The Norwegian Education Mirror, 2019

Kindergartens

Kindergarten enrolment has increased considerably in recent times. 9 out of 10 children in Norway now attend kindergarten. Although kindergarten is not compulsory, it is seen as a part of the Norwegian education system. Kindergarten is an important arena for children’s all-round development through care, play and learning.

Number and types of kindergartens

There are 5,788 kindergartens in Norway. Among these, 498 are family kindergartens and 117 are open kindergartens. 47 per cent of kindergartens are municipal kindergartens, while 53 per cent are privately owned. 50 per cent of children attend municipal kindergartens. Local authorities cover more than 80 per cent of the cost of running both municipal and private kindergartens. Around 15 per cent of the cost is met by the parents, while earmarked government funding and other grants from local authorities and kindergarten owners make up a small part of the kindergarten funding.

16 per cent of children attend kindergartens with more than 100 children

The number of kindergartens has fallen steadily in the last few years. Kindergartens with fewer than 26 children are seeing the greatest decline. The number of very large kindergartens has stabilised in recent years. Around 16 per cent of children attend kindergartens with more than 100 children. This figure has remained stable in the past five years.

Children in kindergarten

Kindergarten enrolment has increased considerably since the 1980s. In 1963 only 2 per cent of children aged 1–5 attended kindergarten (Statistics Norway). The increase in enrolment is due both to changes in society, such as rising labour force participation amongst women, and to various political initiatives. Following the Kindergarten Agreement in 2003 – when the Norwegian parliament voted to establish kindergarten provision for every child in law – there has been a significant increase in the number of children who attend kindergarten. The biggest increase in enrolment has been amongst the youngest children and amongst minority language children.

High enrolment rates, especially amongst the oldest children

At the end of 2018, 278,578 children were enrolled in kindergarten. A total of 91.7 per cent of children in the 1–5 age group are enrolled in kindergarten. However, the proportion of children who are enrolled in kindergarten increases with age. 73.2 per cent of 1-year-olds attend kindergarten, while for 5-year-olds the enrolment is 97.6 per cent.

Number of children i kindergartens and enrolment rates
All age groupsNumber of childrenEnrolment rate
0 years21964.0
1 years4215073.2
2 years5626493.2
3 years5843696.4
4 years5930397.3
5 years5983697.6
6 years393

Staff

Kindergartens employed 77,100 FTEs in 2018. 64,100 of these FTEs are pedagogical leaders and other staff who work directly with the children. Staff who work directly with the children are referred to as contact staff/ core staff. In addition to these come kindergarten heads, special educational needs staff and staff providing accelerated language learning. 3,200 FTES are filled by admin staff, caretakers, cleaners and cooks.

4 out of 10 kindergarten staff are teachers

41 per cent of core staff are qualified kindergarten teachers or hold equivalent qualifications. 20 per cent are qualified child care and youth workers.

The proportion of staff with a kindergarten teaching qualification or equivalent rose from 38.0 per cent in 2016 to 41.0 per cent in 2018.

Improved staff density

Staffing levels nationally remained largely unchanged at 6.0 children for every staff member between 2013 and 2017. In 2018 staffing levels increased to 5.8 children for every staff member. There has been a corresponding reduction in the number of children per kindergarten teacher or equivalent since 2016.

Municipal kindergartens have higher staff density than private kindergartens. Municipal kindergartens have an average of 5.7 children for every staff member, while private kindergartens have an average of 6.0 children for every staff member. It appears that new and stricter regulations are resulting in a gradual increase in staff and teacher density.

More dispensations

The new regulations on teaching staff has led to a need for significantly more pedagogical leaders. Some of the kindergartens that are unable to achieve the required ratio apply for dispensation. In 2018 a total of 10 per cent of FTEs worked by pedagogical leaders were permanent or temporary dispensations from the qualification requirement, an increase of 5 percentage points compared to 2017. Before 2018 there was a dwindling number of pedagogical leaders with dispensation from the qualification requirement, but since the requirement to the teacher-to-child ratio was changed in 2018 the percentage of pedagogical leaders with dispensations has increased once again. It would therefore appear that imposing stricter requirements – at least during a transition period – may result in an increase in the number of dispensations.

Kindergartens with dispensation from the child-to-teacher ratio

201620172018
Dispensation from the teacher-to-child ratio121108407
Percentage2 %2 %8 %
All kindergartens528852265173

Stricter requirements result in genuine improvements

Since 2016 the number of children per teacher has fallen from 16.1 to 14.4, while the number of children per core staff member has fallen from 6.0 to 5.8. At the same time many kindergartens are also granted dispensation from the child-to-teacher ratio. The local authority may grant a dispensation from the child-to-teacher ratio for up to one year at a time if there in particular reasons. There is reason to believe that the proportion of kindergartens with a dispensation or the proportion of kindergartens not meeting the new requirements could continue to fall over time, as happened in the years before the child-to-teacher ratio was lowered.

Kindergarten quality and content

The staffing requirements are founded on the belief that staff density and staff qualifications are linked to the quality of the kindergarten provision. Studies show that staff numbers and formal staff qualifications both have an impact on the children’s well-being and development in that they affect the interaction between children and staff (OECD, 2018). Class size and the number of children per staff member also impact the quality of the interaction between the children and kindergarten staff (OECD, 2018).

Observations of kindergarten practices have revealed that kindergarten teachers are more likely than other staff members to actively set boundaries and enable verbal communication and autonomy for the children when interacting with them (Bjørnestad et al., 2019). A study of the youngest kindergarten children (GoBaN) found that qualified staff, high staff density and small and stable classes have a positive effect on the adult-child relationship, which in turn positively impacts the children’s well-being (Bjørnestad & Os, 2018).

Staff want additional training

Kindergarten employees are reporting a growing need for additional skills in relation to children entitled to special educational support and children with a mother tongue other than Norwegian. This is particularly true for staff with a high proportion of such children in their kindergarten (OECD, 2019).

The desire for further training amongst both kindergarten staff and owners is being met by offering in-service training, amongst other things. 367 kindergarten heads enrolled in in-service training in the 2019-20 academic year. The head teacher training course is a management training programme for kindergarten heads. In the same academic year 900 kindergarten teachers were offered continuing education by the Directorate for Education and Training. The training covers the learning environment and pedagogical leadership, science and mathematics, and language development and language learning.

One barrier against participating in such skills development programmes is that kindergartens lack replacement staff to cover any absences, according to the TALIS kindergarten survey. Another barrier is lack of time due to family commitments (OECD, 2019).

Kindergartens are increasingly engaging with the Framework Plan

Kindergarten content is regulated by the Kindergarten Act and the Framework Plan for the Content and Tasks of Kindergartens. The Framework Plan defines values, responsibilities and roles, working methods and learning areas, amongst other things.

The Directorate for Education and Training's annual survey of the kindergarten sector found that kindergartens have stepped up their work on all of the learning areas (Fagerholt et al., 2019). This can be interpreted as a growing emphasis on kindergarten content. 73 per cent of the owners who were surveyed said their head teachers have welcomed the new Framework Plan. The topics in the Framework Plan with the greatest need for support materials in 2018 were digital practices, life skills, health and sustainable development (Fagerholt et al., 2019).

Parents are satisfied with their children’s kindergarten

Parents who responded to the survey are generally satisfied with the kindergarten provision. 93 per cent of parents who responded to the survey are very or fairly satisfied with the provision on the whole. The parents’ responses have changed little in the three years the survey has been running. The Parent Survey shows that parents are the most satisfied with the children’s well-being and development and the relationship between the children and the adults. As many as 97 per cent of parents completely or partially agree that their child enjoys going to kindergarten.

However, there is a slight fall in satisfaction ratings when it comes to staff density in 2018 compared with 2017 and 2016. This may be due to the attention around the new core staff ratio. Actual staff density increased in the same period. There also seems to be little or no correlation between the structural characteristics of a kindergarten – such as its size, staff qualifications and staff density – and parent satisfaction (Opinion, 2019).

The parents of the youngest children are slightly more satisfied with the kindergarten provision than the parents of the oldest children, although the difference is minor. When asked about overall satisfaction, 95 per cent of parents with children aged 1–2 and 92 per cent of parents with children aged 3 or older said that they are very or fairly satisfied with their kindergarten. The parents of the youngest children are slightly more satisfied with the staff density than the parents of the oldest children, 77 per cent and 71 per cent respectively. This may be because there are stricter staffing requirements for children under the age of 3.

An inclusive kindergarten policy

Kindergartens are part of the education system, and it is a political goal for all children to be able to attend kindergarten. A number of studies have found that children who have attended kindergarten have better language development and do better at school than children who have not attended kindergarten. Some studies show that this does not simply imply that children who would have done well at school anyway have also attended kindergarten but that attending kindergarten does in itself have a beneficial impact on children’s linguistic and social development. This is particularly true for children from families with limited education and low incomes (Mogstad & Rege 2009; Havnes & Mogstad 2011).

Children from families where the parents have limited education and low incomes and parents from minority backgrounds are less likely than other children to attend kindergarten (Moafi 2017). These background characteristics will in many cases overlap. A raft of measures have been taken in recent years with a view to increase enrolment amongst these children. The measures are particularly linked to financial barriers.

Kindergarten can have a positive impact on children’s language development

A summary of knowledge on language learning in kindergartens with multilingual children has found that exposure to the second language is important to the children’s language development. Exposure can take place in kindergarten, and research shows that kindergarten teachers should use methods that engage the children in order for them to learn. The make-up of the group of children and how the activities are executed are important (Lillejord et al., 2017).

The effect of kindergarten on language development is thus dependent on both enrolment in kindergarten and on the quality of the interaction between children and staff and between the children. Belonging to a linguistically competent group of children can compensate for differences in the parents’ education levels and help equalise the language skills of kindergarten children (Ribeiro et al., 2017).

The evaluation of a trial with free core time in kindergartens in the Oslo districts of Grorud, Alna, Stovner and Bjerke found that pupils who had been offered free core time performed better in the national reading test in Year 5 and that fewer of them were granted an exemption from the test (Drange, 2018). Children from immigrant backgrounds in districts that offer free core time perform on average as well as children generally in districts without such provision in national tests in Year 5. The good results in the reading test suggest that the offer of free kindergarten time leads to an improvement in the children’s language skills. This is in line with the objective of the initiative, although it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions on the causal effects (Drange, 2018).

More minority language children attend kindergarten

There were 50,900 minority language children enrolled in kindergarten in 2018, an increase of almost 10,000 on five years ago. There has been a steady increase in minority language children attending kindergarten in all age groups. The increase is primarily due to a growing immigrant population, but there has also been an increase in the overall enrolment rate amongst minority language children.

83 per cent of minority language children were enrolled in kindergarten in 2018 (Statistics Norway), an increase of 4 percentage points on 2014. The greatest disparity between minority language children and other children can be seen amongst 1-year-olds. The gap has been decreasing gradually since 2006. 2 in 10 minority language children who attend kindergarten receive accelerated Norwegian language tuition which requires additional staff resources.

18 per cent of children enrolled in kindergarten are minority language children, but there are significant variations between different municipalities and urban districts. Minority language children constitute the highest percentage of the enrolled children in Drammen and Oslo where 35 and 30 per cent respectively of the enrolled children are minority language children.

Discount schemes are working

The purpose of the national discount schemes is to boost enrolment and to improve the circumstances of financially challenged families.

A total of 33,459 low-income households received a reduction in parent contributions in 2018. A total of 41,900 children have benefited from reduced kindergarten fees and 26,000 children from free core time due to low income.

Local authorities spent more than NOK 644 million on reducing parent contributions due to low household income in 2018. This is NOK 146 million more than in 2017.The national discount scheme for reduced parent contributions has helped increase kindergarten enrolment amongst the households in question by 1.2 per cent. The discount scheme has also cut the cost of a full-time kindergarten place for the households in question and has consequently helped reduce poverty (Østbakken, 2019).

Not everyone who is entitled to a discount receives it

In 2017, 61 per cent of those entitled to free core time received it. This is an increase on 2015, when only 45 per cent of those entitled to free core time received it (Østbakken, 2019).There has also been an increase in parents being granted reduced parent contributions under the 6 per cent rule.

Although the proportion of children who are entitled to a discount and receive it is increasing, a large percentage still do not claim their entitlement. Reasons for this could be that they are not aware of the schemes and the fact that families need to actively apply and produce documentation. A complicated application procedure could therefore mean that many of those who are entitled to a discount do not receive it. The government has therefore put forward a proposal to simplify the application process.

Some parents may have other reasons than cost for not sending their children to kindergarten. This could include their views on what is in the best interest of their children, a desire to look after their young children themselves and a preference for other childcare arrangements (Trætteberg and Lidén 2018). Kindergarten enrolment is lower amongst children with non-working mothers than amongst children with working mothers. If one parent is not in work, there is less of a need and desire for childcare and probably less money to spend on kindergarten fees.

There may also be other kindergarten-related expenses on top of the parent contribution that prevent enrolment, such as the cost of meals, transport and equipment. Kindergartens may charge for the cost of meals on top of the maximum fee. The discount schemes do not cover meal costs. There are significant differences in meal costs from kindergarten to kindergarten, with some kindergartens not charging for meals at all and others charging more than NOK 1,000 per month.

Four in five parents of 1 to 5-year-olds who do not apply for a kindergarten place for their child say it is because “it is important for the child to stay with the mother in the early years”. Seven in ten parents who receive cash-for-care benefit say that they would not apply for a kindergarten place if the benefit was withdrawn (Moafi 2017). These may be indications that there are factors other than financial circumstances that impact kindergarten enrolment rates.