News Item, , Gütersloh: With too few educators at early childhood education centers, quality is often compromised

Bertelsmann Stiftung calls for a federal law setting uniform standards for child care centers

The quality of early childhood education often suffers because of a lack of personnel. Many of Germany's child care centers apply staffing formulas that fail to allow for a child-appropriate ratio of staff to children. There are also substantial differences from state to state. In centers for children under the age of three, one educator is responsible for an average of three children in Bremen and Baden-Württemberg, while a colleague in Saxony-Anhalt is responsible for more than six. "It is imperative that uniform quality standards be defined in a federal law on child care centers," said Jörg Dräger, member of Bertelsmann Stiftung's Executive Board. If the staffing formula recommended by Bertelsmann Stiftung were to become mandatory for all of Germany's child care centers, an additional 120,000 early childhood educators would have to be hired.

The quality of early childhood education often suffers because of a lack of personnel. Many of Germany's child care centers apply staffing formulas that fail to allow for a child-appropriate ratio of staff to children. There are also substantial differences from state to state. In centers for children under the age of three, one educator is responsible for an average of three children in Bremen and Baden-Württemberg, while a colleague in Saxony-Anhalt is responsible for more than six. "It is imperative that uniform quality standards be defined in a federal law on child care centers," said Jörg Dräger, member of Bertelsmann Stiftung's Executive Board. If the staffing formula recommended by Bertelsmann Stiftung were to become mandatory for all of Germany's child care centers, an additional 120,000 early childhood educators would have to be hired.

The foundation recommends that each educator should be responsible for no more than three children under the age of three, and no more than 7.5 over age three. "Policymakers and practitioners need to agree on child-appropriate national standards, in the interest of providing appropriate educa-tional opportunities for all of Germany's preschool children," Dräger noted. These standards need to be set down in a federal law governing child care centers. The law might also regulate the amount of time allotted for leadership responsibilities and establish quality standards for professional development and lunches. According to a recent Bertelsmann Stiftung study, the meals offered by child-care centers leave much to be desired. "Since the principle was upheld that children are entitled to a place in a child care center, Germany's states have been forced to expand the number of places available. It is now essential to enact a law ensuring quality as well as quantity," Dräger pointed out.

The states still differ greatly in their success in implementing appropriate staff-child ratios in child care centers. This is clear from Bertelsmann Stiftung's study "State by State: Monitoring Early Childhood Education," which has followed child care facilities for the past six years. Particularly striking is the gap between the eastern and western regions of Germany: In centers for children under the age of three, one educator is responsible for an average of 6.3 children in eastern Germany, while in the west the average is 1 to 3.8. And the situation is actually even worse than these numbers would suggest. Since no more than 75 percent of an educator's time is available for working with children, owing to the demands of team meetings, professional development and colleagues' vacations , the average educator is in fact responsible for at least eight children in the eastern states and at least five in the west.

In the case of centers for children under age three, the staffing formulas in effect in Bremen (1 to 3.2) and Baden-Württemberg (1 to 3.3) currently come closest to meeting the recommendations of Bertelsmann Stiftung (1 to 3). In Saxony-Anhalt, in contrast, one educator is responsible for an average of 6.7 children. There are similar differences in centers for children over age three: In the western states, the average staffing formula is 1 to 9.1; in the east it is 1 to 12.7. Once again, Bremen and Baden-Württemberg rank at the top, with staffing formulas of 1 to 7.7 and 1 to 8, respectively. At the bottom is Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania, where one educator is responsible for nearly twice as many children (14.9).

Meeting Bertelsmann Stiftung's staffing recommendations would require hiring an additional 120,000 early childhood educators. According to the foundation's calculations, this would cost roughly five billion euros, increasing current personnel costs (about 14 billion euros) by more than one-third (36 percent). "This is an enormous challenge, but it is an investment worth making – since high-quality child care is essential if every child is to enjoy a successful upbringing and fair educational opportunities," said Dräger.

However, Germany's states and communities generally lack the resources to finance such expenditures without additional help from the federal government. Accordingly, Bertelsmann Stiftung therefore recommends establishing a uniform standard for all of Germany in a federal law on child care centers, and that law should also determine the amount of support to be provided by the federal government.

About "State by State: Monitoring Early Childhood Education":

This study, which is updated each year, is based on analyses of data from the federal and state-level statistical offices that are taken from the child and youth welfare statistics and other official statistics as well as from a survey of all relevant state ministries that was conducted by Bertelsmann Stiftung. The data were gathered on March 1, 2013. Calculations were made by the Research Consortium German Youth Institute/Technical University Dortmund. Facts and figures concerning various aspects of the German states' early childhood education systems can be found online in german language at www.laendermonitor.de.

The staffing ratios mentioned in the press release refer to the ratio of full-time employees to children in full-time care. The staffing formula takes into account all work hours, both time spent directly with children and time required for other tasks, such as parent conferences, team meetings, professional development and/or working with other institutions. These tasks account for at least 25 percent of an educator's time. A staffing formula of 1 to 3 therefore corresponds to an educator-child ratio of one full-time employee to four children in full-time care.