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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Initial education for teachers working in early childhood and school education


9.Teachers and education staff

9.1Initial education for teachers working in early childhood and school education

Last update: 27 November 2023

All teacher education is provided by higher education institutions. Higher education institutions can be universities or universities of applied sciences.

Institutions, level and models of training

Teacher education for teachers in early childhood education and care (ECEC) and general education is provided by universities. The education and care staff of ECEC centres comprise two other staff categories: social pedagogues and childcarers in ECEC. They are educated in universities of applied sciences and vocational schools respectively. Vocational teacher education is provided by universities of applied sciences.

The faculties of education are responsible for providing education for ECEC teachers, class teachers, special needs education teachers and guidance counsellors, as well as for subject teacher education in home economics, crafts and, to some extent, music. Other subject teacher education is organised in co-operation between teacher education departments and subject departments and at art academies.

Subject teacher education is provided by university faculties of different subjects. Pedagogical studies are provided by teacher education units within faculties of education. Teacher education in art subjects is offered by art academies.

At universities of applied sciences vocational teacher education is generally the responsibility of a department of teacher education.

Pedagogical studies of 60 ECTS points required of all teachers

All teacher qualifications comprise teacher's pedagogical studies of a scope of 60 ECTS points.  Teachers’ pedagogical studies qualify teachers to work at any level or type of education.

In addition to theoretical studies in pedagogy and didactics, these studies comprise practical training in schools. The periods of teaching practice included in pedagogical studies are organised at university teacher training schools and at so-called affiliated schools. In vocational education and training most of the teacher students already work in a school and generally also do their practical training in these. At least part of the practice is supervised and assessed. The higher education institutions have autonomy regarding the length and scope of the teaching practice.

Teacher education is organised concurrently or consecutively

Class teacher and ECEC teacher education is organised concurrently: the pedagogical training and subject studies are intertwined. The length of ECEC teacher education is 3 years (180 ECTS) and class teacher education 5 years (300 ECTS).

In subject teacher education, students usually first apply to study a particular subject at the relevant university faculty and, after one or two years of studying, apply for subject teacher education. At some universities and faculties, students may also apply directly for subject teacher education. In such cases, education is provided in co-operation between the department of teacher education, the relevant subject departments and teacher training schools. The department of teacher education is responsible for providing pedagogical studies, whereas subject departments of different faculties provide education in the teaching subjects. These studies are taken in parallel and in interaction with each other. The length of subject teacher education is 5-6 years.

Education for teachers at vocational institutions partly differs from the training of teachers at general educational institutions. Vocational teacher education is always consecutive for teachers of vocational studies.

Teachers first acquire vocational education in their own subject field and after three years of working practice in their own filed complement this with by teachers’ pedagogical studies. Teachers of common core subjects in vocational education and training have the same training as subject teachers in general education.

Special needs teacher education

In ECEC special education teachers are required an ECEC teacher qualification and specialisation in special needs education. The specialisation of 60 ECTS points can be included into the ECEC teacher qualification or taken separately. These specialisation studies take approximately one academic year and also include practical training. Special education teachers in ECEC can also take a bachelor’s or master’s degree in education with special needs pedagogy as the main subject.

In general education the requirement is specialisation studies of 60 ECTS after teaching qualification.

Vocational teacher education colleges offer special needs teacher education with a scope of 60 ECTS credits, which qualifies teachers to work as special needs teachers at vocational institutions. Also for these studies there is a prerequisite of a teacher qualification. Most special needs teachers work at vocational special institutions.

Admission requirements

Admission procedures to teacher education programmes vary according to type of education. In most cases there is an entrance examination and assessment of aptitude. Teacher education institutions have autonomy in deciding on their admission procedure. Today, however, many institutions cooperate in student selection.

Admission to teacher education for general education

Students for class teacher education (primary education) are selected on the basis of an entrance examination. The entrance examination for class teacher education often includes a written examination, an aptitude test and interviews. Some universities also include a group situation and an optional skills demonstration as part of their entrance examination. Admission requirements for ECEC teacher education are mainly as for class teacher education.

Cooperation in the student selection for teacher education programmes in different universities has been intensified in the last ten years. The cooperation within the VAKAVA network has simplified the admission procedures and increased cooperation between universities. The student selection procedure has also become more user-friendly. If the applicants are successful in this exam, they will receive an invitation to an aptitude test from the university they have applied to.

Those wanting to become subject teachers apply to the respective university faculties and departments of their main subject (such as mathematics), following the usual procedure. Generally, those admitted to a degree programme and aiming to be subject teachers will then separately apply for subject teacher education. Admission to subject teacher education is based either on aptitude tests alone, or on aptitude tests and the applicant’s study record. Today, some universities also have programmes, where people apply directly into subject teacher education.

It is also possible to take separate pedagogical studies after completing higher education degree. The studies are organised to allow students to complete them in one academic year. The admission procedure is similar to other teacher education programmes.

Admission to special education teacher in ECEC and special needs teacher programmes requires that the applicant has completed teacher education. The selection is based on for example previous studies, results from a preassigned assignment and interview.

Admission to vocational teacher education

People who have the education and work experience required of teachers at vocational institutions are eligible for vocational teacher education. Depending on the vocational institution and teaching subject, teachers are required to have either 1) an appropriate master’s degree; 2) an appropriate university of applied sciences degree; or 3) the highest possible qualification in their own occupational field, at least three years of work experience in the field and to have completed pedagogical studies with a scope of at least 60 ECTS credits.

The admission requirements for vocational special needs teacher education include qualifications required of vocational institution teachers and at least one year of teaching experience at a vocational institution.

The admission is generally based on the previous studies and experience of the candidates.

Curriculum, level of specialisation and learning outcomes

Teacher qualifications for general and vocational institutions were harmonised in 1999. The same minimum of 60 ECTS credits of pedagogical studies is required of teachers for all types of educational institution (basic education, general upper secondary schools, vocational institutions and liberal adult education institutions). The studies comprise basic and subject studies in education, subject didactics and teaching practice. The teacher education institutions have full autonomy in designing their curricula.

As most vocational teacher students already work as teachers, the training programmes are more and more flexible and personalised in vocational teacher education institutions. Since 2005 also virtual teacher education programmes have been offered.

Teachers at general educational institutions

Education and care staff in ECEC

The bachelor’s degree required of teachers in ECEC may be completed in three academic years. The majority of the graduated ECEC teachers work in ECEC centres as teachers and educators of children under school age.

Studies in ECEC teacher education consist of the following study modules:

  • language and communication studies
  • basic and subject studies in education
  • studies providing professional skills needed in early childhood education and care and pre-primary education
  • subsidiary subject studies
  • optional studies.

The education also includes teaching practice chiefly in different forms of ECEC and pre-primary education. Theoretical studies and teaching practice form an integrated whole, which aims to provide the skills to implement the education process stemming from the child’s needs. Research is integrated into the studies at an early stage.

Qualified ECEC teachers can continue their studies to become special education teachers in ECEC, to complete a master’s degree with an orientation to education or early childhood education and care, for example.

Until recently, there was an alternative pathway to become an ECEC teacher through bachelor’s studies at a university of applied sciences. After the legislative reform in ECEC, the bachelor’s degree in healthcare and social services comprising studies in ECEC and social pedagogy from a university of applied sciences qualifies to the new job title of social pedagogue in ECEC. 

The third category of qualified education and care staff in ECEC centres are childcarers. They are required an upper secondary vocational qualification in healthcare and social services or education and guidance.

Class teachers in primary education

Class teacher education consists of basic, subject and advanced studies in education, minor subject studies and teaching practice. Class teachers may provide instruction in all subjects in grades 1–6. They may specialise in teaching one or several subjects in their minor subject studies. Completion of an extensive course in a minor subject (studies in the teaching subject of at least 60 ECTS credits included in subject teacher education) will also give eligibility for functioning as a subject teacher in grades 1–9 of basic education. The majority of currently graduating class teachers have acquired both class and subject teaching qualifications.

The master’s degree in class teacher education consists of the following study modules:

  • language and communication studies
  • basic and subject studies in education
  • advanced studies in education
  • minor subject studies
  • optional studies.

Teaching practice may be included in basic, subject and advanced studies. Teaching practice consists of an orientation practicum as part of the subject studies in education and of an advanced practicum. In the orientation practicum, students familiarise themselves with teaching and pupils. Students practise in pairs or alone at affiliated schools or at teacher training schools run by universities. They observe teaching, act as team teachers and practise teaching. In the advanced practicum, students are trained to teach different subjects, to plan lessons, to use basic forms of instruction as well as to assess instruction and learning.

The purpose is to broaden the students’ idea of teaching work and to familiarise them with different methods of carrying out the duties of teachers. Another aim is for students to find their own ways of functioning as class teachers and to become capable of developing their instruction and of taking independent, creative and justified solutions to problems, which may occur in teaching situations. In addition, the objective of the advanced practicum is to guide students in assessing their own work (reflection) and to support their professional growth.

Subject teachers in basic education and upper secondary education

In subject teacher education the main subject of the students is the subject they intend to teach. Exceptions are students selected for subject teacher education in home economics and craft (textile work, technical work): they are admitted to university faculties of education, where the education mainly takes place. In other subject teacher education, students are selected to those education units, which teach the relevant fields of science or the arts. Students aiming to become subject teachers study in accordance with the subject teacher programme in the faculty of their main subject. The education is organised so that the faculties’ subject departments are responsible for providing instruction in the relevant subject, whereas the department of teacher education is responsible for organising their studies in education

Teaching practice takes place at affiliated schools or at the teacher training schools of universities. The training includes the following areas:

  • Teaching observation. Hours reserved for teaching observation are distributed appropriately between different periods of teaching practice.
  • Giving supervised lessons alone and/or alongside other teacher trainees. The number of practice lessons varies according to the nature of the subjects, the standards of teaching methods, the practice needed by the trainee and the school’s resources.
  • Subject-didactic group counselling. Group counselling includes discussion, planning and assessment meetings between instructors and teacher trainees; the purpose is to strengthen the trainee’s own identity as a teacher.

In addition, teacher training schools provide all teacher trainees with pedagogical lectures, seminars and other teaching on schoolwork.

Special needs teachers

Special needs teacher studies focus on the development of children and young people and deviations in it, recognition and diagnostics of development and learning abilities as well as planning and implementation of intervention and other teaching. The students also gain an insight into the part played by homes, schools and the rest of society in the development and schooling of a child.

The central professional areas are early education, basic education, secondary education, rehabilitation and other institutional care as well as different research and administrative tasks in school, health and social services.

Often the students have an individual study plan and teacher tutor. Peer learning and peer evaluation are also considered valuable for the development of the students’ own understanding and performance. Similarly to all teacher education the interaction of theory and practice, and an investigative approach are considered central.

Teachers at vocational institutions

Subject teachers

Teachers of common core subjects, such as languages and mathematics, at vocational institutions have the same education as subject teachers working within the general education sector (see above).

Vocational studies teachers

The aim of vocational teacher education is to provide students with the skills and knowledge to guide the learning of different kinds of students and to develop their own field of teaching, taking developments in occupations and working life into account. The studies include basic studies in education, vocational subject pedagogic studies, teaching practice and other studies.

The vocational teacher education institutions are free to design their own curriculum. The curricula however, commonly aim at training teaching professionals who can combine theory and practice, who can reflect on their own practice and continuously develop their teaching. A focus is also to encourage the students to work collaboratively, both during their studies and later during their professional lives.

The studies are conducted in close cooperation between the teacher education institutions and vocational schools in the field. As many teacher students in vocational teacher education are in employment, the studies are designed so that they can be conducted flexibly in 1-3 years. The aim with the flexible study arrangements has been to connect the teacher education with the development of the teachers’ own work and the activities of their institutions.  It is also common to draw up an individual learning programme for teacher education together with each student teacher so that the studies build on their prior learning.

Special needs teachers in vocational institutions

Vocational teacher education colleges offer special needs teacher education, which qualifies teachers to work as special needs teachers at vocational institutions. Most special needs teachers work at vocational special institutions.

The aim is to train experts who, in addition to their own educational work, can supervise the special pedagogical work of other teachers and the institution as a whole. Commonly the education is implemented as alternating periods of in-class study and distance study. Programmes generally consist of development projects related to special needs teaching, assignments and teaching practice. The various stages of the education may be very individual and include personal focuses, related to the students’ backgrounds, competences and expectations.

Teacher educators

The qualification requirements for teacher educators are the same as for other teaching posts in higher education institutions. Each university defines the qualification requirements in their own regulations. Generally university teachers are required at least a master’s degree and good teaching skills. Lecturers at universities are generally required a postgraduate licentiate’s or doctor’s degree and good teaching skills. In teacher training schools are affiliated to the teacher education faculties. The requirement is a teacher qualification and teaching experience.

In vocational teacher education institutions, the qualification requirements are the same as for universities of applied sciences in general and defined in the legislation. Thus teacher educators who are appointed lecturers are required a master’s degree and pedagogical training while principal lecturers are required the postgraduate licentiate’s degree.

Qualifications, evaluation and certificates

As universities and universities of applied sciences have remarkable autonomy, students can be assessed in a multitude of ways. Studies can be assessed on the basis of written examinations (lectures and literature) or learning assignments, using either the pass/fail scale or for example a scale of excellent, very good, good, satisfactory and sufficient. The assessment is conducted by the teacher educators and the teachers in the schools where the students have undertaken their practical training. There is no separate accreditation procedure for teachers in Finland.

Students receive a degree certificate upon successful completion of all the required studies. If the student has been enrolled in concurrent teacher education, the pedagogical studies are integrated into the certificate for the Master’s degree. Student who have completed separate teacher’s pedagogical studies or vocational teacher studies, receive a separate certificate.

Alternative training pathways

There are no alternative training pathways except the consecutive teacher education model described under the heading “Institutions, level and models of training”.