Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education
12th Session - Lisbon, Portugal, 3-4 June 1981

Statement on Education of the three to eight year-olds

Resolution on European Education Co-operation (N1)

Statement on Education of the three to eight year-olds  

(adopted during the Twelfth Session of the Standing Conference of  Ministers of Education of the Council of Europe, Lisbon, 3-4 June 1981)

The European Ministers of Education, at the Twelfth Session of the Standing Conference, adopt the following Statement

1. The value of pre-school education 

1.1. The period from three to eight years of age is decisive in the development of all children. It is the most active phase of their awakening to the world about them and to their culture. It is a stage of rapid learning about social behaviour and relationships. It is also generally the period during which children acquire the basic skills of linguistic communication and numeracy which are essential to a normal, fruitful existence in modern society. Equality of opportunity and possibilities of self-expression, of self-determination and of playing a meaningful role later on in society depend to a large extent on the 11 education" - in the widest sense of the term - received in early childhood. It is consequently the duty of parents and society as a whole to ensure such education within and outside school with the utmost care.

1.2. Pre-school facilities have an undeniable part to play in the harmonious development of children themselves, besides providing an important service to society as care centres for the children of parents working outside the home. Without detracting from the natural role of the parents in the child's education, pre-school facilities provide for many infants a unique opportunity for meeting and learning from other children and adults, for obtaining new social and cultural experience as a useful preparation for future schooling, as well as contributing to their physical, mental and emotional development. in many cases pre-school can further provide some "natural adjustment" for children with a physical or cultural handicap. It can also enable children of migrants to become acquainted with social and cultural conditions in the host country before compulsory schooling.

1.3. In most of our modern communities we have produced physical and social conditions (small nuclear families, or one-parent families, and discrete urban housing, units, surrounded by cars and other physical dangers) in which the child growing up without the stimulus of the outside contacts available through pre-school institutions could be at risk of serious social and intellectual deprivation. In these circumstances it is essential for pre-school facilities to be given adequate support and to be developed as rapidly as possible to the point where they are available to all children.

1.4. Pre-school education, for both social and educational reasons, has developed in such a way that (however it is organised) it has become an accepted part of parents' expectations for children below compulsory school age. Given this development, education policy in relation to the pre-school sector now needs to be reviewed in conjunction with the first years of primary schooling and all other aspects of policy which affect - overtly or indirectly - young children and their families.

1.5. It is therefore appropriate in the light of the varied experience gathered in Europe, for this Standing Conference to examine the specific role of pre-school education and its interaction with compulsory school education. While this evidently differs from country to country according to the nature and extent of the pre-school provision, and the age of starting compulsory school, consideration of each type of system in use can demonstrate both risks and opportunities of relevance to all. The general principles of good education for this age group have been identified by research and incorporated in policy statements ; the practical solutions in operation do not yet however always relate to these principles and policies.

2. Pre-school for all

2.1. Most countries intend maintaining pre-school provision on a non-compulsory basis given that a very high percentage of children attend where facilities exist. However, in some countries pre-school education is extensive and provided for in national legislation ; in some of these countries the question is being posed whether it should not be extended to all children, and eventually, when a situation is reached where a high percentage (90% or over) of the relevant age group participate, whether it should not be made compulsory, e.g. by gradual lowering of the age at which compulsory school starts. In some countries legislation to this end is being initiated. Such a development would have as one of its aims the protection of the remaining small percentage (often including those most in need of pre-school education) who would otherwise be at a disadvantage in starting primary school without experience of pre-school education. Systems of this type present opportunities to eliminate problems of transition between "preschool" and school by integration of the pre-school sector within the school system.

2.2. On the other hand, in all countries pre-school education is too valuable in its own right to be allowed to become merely an extension downwards of present school provision ; any risk of development in that direction should be circumvented by appropriate policy measures to retain the emphasis in the pre-school stage on social and individual (physical and cultural) development, and in addition, to encourage the extension of the creativity of the best practice in pre-school classes further into the primary school. In countries where pre-school education is not widespread and/or where pre-school and primary education are not integrated, this aim may be achieved by retaining the voluntary basis of pre-school education but integrating into the system special support services for those most in need of pre-school education.

2.3. In terms of the relationship between the school and the family or local community, centralised and generalised pre-school systems can provide flexibility in meeting local needs and responsiveness to parents' desire for involvement. However, both in such systems and in primary schools in general distinct efforts must be made to achieve active participation by parents and other adults concerned in order to mobilise the maximum possible resources in the educational process and give parents an opportunity to interact with, and learn from the school. Above all, however, active parental participation must be advocated in the interests of the child to create the optimal environment for the development of his/her learning possibilities. The actual right of parents to participate in pre-school or school organisations ought to be exercised through direct contact between parents and teachers. The various kinds of parents' groups, at each level, ought also to be encouraged by public authorities. In all cases attention. should be paid to increasing parents' real and practical opportunities to contribute effectively to the process of the education of their children. The practical involvement of parents in providing learning experience for children may be the most useful form of participation.

3. Care and education

3.1. Large-scale provision for pre-school education is in some cases made under the responsibility of authorities other than Education Ministries. This underlines the necessity of co-ordination with the "care" aspects of services for young children - both in terms of the link between day-care and pre-school and in terms of cooperation between educational and health/welfare services.

3.2. In such a system, however, particularly active measures need to be taken to ensure coordination - but not uniformity - of the pedagogical content and methods of the earlier provision with the teaching of the first stages of primary school. The staff of nursery centres and of primary schools should be trained in such a way that consistency of the goals and Continuity of the practice between the two sectors becomes a reality.

4. Community-based provision

4.1. Where pre-school facilities are organised by local authorities, parents or volunteers, opportunities naturally exist for responsiveness to the needs of  local community and for the active involvement of parents if there is no large-scale provision or standardisation of facilities, however, problems may occur in the transition to primary school, since children will arrive there with widely differing experience and those without pre-schooling may be at a disadvantage in terms of social competence.

4.2. It may also be more difficult in such a system to set up institutional links to help overcome problems in the transition to primary school. This situation therefore calls for particular attention to be given to the educational content and methods of primary classes, as well as to their size ; the school should arrange its activities to suit children having different ranges of experience and should use this potential as an added educational resource.

5. Essential features for development

5.1. In States with pre-school systems as yet less developed but growing rapidly, choices can be made between the different possible types of structure and their attendant advantages or dangers. The solutions which unified systems may present to certain of the problems have to be weighed against considerations of adaptability and of cost. Whatever the setting, however, the following features can be identified as desirable:

i. use of play, music, art and other activities to develop social abilities, communication, creativity, self-expression and physical fitness and to stimulate learning faculties

ii. more opportunities for children of different social, racial and religious groups (including the handicapped to as great an extent as possible) to be educated together, in the interests of cultivating tolerance and open-mindedness from the earliest age ;

iii. use of the opportunity at the pre-school stages to help children overcome possible cultural difficulties (linguistic problems in particular) as well as to enable migrant children to become acquainted with social and cultural conditions in the host country before entry to primary school. In this context the Conference further recommends study of the special measures which are provided in some countries to improve the performance of migrant children in their mother tongue so as to strengthen their own cultural identity

v. involvement of parents in the work of the school, as a necessary element in the creation (at home and at school) of an effective learning environment for the child as an additional resource for the school and as a means of community education ;

vi. provision of classes of a size which gives maximum opportunity for teacher/child interaction and the social development of the individual child according to his/her pace of advancement and particular abilities :

vii. coordination, through teacher-training (including in-service training) institutional cooperation and classroom practice, of the goals and methods of the pre-school and primary sectors of education in order, inter alia to facilitate the transition between these two stages ;
viii. compatibility of care and education hours with local work-hours, in order to enable parents to accompany their children to such facilities; encouragement of flexibility in the fixing of work-hours to give parents more time for their children without risk of discrimination in the labour market ;

ix. responsiveness, wherever possible, to regional circumstances (for example, need for special transport facilities or for mobile visiting services for homes in montainous or other sparsely-populated areas); use of the local environment as a learning resource.

6. Co-ordination with other policy areas

6.1. Pre-school education policy, including day-care policies, cannot be viewed in isolation from labour market, housing, family allowance and taxation policies.

6.2. Provision of generally accessible pre-school education (free or at low cost to parents) for all parents who want it for their children is the only adequate response to the level of demand currently in existence. It has to be recognised that this demand springs from awareness of the benefits of good pre-school education for the individual development of the child, as well as the desire or need of most adults to work, and changes in the pattern of women's expectations of their role and in the pattern of family structures. It should therefore be recognised in policy planning that the demand for pre-school education will continue to grow and that education provision for the three to eight year-olds should be coordinated with other types of day-care facility. The goal of providing pre-school education for all who wish it for their children should be recognised as urgently requiring implementation both on grounds of its educational value and also as a necessary part of social policy.

7. From the extensive work carried out on pre-school education in the Organisations contributing to the Standing Conference it can be seen that the benefits of international cooperation in an area where there is a great variation between national systems lie not necessarily in attempting to work towards one unified system, but in using international comparison as an analytical tool to identify the advantages and disadvantages of each system and to use this analysis in improving the individual system.

8. In view of the need for more widespread provision of pre-school education and of the present financial and economic situation, the international Organisations are invited to continue their study of policies for preschool education and the financial problems they pose.


Resolution on European Education Co-operation (N1)  

(adopted during the Twelfth Session of the Standing Conference of  Ministers of Education of the Council of Europe, Lisbon, 3-4 June 1981)

The European Ministers of Education at the Twelfth Session of the Standing Conference

1. EXPRESS their warmest gratitude to the Portuguese authorities for their generous hospitality during the Twelfth Session


i. UNESCO, OECD, the Council of Europe, the European Community and the Nordic Council of Ministers (x) for their contributions to the report on "European cooperation on education";

ii. Mr. Leitner for his stimulating introduction to this report.

3. REAFFIRM their profound belief in the value, for Governments, of European education cooperation and recommend that the resources available for such cooperation should not be eroded to a level which endangers its effectiveness. At a time of economic austerity and of fewer possibilities for experimentation in education, it is more important than ever for Governments to be kept fully informed about developments and research in other countries ;

4. EMPHASISE furthermore that, if the resources available for European education-cooperation are to be used effectively, Governments should coordinate, at national level,, the requests made to the Organisations. Such requests should take account of national priorities, as well as the different memberships and particular strengths of the various Organisations ;

5. NOTE with satisfaction that the Organisations have included in their programmes activities on the educational response to such important issues facing European society as

i. the defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms;

ii. youth unemployment;

iii. equality of opportunity for girls and women;

iv. migration;

v. the challenges posed by new developments in science and technology, in particular micro-processors;

vi. equality of opportunity for the disabled;

vii. the protection of the environment

6. WELCOME the steps taken in recent years to diversify the working methods of European education cooperation through the use of more operational techniques, in particular

i. study visits;

ii. reviews of national education systems;

iii. the establishment of pilot projects and interaction networks;

iv. exchange schemes for pupils, teachers and administrators;

v. cooperation with international non-governmental organisations.

These more operational methods are to be encouraged because they make better use of the opportunities offered by the Organisations and involve more people in the process of European education cooperation

7. EXPRESS their satisfaction at the measures taken by the Organisations to improve mutual consultation and cooperation, on the lines suggested in Resolution No. 1 of the Eleventh Session on "European education-cooperation", through :

i. the institution of regular bilateral meetings between Secretariats;

ii. the organisation of joint activities;

iii. the exchange of observers and documentation.

It would be beneficial if this process of consultation and co-operation could be continued and developed to ensure that the activities of the Organisations are complementary and that there is no duplication of effort. Whenever several of the Organisations work in the same sector - e.g. migrant education, the transition from school to work, and education for international understanding - they should envisage multilateral meetings of representatives of all the Secretariats concerned;

8. POINT OUT that, if the work of the Organisations is to have the impact which it deserves, much more must be done, both by Governments and by the Organisations, to improve the dissemination of its results. Governments could circulate - and wherever possible, translate into national languages these results, while the Organisations could present the results of their work in a clear and readable form adapted to the specific needs of the different categories of users politicians, educators, parents and young people;

9. STRESS THE IMPORTANCE of monitoring the implementation of the proposals contained in the texts adopted by the Standing Conference, and agree to examine, at future Sessions, the follow-up given to selected texts. The Committee of Senior Officials is asked to determine the appropriate arrangements;

10. TAKE NOTE in this context of the very helpful report prepared for the Twelfth Session by Dr. van Vleuten on developments since the adoption, at the Eleventh Session, of the Statement on "Education and equality of opportunity for girls and women" ;

11. WELCOME the initiatives taken since then by Governments and the Organisations to improve equality of opportunity of the sexes in education, but express the hope that greater priority will be given to active measures to promote such equality of opportunity ; in particular, matters which require urgent attention, along the lines indicated in the Statement adopted at the Eleventh Session, include the division of education statistics by sex. The Committee of Senior Officials is asked to propose further follow-up on this whole subject at an appropriate time in the preparation of future Sessions;

12. ACCEPT with pleasure the invitation of the Irish Minister to hold the Thirteenth Session of the Standing Conference in his country in 1983. The main theme will be the secondary school curriculum and will take into account the special problems involved in the preparation of young people for entry into active life. The Ministers invite the Organisations to contribute to the documentation to be prepared for their discussions on this theme and to a further progress report on European Education Co-operation. The Ministers will also examine at the Thirteenth Session the action taken, at national and European level, to implement the proposals contained in Resolution No. 3 of the Eleventh Session on "Migrants' Education".

(x) hereafter referred to as "the Organisations"