Early Childhood Education and Care: Spain

In order to create the best educational course for nurses possible, it is necessary to understand the background in the Early Childcare and Education, its purpose and ways of work in the European countries. That is why the partners are working on a comparative study about the Early childcare and Education System in the partner countries.

The next country we would like to present after Greece, Czech RepublicFlanders and Sweden is Spain.

Parenthood and employment

According to the statistical information shown by the digital publication prepared by Eurostat based on the data obtained from 2017, we can highlight, in relation to the employment situation of women in Europe and in Spain the following: The more children, the greater the difference in employment rates between women and men.

On average, the employment rate of men is higher than that of women (72% compared to 61% in the EU in 2016). However, it is interesting to note that the difference in employment rates between women and men increases with the number of children. Thus, the employment rate of women without children was 65%, while that of men was 73%. In women with one child, employment rates increased and were 71% and 85% for men. In women with two children, the rate remained almost the same, at 70%, while that of men increased to 89%. For those with three or more children, the employment rate decreased to 55% for women, compared to 84% for men.

This pattern is observed in the great majority of the Member States.

Maternity/parental leave and benefits

The International Labor Organization (ILO) proposed the first universal rule on the subject, by adopting in 1919 the Convention on the protection of maternity. The Convention was revised for the first time in 1952; currently, it provides for a minimum license of 12 weeks, but it is recommended to agree 14 weeks.

At present, 119 countries comply with the minimum 12-week leave provided by the ILO; of these, 62 grant licenses of duration of 14 weeks or more. In only 31 countries, the duration of legal maternity leave is less than 12 weeks.

Spain is the country gives 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and 4 weeks of paternity leave (since 2017).  Women also have the option to take 10 weeks of prenatal leave, that is, before the birth of the child. The maternity allowance compared to average salary is the 100% of salary.

Childcare provision

In Spain it remains relatively common for young children to be cared for by their extended family (often grandparents) – therefore we can see low rates of use of formal childcare, even compared to countries in the region.

If we focus on the use of formal childcare for children less than 3 years we can see differences among the countries which may reflect, at least to some degree, the different patterns of part-time/full-time work of parents across the countries.

PORTUGAL 47,2% 86,2%
SPAIN 18,7% 43,9%
FRANCE 31,9% 56,9%
ITALY 22,3% 74,3%

Childhood education in Spain is provided to children from birth until they become 6 years of age. It is divided in two cycles:

  • 1st one is from 16 weeks to 3 years of age.
  • 2nd one is from 3 to 6 years of age. This cycle is free of charge.

Although this stage (both cycles) is not compulsory, currently almost 100% of children are attending the 2nd cycle.

There is a national law which establishes education structures. Each of the 17 Spanish regions and autonomous communities set up its education policy independently, but based on this national education law. Besides, schools have independence when it comes to organization and teaching techniques to develop and adapt the syllabus to the needs and characteristics of their children and their social and cultural environment.

The curriculum of the first cycle is not established at central level but determined by the Autonomous Communities for their respective regions. In the case of the second cycle, the Ministry of Education is responsible for setting the core curricula and defines the objectives, contents and evaluation criteria for the whole State, subsequently completed by the education authorities.

There are two types of schools in the Pre-Primary Education: public and private.

  • Private schools must meet national regulations.
  • Public schools belong to town halls or regional governments and can be of two types:
    • with direct management – which means that they are directly managed by town halls or regional governments.
    • schools managed by companies after winning a public tender for a given period of time.

For children in the first cycle (from 0 to 3 years) there are two types of facilities:

Children education centres: regularly accept children from 16-weeks to 3 years. These centres are regulated by each regional government with a law, which considers the following aspects:

  • Facilities: For instance, the number of square metres (facilities must have a minimum of 30 square metres and 2 square metres for each child); a multi-purpose room of 30 square metres; a toilet; one playground for every nine classrooms; or playgrounds should not be smaller than 75 square metres.
  • Fees: All centres must follow common criteria and have the same cost.
  • Staff requirements.
  • Opening and closing hours.
  • Ratios: For children from 0 to 1 year of age, there should be one educator for every 8 children. For children from 1 to 2 years of age, there should be one educator for every 13 children. For children from 2 to 3 years of age, there should be one educator for every 20 children.

There are small differences concerning these criteria between the 17 Spanish regions.

Play schools are not regulated by law. These facilities just need a municipal license. Children go there on a sporadic basis, for leisure purposes.

The proportion of children enrolled in this early stage, from 0 to 2 years of age, has significantly increased over the past ten years. The main reason of this increase is the current financial crisis in Spain, as now both parents have to work.

Class groups are normally created according to the year of birth in both cycles. Each group has a class teacher assigned, who, as far as possible, keeps the same group of pupils throughout the whole cycle.

The national government establishes a series of minimum educational requirements. Centres can use alternative methodologies, provided that they meet the standards of the official syllabus. In order to ensure that centres comply with the national regulations (ratios, required square metres, qualification of staff…), inspections are conducted in all centres.

Each Center will elaborate its educational project in which the values, objectives and priorities of action will be collected.

Pedagogical approaches in childcare 

In order to support schools in the drawing up of their pedagogical plan, the education authorities establish a series of methodological principles:

  • Global perspective of learning.
  • Childrenʼs physical and mental activity and importance of play.
  • Priority is given to emotional and relationship aspects.
  • Peer to peer interaction.
  • Coordination with families.
  • Preventive and compensatory nature.

Attention to diversity is also one of the methodological principles guiding educational provision, which adapts to childrenʼs specific characteristics, interests, cognitive styles and maturing processes.

In general, a weekly timetable of 25 hours operates in pre-primary education. However, the education authorities are responsible for establishing the school day, which may vary depending on the ownership of the school. Thus, the timetable of public schools providing the whole stage is usually 35 hours per week. This includes lunch breaks, rest or nap periods and recreation. Private schools have the autonomy to adapt their timetable to family demands. Nevertheless, in accordance with the regulations on the requirements for schools offering the first cycle, children are not allowed to remain on the school premises for more than eight hours in some Autonomous Communities.

Qualification of nurses/childcare professionals

There are three possible training paths to be qualified to work with children from 0 to 3 years of age.

  1. Child education university degree, with which people can become teachers, specialized in Infant Education. It is a university career that is currently taught as a degree with a minimum of 240 credits. According to the regulations in Spain, all public and private centers must have at least one graduate teacher.
  2. Advance training programme in education, with which people can become advanced technicians in children education. It is a training of 2000 hours and this degree is issued by the Educational Administration.
  3. Professional certificate, which is equivalent to the advance training programme in education, but it is obtained through work experience.

Besides, all the staff must provide their criminal record certificate and their sexual offences certificate, as well as the food handler’s card.

All the staff members should be qualified. All the centres must have at least one person with a child education university degree, who will be in charge of the direction of the centre.

The basic competences that the child education professional should acquire in their training should be, in summary, the following:

  • Promote and facilitate learning in early childhood in the cognitive, emotional, psychomotor and volitional dimensions.
  • Design and regulate learning spaces in contexts of diversity that meet the unique educational needs.
  • Promote coexistence in the classroom and beyond and address the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
  • Promote the autonomy and uniqueness of each student as factors of education of emotions, feelings and values ​​in early childhood.
  • Know the evolution of language in early childhood, know how to identify possible dysfunctions and ensure their correct evolution.
  • Know the educational implications of information and communication technologies in early childhood.
  • Know foundations of children’s dietetics and hygiene. Know the psychological processes, learning and personality construction in early childhood.
  • Know the organization of the schools of infant education.
  • Act as counsellor for parents in relation to family education in the period 0-6 and master social skills in the treatment and relationship with the family of each student and with all families.
  • Identify learning difficulties, cognitive dysfunctions and those related to attention.
  • Know the language and literacy curriculum of this stage, as well as the theories about the acquisition and development of the corresponding learning.