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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of centre-based ECEC


4.Early childhood education and care

4.2Organisation of centre-based ECEC

Last update: 27 November 2023

Admission requirements and choice of settings


Municipalities must ensure that all children who need ECEC are assigned a place within 4 months of applying. In urgent cases where it was not possible to foresee the need in advance, a place must be assigned within two weeks of applying. Due to capacity constraints, the place can be assigned in another setting than the one that the parents applied for.

The parents can request for an appeal against a decision concerning ECEC place to a municipal multi-member decision-making body. If they are not satisfied with the decision following the request for an administrative review, they can make a further appeal to an administrative court.

The parents can also apply for a place in a private ECEC setting. In this case, the service provider can decide about the selection and admittance procedures. 

Pre-primary education for six-year-olds

Pre-primary education can be organised in early education centres, schools or other suitable setting. Most children attend pre-primary education in early education centres.  

Municipalities issue in advance notice of places providing pre-primary education, the starting and ending dates of instruction as well as inform of the application procedures for pre-primary education. The practical application procedures are decided locally. 

Municipalities are expected to assign a pre-primary education place close to the child’s home. Parents may also apply for a pre-primary place other than the one assigned by their local authority. Equal selection criteria must be used in the selection of these children. Nevertheless, the local authority may decide that applicants living within its area are given priority.

Parents have a right of appeal with the Regional State Administrative Agencies against the decision concerning the admission to a pre-primary setting. 

Group size and child-staff ratios

Groups in early education centres

Activities and groups in early education centers are usually organised by age group. A typical way of forming groups is to have

  • groups of children under 3 years
  • groups of children between 3 and 6
  • groups of children in pre-primary education.

Other models exist as well. For example, a group with children in pre-primary education may also include younger children in ECEC. Children from the same family may also be enrolled in the so-called sibling groups with a wider age distribution. 

The maximum number of children per adult is regulated by law. In early education centres the ratio is 1:4 for children under three years, and 1:7 for children aged three or more. The latter ratio can be up to 1:13 when children are enrolled for less than 5 hours a day. The number of children present in a group cannot exceed the number of children allowed for three adults.  

The legislation underlines the importance of stable relationships between the children and the personnel in ECEC.

Multiprofessional staff in early education centres

The staff responsible for upbringing, education and care in early education centres consists of qualified teachers, social pedagogues and childcarers in ECEC.

Currently, at least 1/3 of staff members are required a higher education degree (ISCED 6 or higher). They can be either teachers in ECEC or social pedagogues in ECEC. The remaining 2/3 are childcarers in ECEC with a vocational upper secondary qualification (ISCED 3) from healthcare and social services or education and guidance. 

The staff structure of ECEC centres is gradually changing. From 2030, at least 2/3 of the staff are required to have a higher education degree, and at least half of these staff members must be qualified teachers in ECEC. 

Municipalities have a statutory duty to ensure that the services of a special education teachers in ECEC are available to the extent needed. There may be also other staff members to meet the needs of the children and the objectives of ECEC.

Pre-primary education for six-year-olds

In early education centres, pre-primary education often takes place in separate groups. The group may also include younger children. In schools, pre-primary education can be provided either in a separate group or integrated into a group of pupils in primary education.

The provisions of the ECEC Act concerning adult:child ratio and group size also apply to pre-primary education when it takes place in early education centres. 

The legislation governing the single-structure primary and lower secondary education (basic education) does not regulate class size. Therefore, the maximum group size in pre-primary education organised in a school is not stipulated by law. 

According to a recommendation by the Ministry of Education and Culture, pre-primary groups should not be bigger than 13 children. The recommendation covers all pre-primary education irrespective of where it is provided. If there is a special needs assistant, childcarer or other qualified staff member supporting the teacher, the maximum group size may be up to 20 children. 

Pre-primary education is the responsibility of either a qualified teacher in ECEC (min. ISCED 6) or a class teacher (ISCED 7). 

Annual, weekly and daily organisation


The municipalities have a statutory duty to ensure that their ECEC provision meets the local demand. The annual calendar and daily opening hours of ECEC units are decided locally. 

Most ECEC settings are closed during July and public holidays. Municipalities must, however, ensure sufficient provision also during holiday seasons. Children may temporarily attend another ECEC setting if their own setting is closed for holiday.

Early education centres and family day care premises provide full time services. There is some variation in the opening hours, but usually they correspond to typical working hours of parents. As a main rule, the child’s day in ECEC should not exceed 10 hours. 

Municipalities also provide evening, over-night and weekend care for children whose parents work shifts. 

National steering documents provide guidance on the activities that are to be included in ECEC but the decisions concerning the structure of the day and week are made locally.

Pre-primary education for six-year-olds

The duration of pre-primary education corresponds to one school year. The programme is provided for a minimum of 700 hours. The scope is the same regardless of the place where pre-primary education is provided, in early education centre or school. 

Each pre-primary education provider decides on the timetables of pre-primary education, such as the number of working days, the start and end dates of instruction and other practical arrangements. Pre-primary education usually follows the annual school calendar. Children in pre-primary education can continue to attend ECEC during school holidays. 

The National Core Curriculum for Pre-Primary Education (2014) defines joint objectives for instruction but not time allocation. Pre-primary education is integrated in nature, not subject-based.

Pre-primary education is usually provided four hours per day. Most children in pre-primary education are also enrolled in other ECEC services to make a full day. The way weekly and daily timetables are organised depends on the education provider. The education provider outlines these decisions in the local curriculum and the annual plan that complements it.