Early childhood education and care (ECEC) is the educational stage (International Standard Classification of Education level 0) prior to basic and compulsory education, which starts at the age of 6 years. The organisation and the minimum teaching standards for Early Childhood Education at national level are regulated by Royal Decree 95/2022.
This stage of schooling is for students between the ages of 0 and 5. Early Childhood Education is governed by the principles of equity and inclusion. In the programming, management and development of this stage, attention is paid to the compensation of inequalities of cultural, social and economic origin. Likewise, attention is paid to the early identification and prompt attention to specific educational support needs. For all this, all organisational, methodological and curricular measures are based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning.
Place guarantee to ECEC
Spanish legislation (Law on Education 2/2006 [LOE]. (Article 15.2 modified by Law on Education 3/2020 [LOMLOE]) guarantees that all children over 3 years of age have the legal right to a place in ECEC: The second cycle of early childhood education will be free. With the purpose of meeting the demands of families, the educational administrations will guarantee a sufficient number of places in public and publicly funded private schools, in the context of their educational programme. In addition, the Administrations must progressively increase the supply of public places in the first cycle of Early Childhood Education in order to meet all requests for schooling of children from 0 to 3 years of age. To this end, they may establish agreements with local corporations, other administrations and non-profit private entities to ensure the provision of education in this cycle. The educational administrations of the autonomous communities have incorporated this legal right into their regulations. In order to fulfil this, the procedures developed include the possible creation of admission guarantee committees —the name varies between the autonomous communities— in charge of supervising the admission process in the schools belonging to their area of influence. Families may submit their applications for admission to the school where they wish to enrol their children to the admission guarantee committees or to the educational administration, depending on the regulations of each autonomous community. The schools must be informed of the admission requests that affect them. By law, no child can be left without a place in a public or publicly funded school. Early Childhood Education is voluntary.
First cycle of ECEC (children aged 0–2 years): publicly funded settings
The first cycle of ECEC is not free of charge, but, since 2006, the number of places financed with public funds has been progressively increased in collaboration with the educational administrations of the autonomous communities. Additionally, Article 5 of Royal Decree 95/2022 establishes that: “The progressive implementation of the first cycle will be pursued through a sufficient public offer and the extension of free education, prioritising the access of students at risk of poverty and social exclusion as well as low schooling rates”. The fees that families must pay in the first cycle of public ECEC settings are determined by the administrations that own first-cycle settings. In addition, the educational administrations of the autonomous communities can regulate maximum public fees, for which they usually take into account criteria such as:
- more than one child in the family attending the same setting;
- household income;
- number of hours of the child's stay in the setting;
- use of the meal service.
Second cycle of ECEC (children aged 3-5 years): publicly funded settings
Article 15.2 of the LOE, as amended by the LOMLOE and Article 5 of Royal Decree 95/2022 establishes that the second cycle of ECEC is provided free of charge. The guaranteed number of free weekly hours for children is 25. The educational administrations of the autonomous communities regulate the organisation and operation of the complementary activities and complementary school services of transport and meals in the public educational centres in their area. Families are responsible for paying for the costs of these services, although there are grants that help cover them.
Both cycles of ECEC: private settings
Private settings have autonomy to establish the level of fees to be paid by families. These fees are a mandatory contribution to the cost of the services received, among which are:
- complementary activities (field trips and/or visits);
- extracurricular activities;
- supplementary services (meals, transport and residence);
- other services, such as extension of hours in nursery school and medical services.
Concerning funding, educational administrations of the autonomous communities can give grants for the payment of the registration and attendance fees of children attending private ECEC settings.