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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice


4.Early childhood education and care


Last update: 6 February 2023

Place guarantee to ECEC

ECEC is organised in two separate levels according to the age of children:

  • Educational services for children aged less than three years
  • Pre-primary schools for children aged from three to six years.

Neither of the two ECEC levels is compulsory and there is not a legal guarantee to a place in any of them.

Although ECEC for older children is not compulsory, over the years the State has adopted a policy of generalising the service. This means the State sets up pre-primary schools in areas of the country without such provision or where the provision is insufficient.

The distribution of settings for smaller children throughout the country is not as homogenous. In fact, their presence in the territory depends on local policies, on the initiatives of private subjects or associations, and on enterprises that sometimes organise services to meet the needs of their employees.

Finally, in some cases, early enrolment of children younger than age 3 is possible in pre-primary schools (see more 'Admission requirements and choice of ECEC setting’). 


Educational services for younger children (0-3), both public and private, are not free of charge. This type of provision, centre-based, home-based and organised in playgroups, has high running costs and, as a consequence, also high costs for families.

In public settings, local authorities, through their own regulations, may provide exemptions or charge different rates depending on families income.

In private settings, families usually pay the entire costs. However, private providers may apply discounts, for example for siblings attending the same service. Moreover, local authorities, on their own initiative or through funds allocated by the State and by the Regions, can apply exemptions or reductions of the fees also for the attendance of private settings.

ECEC for children aged between 3 and 6 years is available free of charge for all children in State settings. Families pay contributions for services provided by the local authority, such as transport, meals and out-of-hours provision, or for other costs established at local level. The amount of the contribution is usually linked to the family income and does not cover the entire cost of the service. The same applies to independent public settings, usually run by the local authorities themselves. Children attending State and public ECEC (3-6) settings are entitled to a weekly timetable of 40 hours.

Independent private settings, as well as home-based provision, are not free of charge and the amount of fees is established by the provider.