Five main documents have been introduced since 2009. Since 2018, according to the agreement between the federal government and the federal provinces on early childhood education for 2022/23 to 2026/27, these documents have been binding on all the ECEC services to which they apply. The first four documents described below apply to centre-based settings, and the last applies to home-based provision.
Nationwide framework curriculum for Austrian ECEC services
The Nationwide Framework Curriculum for Austrian ECEC Services was commissioned by the Austrian provincial governments and the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research. The framework curriculum was developed by the Charlotte Bühler Institute for Practice-Oriented Early Childhood Research (Charlotte Bühler Institut für praxisorientierte Kleinkindforschung) in 2009.
Module for the last year in ECEC services
The Module for the Last Year in ECEC Services – In-depth information on the nationwide framework curriculum focuses on the acquisition of basic competences by children by the time of their transition to school and on managing the transition to school. It was developed in 2010 by the Charlotte Bühler Institute for Practice-Oriented Early Childhood Research.
Guidelines for language support at the transition from kindergarten to primary school
The Guidelines for language support at the transition from kindergarten to primary school form the basis for monitoring and documenting individual language-related educational processes. They provide an insight into the most important aspects of language support for children with German as their first or second language, with a focus on the school entry phase. The guidelines were developed in 2016 by the Charlotte Bühler Institute for Practice-Oriented Early Childhood Research on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.
Live values, develop values – development of values in kindergarten
The guidelines Live Values, Develop Values – Development of values in kindergarten aim to convey the basic values of Austrian society in a form suitable for children. They were developed in 2018 by the University College of Teacher Education Lower Austria, on behalf of the Austrian Integration Fund and the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.
Children in the year before starting school – guidelines for home care and care by childminders
Children in the Year before Starting School – Guidelines for home care and care by childminders contains practical instructions for child-oriented educational work in the context of home care and care by childminders for children in the year before school entry. These guidelines were developed in 2010 by the Charlotte Bühler Institute for Practice-Oriented Early Childhood Research based on the Module for the Last Year in ECEC Services and are used when children do not spend the obligatory kindergarten year in a kindergarten setting but, rather, spend it in home care or with childminders.
Individual provinces have other documents or conceptual specifications that guide ECEC services in their educational activities and are binding. Moreover, centre-based services have to draw up their own pedagogical plans.
Areas of learning and development
The Nationwide Framework Curriculum for Austrian ECEC Services encompasses 12 principles of learning processes:
- integrated learning using all the senses
- orientation in the surrounding world
- teachers’ expertise
- gender sensitivity
- learning partnership.
The curriculum also sets out six educational domains:
- emotions and social relationships
- ethics and society
- language and communication
- motor skills, health and well-being
- aesthetics and creativity
- nature and technology.
Kindergarten teachers are granted conceptual and methodological freedom to design educational work within the framework of the six educational domains and in accordance with the principles of learning processes. In addition, transition support, with a particular focus on familiarisation and transitions between educational institutions, is an important pillar of the framework curriculum.
The general objectives defined by each of the nine provincial kindergarten education acts are similar in nature. Crèches are included in the laws of the provinces. The titles of the laws differ and sometimes do not reflect all aspects covered. The overall aims of crèches and kindergartens are as follows.
- Crèches should complement and support the education provided within the family and should provide supervision, care, social interaction and educational development for children aged 1–3 years.
- Kindergartens should support and complement education within the family (special emphasis is placed on cooperation with parents or guardians) to promote individual development through appropriate measures as well as providing social interaction with peers and preparing children for school life (by involving parents or guardians and primary schools).
In several instances, the law states explicitly that these aims are to be achieved ‘by employing valid methods of early childhood education’ and ‘by excluding any form of school-like instruction’.
On the basis of the Nationwide Framework Curriculum for Austrian ECEC Services, pedagogues are free to choose appropriate educational content, materials and methods to create meaningful learning opportunities.
Related to the historical social pedagogical approach in Austria, there are alternations between adult-led and child-initiated activities, in addition to thematic project-based work, as well as alternations between group/small-group activities and individual activities.
Some kindergartens emphasise one specific educational methodology (e.g. Steiner, Montessori, Freinet or Piaget). In general, all of these approaches are part of ECEC teacher training and used in ECEC.
In ECEC, a variety of pedagogical observation material is available that can be used for developmental observation and as a basis for educational planning. In individual provinces and for individual providers, there are mandatory requirements for developmental observation and documentation. Portfolio documentation may be used as well. In provincial kindergartens in the province of Lower Austria, observation and documentation by means of a portfolio is mandatory.
In 2005, a strong focus on early language promotion was introduced by the federal government to ensure a good start in school for all children. Since then, several strategies have been established. In 2008, 2012, 2018 and 2022 agreements pursuant to Article 15a of the Federal Constitutional Law became the legal basis for cooperation between the federal and provincial governments on this issue.
The agreement from 2008 states that all kindergartens in Austria have to carry out language proficiency tests to determine language competences. Since the 2019/2020 kindergarten year, use of standardised instruments (observation sheets) has been required nationwide. In order to record the German language competence of children, the observation sheet BESK KOMPAKT must be used for children whose first language is German and the observation sheet BESK-DaZ KOMPAKT must be used for children for whom German is a second language. These instruments have been developed by experts from the former Federal Institute of Educational Research, Innovation and Development, now the Federal Institute for Quality Assurance in the Austrian School System.
The language proficiency tests are carried out and documented by kindergarten teachers and language support staff. In kindergartens with a high proportion of children in need of language support, language support staff work together with the pedagogical team to support the children in their language development. Details of when tests should be taken are provided in the agreement between the federal government and the federal provinces on early childhood education for 2022/23 to 2026/27. Children aged 3 years who attend an ECEC service must undergo a language proficiency test between May and June of the relevant kindergarten year. Children aged 4 years who attend an ECEC service for the first time must undergo a language proficiency test no later than 31 October of the kindergarten year.
If a need for language support is identified, the child must be given appropriate support. Children who have received language support at the age of 4 years must undergo a new language proficiency test at the end of the penultimate kindergarten year, and no later than 31 October of that year. There are also children who attend kindergarten for the first time at the age of 5 years. The final language proficiency test before starting school takes place at the end of the last year of kindergarten.
A compulsory transfer sheet must be provided by the ECEC service to the primary school; based on the results of the language proficiency tests, it provides information on a child’s strengths and support needs in the area of language, and offers a concrete starting point for planning further support measures. This is to be sent to the child’s primary school by the beginning of September at the latest, after the end of the school holidays prescribed by provincial law, and reflects the child’s state of development in the last year of kindergarten.
In most ECEC services, so-called structured parent/guardian meetings (Elterngespräche) take place. Parents or guardians are given a structured description of their child’s development. Information on school-readiness is also provided.
Transition to primary school
In September 2009, a compulsory kindergarten year for 5-year-old children was introduced to give children the best possible preparation for school.
The Module for the Last Year in ECEC Services – In-depth information on the nationwide framework curriculum forms the basis for the holistic support of children in the last year of kindergarten and for supporting the transition of children from ECEC services to primary school.
According to the agreement between the federal government and the federal provinces on early childhood education for 2022/23 to 2026/27, language support must be systematically implemented in the 2 years before school entry. Promotion of German as the language of education, with a focus on language skills at school entry, should in any case take place from the age of 4 years.
Children with a lack of German language skills are to be supported from the beginning of their childcare, but especially in the last 2 years of kindergarten, in such a way that they have the greatest possible command of the German language by the time they enter school. A basis for language support is provided by the guidelines Language support at the transition from kindergarten to primary school.
Since 2016/2017, measures to support a smooth transition from kindergarten to primary school have been enforced. These measures include the following.
- Data exchange between kindergartens and primary schools. Parents or guardians are required to hand over documents from the kindergarten to the school when enrolling their child in a primary school. Based on the results of the language proficiency tests, the compulsory transfer sheet contains information on a child’s strengths and support needs in the area of language. The provinces are obliged to ensure that the primary schools can obtain data from the respective ECEC services on the language support provided for a child if the child’s guardians fail to comply with their obligation to submit the documents relating to the language support provided pursuant to §6(1a) of the Compulsory Schooling Act 1985 (Schulpflichtgesetz 1985).
- Further development and comprehensive expansion of cooperation between kindergartens and primary schools.