- The centre-based services that provide early childhood education and care (ECEC) are:
- crèches for children under 3 years old (International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) level 010);
- kindergartens for children aged 3–5 years (ISCED level 020);
- mixed-age groups – mostly situated in kindergartens – for children aged 1–5 years.
- In addition, there is a system of regulated home-based family daycare for children and young people up to a maximum age of 16 years. In most cases, childminders look after very young children before they start at a crèche or kindergarten. Sometimes schoolchildren are also looked after by childminders in the afternoon.
Governance of the ECEC system is highly decentralised. Legislation and implementation in the area of childcare outside the family before the beginning of compulsory schooling are exclusively within the authority of the nine federal provinces.
The legal requirements and the relevant implementation regulations for daycare facility providers are provided by the individual Provincial Kindergarten Education Acts of the nine provinces. The Provincial Kindergarten Education Acts outline certain criteria that childcare facilities have to fulfil (e.g. size and equipment of premises, size of group and qualifications of practitioners). Operating a daycare facility and childminding are subject to approval by the authorities.
The providers of childcare establishments in Austria are as follows:
- religion-affiliated providers
- companies, to a small extent.
Fiscal measures within the framework of family policy, such as granting family allowance or childcare allowance, are within federal responsibility (Austrian Federal Minister for Women, Family, Integration and Media), as are the education and training of ECEC teachers (Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research).
In line with the Barcelona objective of the European Union, the federal government and the federal provinces have agreed to promote the availability of childcare facilities. The legislation puts a particular focus on the expansion of childcare offerings for children under 3 years of age, language development as well as staff training in language development, teaching of basic values, the transition from kindergarten to primary school, uniform standards through the establishment of obligatory, fundamental pedagogical documents, and improving the availability of childminders as an alternative to ECEC services.
Obligatory and free kindergarten for 5-year-olds
In September 2009, a compulsory kindergarten year for 5-year-old children was introduced. The underlying agreement between the federal government and the federal provinces on early childhood education for 2022/23 to 2026/27 was last revised in September 2022. All children whose main residence is in Austria and who have reached the age of 5 years by 31 August of a given year are obliged to attend a kindergarten or another suitable, approved institution.
Since 2009, parents or guardians have not had to pay fees for 20 hours per week of childcare for children in their final year of kindergarten. Some provinces offer additional free childcare for certain age groups.
Availability of educational guidelines
The Nationwide Framework Curriculum for Austrian ECEC Services (Bundesländerübergreifender BildungsRahmenPlan für elementare Bildungseinrichtungen in Österreich) was commissioned by the Austrian provincial governments and the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research in 2009. It is defined as a play-based curriculum for ECEC institutions. Since 2018 further guidelines for educational work in ECEC services – so-called fundamental pedagogical documents – have been binding throughout Austria.