OECD, 2018[4]).

At the school level, many countries address structural quality by compensating disadvantaged schools with smaller classes and/or lower student-teacher ratios. However, in more than a third of the countries participating in PISA, teachers in the most disadvantaged schools are less qualified or less experienced than those in the most advantaged schools (OECD, 2018[12]). A potential effect of teacher sorting across schools is to perpetuate or increase differences in the quality of instruction received by children of different backgrounds, therefore affecting the equity of education systems.

TALIS Starting Strong data provide an opportunity to investigate the extent of staff sorting across ECEC settings depending on the characteristics of children and ECEC centres. Two key indicators in this respect are the concentration of children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes or whose first language is different from the language(s) used in their ECEC centre. In both cases, comparisons can be made between centres where the percentage of children in these categories is below or equal to 10%, or higher than 10%.

As reported in the first volume TALIS Starting Strong 2018, in all participating countries, the distribution of staff with higher educational attainments (i.e. a bachelor’s degree or equivalent or higher) is similar across centres with different rates of children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes (OECD, 2019, p. 160[2]), while in Chile, Denmark (with low response rates) and Turkey at the pre-primary level, as well as in Norway for centres for children under age 3, staff with higher qualifications are more likely to work in target groups with 11% or more children from disadvantaged backgrounds than in groups where this proportion is smaller (see Table D.3.27 in (OECD, 2019[2])).

In this chapter, the equity focus is placed on variation in staff education and training pathways across centres serving children with different backgrounds. Results suggest that staff participation in training, in the form of either completing an initial preparation programme focused on working with children or undertaking recent in-service training, is remarkably similar between centres with higher and lower proportions of children from disadvantaged homes and of children whose first language is different from the language used in the ECEC setting that they attend. This is observed in all the countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong 2018 for which the data can sustain this comparison and in both pre-primary centres and centres for children under age 3. In the few instances that deviate from this pattern, staff levels of participation in training are higher in ECEC centres with a greater percentage of socio-economically disadvantaged or dual language learner children. This is the case in Chile, Denmark (with low response rates) and Turkey, at the pre-primary level, and in Germany, for centres for children under age 3, with regard to staff participation in-service training activities (Table C.2.23).

Analyses of staff training trajectories in the area of working with a diversity of children shed further light on the distribution of staff skills profiles across centres that serve different populations of children. Results indicate that staff working in more diverse ECEC centres more often have covered training contents for working with a diversity of children, therefore suggesting a good alignment between their training and the socio-economic and cultural/linguistic composition of the populations of children that they work with (Figure 2.17). At the pre-primary level, the proportion of staff trained for working with a diversity of children in both their initial preparation programmes and in recent in-service training is 10 or more percentage points greater in centres with a higher proportion of children from disadvantaged homes than in centres with more advantaged children in Chile, Denmark (with low response rates) and Israel, as well as in centres for children under age 3 in Denmark (with low response rates) and Israel (Table C.2.24). In turn, positive differences in the proportion of staff with cumulative training for supporting diverse groups of children between ECEC centres with a higher and smaller proportion of dual language learners are observed in Germany, Iceland and Norway, at the pre-primary level, and in Germany, in centres for children under age 3 (Figure 2.17). While the cross-sectional nature of TALIS Starting Strong data cannot distinguish whether training choices precede or reflect the challenges that staff encounter in the centres where they are employed, the results suggest that training requirements and opportunities for better addressing children’s diversity in both initial preparation and continuous professional development programmes effectively shaped staff profiles in more diverse ECEC settings.

Importantly, these results are consistent with findings reported in the first volume of TALIS Starting Strong showing that, in several countries, classroom/playgroup/group practices in support of diversity, such as the use of books and pictures or toys and artefacts featuring or coming from multiple ethnic and cultural groups, tend also to be found in centres that show a greater share of children from socio-economically disadvantaged homes and whose first language is different from the language used in the centre (OECD, 2019, p. 173[2]).

The provision of training opportunities for working with diverse groups of children and actual classroom practices in support of diversity reflect the increasing awareness and efforts of ECEC systems to address challenges related to social inequality and social diversity. Recent initiatives to improve inclusion in ECEC with a focus on increasing the skills of ECEC staff and centre leaders have, for instance, been implemented in the Flemish Community of Belgium and in Luxembourg (Box 2.4). In turn, evidence from TALIS Starting Strong suggests that staff training profiles in the participating countries respond to the challenges associated with increasingly diverse groups of children in ECEC settings, in that greater numbers of staff trained specifically to address children’s socio-economic and linguistic diversity work in the ECEC centres where such skills are arguably needed the most. Such a distribution of staff training profiles across ECEC centres appears in line with the ambition that ECEC helps to mitigate social inequalities among children at an early stage of their lives.

This chapter presented findings from TALIS Starting Strong about the skills development pathways of ECEC staff, and in particular about the alignment between their initial preparation programmes and in-service training and about their engagement in collaborative professional practices. The chapter also explored associations between training indicators and staff beliefs and practices related to process quality in ECEC settings, as well as variation in staff training trajectories across ECEC centres serving more and less diverse groups of children.

These findings point to several policies for developing the skills of the ECEC workforce, contributing to their professionalisation and ensuring that all children benefit from staff with strong skills:

  1. 1. Setting the conditions and raising support for staff participation in professional development, spanning across initial preparation programmes, in-service training and collaborative practices that create opportunities for informal learning.

  2. 2. Improving the alignment of professional development across career stages by better assessing staff needs, barriers for participation and the quality of training activities, as well as helping staff to develop specific skills in settings where they are needed most.

  3. 3. Raising the status and rewards of the profession to attract more entrants and retain staff as they upgrade their skills through continuous professional development, as well as arranging working time to ensure that staff can devote time to training activities and collaboration with colleagues. Staff working conditions are discussed in Chapter 3.

  4. 4. Foster the development of high-quality leadership that guides and supports staff in their professional development plans, including by fostering collegial relationships within ECEC centres to promote collaborative practices. Functions of leadership are discussed in Chapter 4.

The first two policy pointers are discussed below.

Training focused on working with young children is essential for promoting process quality and fostering children’s learning, development and well-being. With a flexible phasing, countries could mandate, for all staff interacting with children in ECEC settings, pre-service training that prepares staff specifically to work with children, covers a broad curriculum and places an emphasis on workplace-based learning.

The initial preparation of around one in four or more staff in Chile, Iceland and Turkey at the pre-primary level, and of staff in Denmark (with low response rates), Israel and Norway at both the pre-primary level and in centres for children under age 3, did not include training with a specific focus on working with children (Table C.2.1). For working staff, the mandate to undertake this type of training could come with targeted professional development opportunities, financial support and flexible time arrangements. In addition, the curricula of education and training programmes that prepare staff specifically to work with children should adopt an ambitious scope. At the pre-primary level, staff in Korea and Turkey tend to cover the largest number of thematic areas in their pre-service training, whereas in Chile, Iceland and Israel, more than one in five staff lacks pre-service training in areas such as classroom/playgroup/group management, working with parents/families or working with a diversity of children (Table C.2.2). Initial preparation programmes that require workplace-based placements to bridge theory and practice tend also to cover a larger number of training areas. Countries like Chile could take steps to increase the percentage of staff with such practical training (Table C.2.1).

Besides initial education and training, high-quality in-service professional development can be a key lever of process quality and of staff growth and retention in the ECEC sector. Responses to the OECD Quality beyond Regulations Survey suggest wide variation in the intensity of regulation of in-service training among countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong (Table 2.5). A larger number of countries have requirements or incentives to participate in ongoing professional development activities for teachers than for assistants, often relying on requirements for minimum yearly participation and a mix of direct and indirect incentives. In Germany, regulations on participation in continuous professional development vary across the 16 Länder and depend on what is defined in the individual contracts. In general, ECEC staff in Germany are not obliged to participate in professional development activities. However, some Länder do have a regulation which requires participation, being for example mandatory in Mecklenburg-Pomerania, where staff are required by law to attend five days of training annually, and in Thuringia, which sets the requirement at two days per year. In 14 out of the 16 Länder, ECEC staff can also benefit from the cross-sectoral educational leave entitlement (Bildungsurlaub), which grants employees the right to take up to five days a year off for paid professional development. Israel provides financial incentives as well as formal accreditation and promotion mechanisms, and more than 95% of pre-primary teachers in the country take part in on-the-job training, with 5 different types of activities, on average. Teachers in Norway have similar participation rates, supported by time entitlements, but also by financial incentives for employers in the sector. Turkey regulates all these aspects, but participation rates for teachers remain more modest, at about 83% (Table C.2.4). Among pre-primary assistants, levels of participation in ongoing training are highest in Norway, at about 90%, and in Germany, at about 80% (Table C.2.4). Both countries apply the same requirements and incentives for teachers as for assistants.

Professional development strategies should not only propose structured training, but should also seek to create conditions that foster informal learning among ECEC professionals. These may include setting aside time and tools for staff to share knowledge and experiences in informal ways, but also making staff aware that this is valuable and encouraged. Placing a greater emphasis on informal learning may, however, require organisational changes in professional development programmes, including fighting inertia in established institutional structures and moving away from arrangements that privilege models with sharply differentiated roles for trainers and trainees. The reported frequency of staff discussions with centre colleagues is high in many countries, but especially in Norway, where both teachers and assistants engage in frequent feedback exchanges about each other’s practice. In Korea and Japan, on the other hand, staff report relatively low engagement in these exchanges (see Figure 2.9).

Professional development programmes in ECEC need to provide coherent pathways for skills development for staff with different types of initial preparation, working in different roles and with different levels of experience. Designing such pathways calls for aligning the contents of pre-service and in-service training with the needs of staff, which in turn requires measures to assess such needs and the barriers for participation in training, as well as the impact of such training on staff beliefs and practices.

Responses to the OECD Quality beyond Regulations Survey suggest that mechanisms for a systematic and reliable assessment of staff needs for professional development and of the quality of training activities could be strengthened in many of the countries participating in TALIS Starting Strong (Table 2.6). Norway relies on different sources of information for assessing needs and the quality of professional development, and the topic is being addressed as part of an ongoing evaluation of the national strategy. In Israel, at the pre-primary level, the mapping of needs and training offerings is the responsibility of inspectors, whereas assessment of barriers for participation in professional development and of the quality of such activities is the responsibility of the regional integrators. In centres for children under age 3, the tasks falls on pedagogical trainers and centre leaders (see Box 2.3). In Germany, scientific studies have been conducted to assess professional development needs and barriers to participation, but there is no systematic national monitoring and assessments tend to remain provider-specific and contract-specific. And in Japan, local authorities design legally mandated in-service training activities for novice and mid-career pre-primary teachers in public ECEC centres after surveying their professional development needs. Local authorities are also encouraged to gather feedback from participants and evaluate the outcomes of these activities.

Analyses in this chapter point to a number of aspects on which more developed assessment systems could focus. Across countries, most of the thematic areas covered by staff in recent in-service training were already included in their initial preparation programmes (see Figure 2.11 and Table C.2.10). This is especially the case for contents related to child development, play, creativity and problem solving, and to working with a diversity of children. For staff, this may bring opportunities for updating and strengthening skills in those areas. This, however, requires a smart scaffolding of education and training offerings across career stages, to avoid duplication of contents and ensure consistency in approaches.

By contrast, other topics, namely those related to pedagogy, classroom/playgroup/group management and children’s transitions to primary school, are much less frequently included in on-the-job professional development activities. For instance, less than a third of pre-primary staff in Germany, Japan and Turkey were exposed to pedagogy-related topics in their recent in-service training (Table C.2.10). Given an evolving knowledge base, countries may evaluate the extent to which more staff would need to be exposed to updated contents and approaches in ongoing training.

When designing strategies for continuous professional development, countries need to keep a strategic vision for workforce needs at a national or regional level, with the explicit goal of retaining skilled staff in the sector (rather than in their actual centres). While in-service training may actually increase turnover across ECEC centres, helping staff to develop strong sector-specific skills will increase retention, especially if salaries and working conditions improve as well (OECD, 2019[16]).

At the same time, policies for promoting equity in ECEC may require targeted professional development or placement schemes to ensure that staff with the adequate training are assigned to ECEC centres where their specific skills are needed most. While many countries grant priority admission and fee waivers to vulnerable children, especially those living in poverty (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2019[48]), policies aiming to tackle socio-economic or cultural/linguistic disadvantage should also strive to allocate quality staff, not just more staff, to less privileged children, by addressing potential inequities in the sorting of staff across ECEC centres. Providing professional development that helps ECEC staff and leaders to respond to the growing diversity of children in ECEC settings is one of such policies. At the pre-primary level, Germany and Turkey are the countries where a smaller proportion of staff have received training for working with a diversity of children in both their initial preparation programmes and in-service training. In Germany, however, a larger share of staff have such a training trajectory in centres where the proportion of socio-economically disadvantaged children or dual language learners is large rather than small, whereas in Turkey the opposite holds (Table C.2.24). Countries can increase efforts to support more staff in developing skills for better addressing diversity, and in the short run, also explore introducing mandatory or incentivised staff rotation schemes to bring more staff with such skills to centres with more diverse populations of children.

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Notes

← 1. This bears in mind that the distinction between teachers and assistants is not relevant for all countries. Tables for the chapter first report results for all categories of staff (“All staff”: including teachers, assistants, staff for individual children, staff for special tasks and interns). Tables then provide a breakdown of results for teachers and assistants (which together comprised about 92% of staff across countries) and differences between the two groups. However, definitions of teachers’ assistants’ roles vary across countries. The distinction between teachers and assistants is nonetheless common in most of the participating countries. See the Reader’s Guide and the TALIS Starting Strong 2018 Technical Report (OECD, 2019[49]) for more information on staff reports of their own roles in the target group.

← 2. Comparisons between teachers and assistants are not possible in Iceland because participants were not familiar with the distinction between these roles, see the TALIS Starting Strong 2018 Technical Report (OECD, 2019[49]).

← 3. Other categories of staff, including staff for individual children, staff for special tasks and interns, are excluded from analyses that combine role and experience breakdowns.

← 4. Analyses described in the TALIS Starting Strong 2018 Technical Report support this clustering, see Chapter 11 in OECD (2019[49]) .The five items included in the area “Pedagogy” and the three included in the area “Diversity” were used to construct scales about needs for professional development. Further, exploratory factor analyses were carried out to investigate clusters among the 16 training contents items in the staff questionnaire. This was examined for pre-service and for in-service training contents separately, for the pooled sample and country-specific samples separately, and for the pre-primary sample and the sample of centres for children under age 3 separately. Results support the proposed clustering for the three thematic areas concerned and for maintaining other items as areas in their own right.

← 5. In the case of “Playful learning” and “Diversity”, analyses assume that an area has been covered in training if staff report training on at least one of the items that the area aggregates. In the case of “Pedagogy”, which groups the highest number of items, it is required that staff report at least two of the items that the area aggregates. This typically means that training included contents about “Learning theories” as well as one of the specific subject matter areas, therefore capturing staff pedagogical knowledge in a more meaningful way than by coverage of a single item.

← 6. The thematic breadth of training may be calculated for different groups of staff. In this section, breadth is estimated for staff meeting two conditions: 1) being trained to work with children as part of their pre-service education and training; and 2) having participated in training activities during the 12 months prior to the survey. The number of areas covered can differ for staff meeting only one of these two conditions.

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