03 April 2023

Improving staff working conditions for better quality early childhood education and care in Austria

Early childhood offers a critical window of opportunity to shape the trajectory of a child’s holistic development and build a foundation for their future. The European Pillar of Social Rights states that all children have the right to affordable Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) of good quality. It is in the earliest years of a child’s life that the foundation and capacity to learn is laid, and this is built on throughout life. Learning is an incremental process; building a strong foundation in the early years is a precondition for higher level competence development and educational success as much as it is essential for health and the well-being of children. Participating in ECEC for children aged 0 to 6 and interaction with well-trained and quality ECEC professionals is beneficial for all children and especially beneficial for children of a disadvantaged background. It helps by preventing the formation of early skills gaps and thus it is an essential tool to fight inequalities and educational poverty. Quality, affordable and accessible ECEC also allows for increased parental-workforce participation. Austria The demand for ECEC for children from 0 to 6 is rising in Austria, however, a shortage in trained ECEC professionals has led to limited provision and decreased enrolment rates, specifically among children aged 0-3 years old. The main source of this shortage has been tied to the following: There are differing staffing and employment conditions for ECEC staff across Länder (provinces) and the municipalities including differences in salaries and salary schemes (Austria has over 60 different schemes), group sizes, the professional staff-child ratio, and service-related matters such as preparation time without direct child services. The ECEC profession is not perceived to be attractive, especially by male students, which is certainly also strongly influenced by the low level of recognition of the profession in society and the low salary. There is a high fluctuation of ECEC professionals due to retirement and to moving towards employers or regions offering more attractive working conditions.   The lack of ECEC staff as well as large group sizes and high fluctuation thus have severe negative effects on many children with disadvantaged backgrounds as the linguistic support cannot be guaranteed at the highest possible quality. Tackling the problem of framework conditions of ECEC staff has an impact on the quality of early childhood education and thus the improvement of children’s wellbeing in ECEC services to guarantee their rights. The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research is committed to strengthening ECEC quality and aligning provision to EU standards. As such, the ministry has requested technical support through the European Union’s Technical Support Instrument (TSI), the EU programme that provides tailor-made technical expertise to EU Member States to design and implement reforms. Support is requested in the area of ECEC, with the purpose of improving ECEC staff conditions, quality, and capacity to enhance the quality of education for young children in Austria.