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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Quality assurance in early childhood and school education


11.Quality assurance

11.1Quality assurance in early childhood and school education

Last update: 21 February 2024

The educational legislation, which also steers quality assurance, is based on a principle of decentralisation where the self-evaluation of education providers and the external evaluations of a national external body build the basis. 

The aim of the evaluations is to develop education and to support learning while ensuring the quality of education. The evaluations also produce information for local, regional and national decision-making on education as well as development work and international comparison.


Responsible bodies

The evaluation of ECEC is a statutory task (Act on Early Childhood Education and Care 540/2018) of ECEC providers. 

The duty of self-evaluation applies to all ECEC providers and all forms of ECEC. Both municipalities and other service providers are expected to systematically and regularly evaluate their own activities. This helps providers to recognise the strengths and development needs of their activities as well as improve the activities. 

In addition to their self-evaluation task, ECEC providers must participate in external evaluations of their activities. The purpose of the evaluation is to support achievement of the goals set for the ECEC and development of quality in ECEC.

The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) is the national body responsible for external evaluations in ECEC. It also supports ECEC providers in their self-evaluation by providing training and developing tools for quality assurance.

The Regional State Administrative Agencies (AVI) and the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, Valvira:  – and in the case of private service providers also the municipality where the private ECEC setting is located – are also involved in the oversight of the ECEC. 

Approaches and methods for quality assurance

According to the ECEC Act, the evaluation of ECEC is a statutory task of ECEC providers. 

The duty of the provider to evaluate its pedagogical activities is also outlined in the national core curriculum for ECEC. The regular evaluation and development of the local curriculum and the children's individual ECEC plans are part of this duty. According to the same document, the personnel's goal-oriented and systematic self-assessment is essential for maintaining and developing the quality of ECEC. 

The purpose of the evaluation of pedagogical activities is to develop the quality ECEC and to improve conditions for children's development and learning.

While regulations oblige the ECEC providers to evaluate their activities they don’t specify in detail how the evaluations should be done. The ECEC provider decides on the evaluation practices at the provider and unit level.

According to the ECEC Act both children and their parents must be given opportunities to participate in and influence the planning, implementation and evaluation of ECEC. The provider can decide on the ways of participation.  Similarly, publishing salient evaluation results is a statutory task for providers but interpretation of this requirement is a matter of local autonomy. 

The FINEEC has produced Guidelines and recommendations for evaluating the quality of early childhood education and care (2018). The purpose of the document is to support municipalities and private service providers in carrying out systematic and goal-oriented self-evaluation of their activities. 

In the evaluation model quality is composed of structural and process-related factors. The structural factors are related to the organisation of ECEC. The process-related factors describe how the objectives and content determined for ECEC are implemented in practice. Quality indicators related to structural and process factors at the national, local and pedagogical activity level form a framework for evaluation. 

ECEC providers are expected to use the indicators to draw up more detailed criteria through which they evaluate their own activities. 

FINEEC prepared the document in cooperation with a body of external experts. The experts had strong expertise of research and steering of ECEC. Key stakeholders, including representatives of municipal and private ECEC services, were heard during the preparation.

FINEEC continues to develop tools for operationalising the quality indicators into a form that can be used in evaluations.

General and vocational education

Responsible bodies

Education providers are obliged by law to evaluate their education and its effectiveness and to participate in external evaluations. Evaluation primarily stems from the educational objectives of the municipality, which must be based on national objectives. Local-level evaluations are conducted by municipalities and educational institutions.

At regional level, the monitoring of education is partly carried out by the Regional State Administrative Agencies (AVI). Regional evaluation targets include the serviceability of the network of educational institutions and the satisfaction of the needs set by demand for education.

At national level, evaluation of education is the responsibility of the the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre, FINEEC. FINEEC operates as a separate unit within the Finnish National Agency for Education. 

FINEEC conducts national evaluations of learning outcomes as well as various thematic and system-level evaluations. The aim is to:

  • produce knowledge for development and decision-making,
  • ensure educational equity and the quality of instruction,
  • function as tools for steering and development in schools.

Evaluation findings are used in the development of the education system and the core curricula and instruction. FINEEC also supports education providers and schools in the development of their own quality assurance activities.

FINEEC has a director appointed by the Government. The director leads the organisation and is responsible for its effectiveness. The Government also appoints an Evaluation Council for FINEEC.

The Council draws up a proposal for the National Plan for Education Evaluations, which is approved by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Evaluations are carried out according to this plan. The current plan is for years 2020-2023.

Aproaches and methods for quality assurance

Self-evaluation is mandatory but evaluation practices are decided locally

Education providers are obliged by law to evaluate their education and its effectiveness and to participate in external evaluations. The principles of evaluation are laid down in the legislation of each school form.  

The aim of both the internal and external evaluation is to develop education and to support learning while ensuring the quality of education. The monitoring, regular evaluation and development of the local curriculum and annual plans are part of this duty.

The evaluations also produce information for local, regional and national decision-making on education as well as development work and international comparison. 

Both education providers and schools are expected to have a plan for evaluation and development. The providers have the autonomy to decide on the objectives by themselves.

There are no national directives regarding the methods of internal evaluation. Education providers may use their own procedures or commission external evaluations. External evaluations are not very frequently used in general education. 

The legislation requires that key results of evaluations must be published, but it doesn’t provide detailed instructions on the ways that the findings should be published

Growing shares of education providers have some system of evaluation to underpin their work. The evaluation system adopted should primarily be officially approved by the education provider or a school body. The administrative and teaching personnel of the individual schools generally take part in the development of appropriate evaluation system and in the evaluation itself. 

National evaluations of learning outcomes in general education

Finnish Education Evaluation Centre FINEEC carries out national-level evaluations of learning outcomes in pre-primary and basic education. These are sample-based evaluations that can be extrapolated to apply to the entire age group. Approximately 5–10% of the pupils in the age group participate in the evaluation. Education providers can choose to join the evaluation even if they are not in the sample by financing their participation themselves.

In addition to the direct assessment, information is collected from principals, teachers and pupils, for example, on working methods and teaching arrangements, educational resources, student assessment and study attitudes of the pupils.

The focus of national evaluations is the whole education system. Assessments of learning outcomes provide data on how the objectives of the national core curricula for pre-primary and basic education have been reached. The results provide follow-up data on, for example, regional and gender-based differences as well pupils’ attitudes and motivation towards studies.

The FINEEC publishes the key results of the evaluation in a report. It also draws up a summary for the needs of national education authorities, departments of teacher education, education providers, schools, teachers and wider audience.

Participating schools and education providers receive feedback on their own results proportioned with the national average. This helps them to recognise their own strengths and development targets. The information is used in developing education. 

In general upper secondary education, a national standardized test - the matriculation examination (see 6.1) - provide annual up-to-date monitoring data on how students have attained the objectives set by the national core curriculum. 

Thematic and system level evaluations support decision-making and development of education

The FINEEC also carries out thematic and system-level evaluations that focus on important aspects of educational policy, the education system as a whole, or parts of it. The aim is to produce information to support decision-making and the development of education. 

In thematic and system evaluation, a multidisciplinary planning and evaluation group is formed for the evaluation project. The evaluation methods are varied. The key is to take into account perspectives of various stakeholders, critical and profound study of the phenomenon to be evaluated and to get a comprehensive understanding of the evaluation target.

Examples of thematic and system evaluations by the FINEEC:

Quality management in vocational upper secondary education

The Act on Vocational Education and Training (531/2017) requires VET providers to implement quality management systems and quality assurance at all levels. 

The quality management of VET has been developed over a long period of time. The development work has been guided both by national (e.g. Quality strategy for vocational education and training 2030) and European level policies. The increased decision-making powers of VET providers together with changes in the operating environment underline the importance of quality management. 

Close cooperation with the working life at national, regional and education provider level is a significant part of the quality assurance of VET. Working life representatives participate, for example, in the anticipation of learning and education needs and the development of vocational qualifications. Working life committees participate in ensuring the quality of the implementation of competence demonstrations and competence assessment. 

The Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) carries out external evaluations of VET. 
VET is evaluated with

  • learning outcomes evaluations
  • thematic and system evaluations and
  • evaluations of quality management.

Learning outcomes evalutions tell whether the objectives of the VET are reached. The quality of VET providers’ pedagogical activities and its link with learning and competence is also evaluated in the learning outcomes evaluations.

Thematic and system evaluations can cover several school forms or focus specifically on VET. Recent examples of the latter are:

In quality management, FINEEC’s task is to provide information on the state of VET providers’ quality management systems and to support VET providers in developing their quality management. The evaluations of quality management systems cover the entire operation of the VET provider.