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Inclusive Early Childhood Education

banner with logo and title of the inclusive early childhood education project

Welcome to the Inclusive Early Childhood Education project area

This three-year thematic project (2015–2017) builds upon the main outcomes of the Agency’s previous Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) projects (2004, 2010). It will be the interface between ECI and primary education.

The overall goal of the Inclusive Early Childhood Education (IECE) project is to identify, analyse and subsequently promote the main characteristics of quality inclusive early childhood education for all children.

It will focus on the structures and processes that can ensure a systemic approach to providing high-quality inclusive early childhood education that effectively meets the academic and social learning needs of all children from the school’s local community (from 3 years old to the start of primary education – 5–7 years old).

Project framework

The IECE project aligns with the Proposal for key principles of a Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) (2014). This was produced by the European Commission Thematic Working Group on ECEC to support Member States to develop quality ECEC systems as part of the education system.

The IECE project will focus on five thematic areas, from the perspective of quality inclusive provisions:

  • Access to quality early childhood education (ECE) for all children. From the project’s perspective, this refers to facilitating access for all children in the community. In particular, it concerns the most vulnerable children. This includes those with disabilities and special educational needs (SEN), immigrants, newcomers and other at-risk children and families.
  • Workforce quality. This principle calls for appropriately trained staff with access to continuous training and adequate working conditions. It also calls for appropriate leadership and support staff inside and outside the school. Adequate resources, positive parent collaboration and interdisciplinary and interagency collaboration are also necessary.
  • Quality curriculum/content. This principle underlines the need for holistic and flexible curricula and pedagogy that promote child wellbeing. These promote learning in all aspects of development – cognitive, social, language, emotional and physical – and enable children to be meaningfully and actively engaged in a safe but open and stimulating environment.
  • Evaluation and monitoring. This not only refers to how children’s development and learning is monitored, but also to the ECE provision’s effectiveness in meeting established quality standards. Such standards ensure a quality learning environment for all children.
  • Governance and funding. This principle considers the accountable use of public funding and leadership models to ensure that a quality ECE service is available to all children and is managed with a constant focus on enabling each child’s holistic growth and learning.

The project pays attention to three fundamental transversal issues in quality ECE, namely:

  1. The need for a holistic child-centred approach based on an appreciation of each child as a unique, capable and active co-creator of learning
  2. The need for close partnership with families
  3. The need to ensure quality structures and processes.

The project has made three main new contributions to inclusive early childhood education (IECE):

  1. First of all, the project found that the high-quality services that benefited all children were guided by an inclusive vision and worked towards inclusive goals. As their primary outcome, they sought to ensure each child’s belongingness, engagement and learning.
  2. The IECE project’s second contribution is a Self-Reflection Tool. It enables practitioners to review their service’s quality in terms of the inclusiveness of the physical, social and other learning environments it offers to children and families.
  3. The project’s third contribution is a new Ecosystem Model of Inclusive Early Childhood Education. This is grounded in the project data. Three major frameworks for quality IECE have inspired it. These are the structure-process-outcome framework, the ecological systems framework and the inclusive education perspective. It can support policy-makers and practitioners to collaborate in planning, reviewing and improving quality IECE services.

Participants and target group

The Agency member countries involved in the IECE project are: Austria, Belgium (French speaking community), Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Two experts per country will be involved in the project activities.

The project activities and outputs will mainly target policy-/decision-makers at national and local levels. It is anticipated that the project activities and outcomes will also be of interest to researchers and practitioners in the area of inclusive early childhood education.


The project’s overall goal is to identify and analyse the factors (facilitators-challenges/barriers) that enable quality and effective ECE programmes for all learners in inclusive settings.

The aim is to collect information about all children – focusing on the most vulnerable ones – in inclusive settings in ECE in Europe and to describe where those learners are located during the pre-primary stages. The project will also explore which resources are allocated to meet their needs and describe the main characteristics of the educational contexts where these learners are included.

The project’s key question will be:

  • What are the main characteristics of quality inclusive early childhood education for all children?

Project activities and outputs

Project activities and outputs will include:

  • A literature and policy review, providing the project conceptual framework and including a review of post-2000 international and European research literature and policy papers on the project themes.
  • Country questionnaires for collecting national information on policy and practice in relation to inclusive early childhood education.
  • Examples of inclusive practice in ECE: Agency member countries were asked to identify and describe innovative examples of inclusive practice in ECE. The project team received 32 examples.
  • Qualitative analysis of examples: The project team has conducted a qualitative analysis of the 32 examples of how IECE providers perceive inclusion and try to provide it. It provides interesting practice evidence about a number of main issues that are important in inclusive ECE settings.
  • Case study visits: Eight of the proposed IECE examples were selected, on the basis of some quality criteria, for more in-depth investigation. Detailed reports on the eight selected case study sites, including analysis of the key project themes investigated, will be drafted.
  • A self-reflection tool for the IECE environment has been developed for practitioners to use. It consists of sets of questions about the inclusiveness of the ECE environment. These focus on an overall welcoming environment, an inclusive social environment, a child-friendly physical environment, materials for all children, opportunities for communication, a child-centred learning environment, an inclusive teaching environment and a family-friendly environment. These sets of questions served as an observation tool during the case study visits. They have been developed into a self-reflection tool, and will be translated and made available in all Agency languages.
  • Synthesis report: All the information collected over the project’s lifetime will be combined into a synthesis report. This will support policy-makers and practitioners at local, national and European levels in promoting IECE provisions that ensure the necessary strong start for all children. The project will particularly highlight how ECE settings can be truly inclusive by building their capacity to educate all the children in the community with the backing of national policy and investment in this highly influential area of education.
  • A policy brief with recommendations addressed to policy-makers.
  • Final Project Conference: All the above outcomes will be presented at the Final Project Conference in November 2017 in Portugal.
Date published: 
Monday, November 30, 2015 - 13:45