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Early Childhood Education and Care Provision: International Review of Policy, Delivery and Funding

The importance of investing in early childhood education and care (ECEC) provision has been widely acknowledged by governments of advanced economies. High quality ECEC services benefit children’s development, boost educational attainment, encourage female labour market participation and contribute to a reduction in child poverty.

There is considerable movement at the European and international level with respect to early years provision. Most European countries have reformed their ECEC system or are in the process of reforming it, and access to ECEC services has been extended considerably in the last ten to fifteen years across Europe. The OECD, the EU and the UN have published a series of comparative reports in recent years emphasising the significance of early childhood education and care and its relevance to economic and social policy in advanced economies. In February 2011, the European Commission issued a Communication urging national governments to take action by analysing and evaluating their national ECEC provision, improving access and quality and investing in ECEC as a long-term growth-enhancing measure. As such, the expansion and development of high quality ECEC in all Member States is an integral part of the European Union’s overarching Europe 2020 Strategy. While the incentives and objectives for developing ECEC provision are similar across Europe, the approaches taken and the organisational structures of national ECEC systems differ considerably: some countries have moved to fully integrated systems providing early childhood education and care for all age groups of preschool children, often also featuring integrated approaches to school education and after school care, while others are developing provision within a system that differentiates between early education and childcare. In some countries ECEC is predominantly public, in others the development of childcare markets has been encouraged. Structure and levels of financing, curricular orientations and staff qualifications also differ between countries.

In light of the increased policy attention to ECEC in European countries, and the consequences of public spending restrictions, it is important to understand the different systems of ECEC provision and financing, and to identify their positive aspects and challenges. Thus, the commissioning of this international review by the Scottish Government comes at a very timely moment. In its Early Years Framework in 2008, the Scottish Government set out a ten-year vision for achieving a more
coherent and community-based approach to supporting Scotland’s families that focuses on equal access to high-quality universal services to deliver prevention and early intervention; and in 2011 it made the pledge to develop its ECEC system to ‘match the best elsewhere in Europe’. We hope this report will help to draw policy
lessons from other national experiences in order to support the development of early years policy in Scotland and internationally.