Inclusive early childhood education: new insights and tools

Image: Inclusive Early Childhood Education

Quality in early childhood education is a prominent concern for policy-makers and has recently become a priority concern for many international and European organisations. These include the OECD, UNESCO, UNICEF, the European Commission, Eurydice and the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (the Agency).

Over the past three years (2015–2017), the Agency has examined the latest policy documents and relevant research in this field. This has been a springboard for exploring the main characteristics of high-quality inclusive early childhood education (IECE) for all children from three years of age to the start of primary education.

The project data from across Europe has provided an opportunity to closely examine how, within the inclusion perspective, early childhood education provisions are addressing the quality principles set out by the European Commission and the OECD.

Sixty-four IECE country experts from across Europe contributed to the project. They participated in data collection and analysis through descriptions of example provisions, as well as observations and discussions during fieldwork and case study visits.

The analysis and discussion of all project data led to three new contributions to policy-making, research and practice towards the improvement of quality IECE.

They are:

  • A rationale for and implications of adopting an inclusive vision and goals as the main standards of IECE policy and provision. The project demonstrated how an inclusive vision can ensure high-quality early childhood education services that benefit all children by enabling each child’s belongingness, engagement and learning.
  • The development of a Self-Reflection Tool to support practitioners in reviewing their service’s quality in terms of the inclusiveness of the physical, social and other learning environments it offers to children and families.
  • Adaptation of an Ecosystem Model of Inclusive Early Childhood Education to support collaborative policy, research and practice in the planning, implementation and review of IECE provision. The model is based on the project data and is inspired by three major frameworks for high-quality IECE, namely: the structure-process-outcome framework (e.g. OECD, 2015; European Commission, 2014); the ecological systems framework (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006; Odom et al., 2004); and the inclusive education framework (European Agency, 2015).

More information is available on the IECE project web area.

Written by Mary Kyriazopoulou, European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education.

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