The sample consists of children attending German ECEC about two years before their school enrollment. To be able to accompany these children later on in their elementary schools, an indirect sampling method was used. This indirect sampling method is based on a nationally representative sample of elementary schools. In order to make it possible for these elementary schools to function as a link between the early childhood and school surveys in the NEPS, all ECEC from which children are being transferred to schools in this sample have been identified. Then, a random sample was drawn from these ECEC. The survey and individual tests of the first wave started in 2011, comprising 279 ECEC with 2,996 children that were cared for in 720 groups. Panel stability cannot yet be specified as data of the second wave will be available not until end of 2013.
The results reported are based on self-administered questionnaires that were filled in by the heads of institutions and the teachers of the participating ECEC. Whereas the questionnaire for heads focuses on gathering information on characteristics of the respective institutions (e.g., size and composition of the ECEC, staffing, pedagogical orientations, etc.), the questionnaire for teachers focuses on gathering information on class characteristics (e.g., size and composition of the class, activities, materials, etc.).
There are different ECEC providers in Germany. A distinction can be made between public and nonpublic (but nonprofit) providers, with public institutions being managed by local communities. Nonpublic providers often belong to the church or to welfare organizations. Whereas 34.8% of the participating institutions are run by public providers, the majority is controlled by nonpublic organizations. Most prominent among the nonpublic sponsors are church-based organizations: 25.5% are run by Diakonisches Werk and other sponsors affiliated with the Protestant Church, and 18.1% are managed by the Caritas and other sponsors associated with the Catholic Church. Interestingly, the share of children with immigrant background is not significantly higher in public institutions than in institutions run by church-related providers. Looking at the fees for ECEC services, we find that about 18.8% of the parents report paying nothing. The mean value of fees is about €96 with a big standard deviation of 89, mostly due to some outliers paying up to €1,060 per month. However, 90% of all participating parents are within the range of 0 to €200, and the amount of fees parents have to pay does not vary between public and nonpublic providers.
The overall size of institutions measured by the sum of children that are registered varies substantially: Whereas most institutions have about 67 registered children, the mean value amounts to about 75 children with a standard deviation of 37.4 due to some very large institutions that record up to 245 registered children. However, the overall size of the institution does not seem to be associated with the children’s competencies, and there is no significant difference between public and nonpublic providers with regard to the number of registered children.
Opening hours range between 25 hours and almost 78 hours per week in our sample, but the middle 50% of the distribution lies within the range of 30 to 65 hours and clearly concentrates on 45 hours: More than 25% of the institutions report that they provide their services on 45 hours per week. Again, there is no significant difference between public and nonpublic providers, but the size of institutions positively correlates with the number of opening hours.
In order to structure the work of looking after the children in these institutions, almost all ECEC form core groups. Only about 5% of the participants report that they work exclusively with open groups without forming any core groups. Most common are age-mixed groups (children between the ages of 2 or 3 to 6 years old), but about 40% of institutions also report to have special groups for children under the age of 3 (crèches). The mean size of our target children’s core groups amounts to about 20 children. The mean share of children with immigrant background in these institutions is recorded as 21.2%, (SD = 24.1). Most groups have two teachers working part-time (50–75% of a full-time equivalent).
Irrespective of ECEC providers and the way in which working with the children is organized, there is a German peculiarity concerning pedagogical orientations. The so-called situation-oriented pedagogy (Situationsansatz) has a long-lasting tradition in the practice of working with children. “Erziehung, Bildung, Betreuung” (educare) are inseparable activities in this approach. However, there are also other pedagogical concepts such as Waldorf, Montessori, or Reggio that some institutions include in their everyday work. We have asked the heads of institutions as to the extent to which their day-to-day pedagogical work is influenced by different pedagogical approaches. As a result, 87.1% reported to be fairly or very influenced by the Situationsansatz, 13.9% by Montessori, and 8.8% by Reggio pedagogics (multiple answers were possible).
Furthermore, the ECEC institutions may focus their work on supporting (one or several) areas of development. Most institutions stated that they had a specific focus (77.2%). Most prominent is the focus on motor development (51.9%), music (30.4%), and natural sciences (33.8%), whereas mathematics (17.7%) and foreign languages (12.0%) are reported much less in comparison.
Despite its popularity, the Situationsansatz has been criticized for being simplified and arbitrary in practice because of its (theoretical) complexity. As a reaction to this early criticism during the nineties, and as a consequence of the German PISA shock about 10 years later, the debate on educational standards for ECEC environments has become more prominent (OECD, 2004).
Since then, more emphasis has been placed on the educational task of the ECEC environment—first and foremost in terms of political declarations of understanding and programs on the federal and state level. Several constructs are measured within the NEPS that consider quality development, education plans, and the amount of structuring the everyday work in terms of written lesson plans. We asked the heads if their institutions had participated in any quality development program over the past 12 months and 45.3% of them agreed. Because there are numerous measures and plans for quality development, we offered a list from which to choose the most prominent quality measures. The results indicate the heterogeneity in this field because the majority of institutions reported having engaged in a program that was not included in the list. Since 2005, almost all German Federal States have introduced education plans for the ECEC sector. Those plans can be best understood as guidelines for a curriculum. Those plans differ substantially by state concerning their length and particularity, but none of them is a compulsory curriculum. Instead, it must rather be viewed as a reference guide for educational tasks and focuses in the field of ECEC. We asked whether the daily work was influenced by these plans and whether these plan were useful for their (everyday) pedagogical work. Consequently, 93.7% of the participants rather or fully agreed that their work was influenced by these education plans, and 88.5% rather or fully agreed that these plans were useful for their pedagogical work. Furthermore, working with and fostering the development of children with special educational needs can be organized by using individual plans. Here, 46.8% of the institutions reported that they had individual plans to foster children with developmental disabilities, 40.5% had those plans for children with disabilities, 27.9% for children with immigration background, and 9.7% had plans for gifted children. International research has indicated that ECEC class teachers’ level of qualification is associated with ECEC quality and thus also with the children’s educational progress (Sylva et al., 2004). However, looking at the pedagogical staff in Germany’s ECEC, there is almost no variation with regard to the formal educational level. With 69%, Erzieherinnen (the name ErzieherinFootnote 2 derives from the German term Erziehung and might be best translated as kindergarten pedagogue) form the major part of the total personnel employed (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2012). Surveying the demographics and qualifications of the participating heads of ECEC institutions, we found that about 95% were female, and their mean age was 51 years. As ECEC class teachers, about one third of the heads of institutions held qualifications allowing them to study at university, and almost 23% also had a professional qualification based on a university degree. Most of them had participated in further training over the past 12 months. On average, the duration of further training activities was 77 hours. The most hours of further training were spent on learning about fields of quality development and management tasks. Looking at the ECEC class-teacher demographics and qualifications, only about 2.7% of the group leaders were male. The mean age was approximately 42 years. About one third of teachers had left school with a degree that allowed them to study at university. Yet only about 5% held a professional qualification based on a university degree, whereas about 90% were Erzieherinnen. More variation becomes visible when looking at further training. The class teachers participated in about 30 hours (mean value) of further training within the last 12 months. Most hours of their further training was concerned with the fields of reading, writing, school preparation, quality development, and support of children with special needs. Further training concerning the documentation of children’s developmental progress was mentioned most often, but — regarding the number of hours actually spent on this field — took up a smaller share of training courses.