Ministers’ Deputies

CM Documents

CM(2012)121 add final      12 December 2012

1158 Meeting, 12-13 December 2012

7 Education and culture

7.2 Steering Committee for Educational Policy and Practice (CDPPE)

Recommendation CM/Rec(2012)13 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on ensuring quality education – Explanatory Memorandum


The Preamble places the present recommendation in its proper context by recalling the relevant Council of Europe Conventions and recommendations with particular relevance to the topic of the present Recommendation as well as the fundamental agreed principles on which it builds.

The action foreseen in the recommendation is that which is typically included in recommendations concerning States party to the European Cultural Convention, whereas the subject matter of the recommendation is described in the appendix. It recognises that member States are responsible for the organisation and content of their educational systems.

The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes the right to education. The preamble recognises that this right can only be fully exercised in practice if the education is of sufficient quality and if it pursues a variety of purposes. This view of education is consistent with that expressed in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)6 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the public responsibility for higher education and research.

The recommendation to member States (1.a – f) allows for the fact that competence in education is located at different levels in different member States and that while the public authorities at central level in some cases have direct authority in all or some education matters (1.a), in other cases they do not (1.b). Hence, public authorities at central level may need to take action of different kinds according to the degree of their competence in education matters, as reflected in the text of the Recommendation.

Scope and definitions (paragraphs 1-9)

This section describes the focus of the recommendation as well as the common understanding of key terms. It is important to underline that definitions are intended for the purposes of the present Recommendation only; it does not prevent States or other actors from giving the same or similar terms different meanings in other contexts, in particular in their own national contexts.

The focus of the recommendation is double. The benefits of a quality education are enjoyed by each individual and the recommendation seeks to establish a common understanding of what this implies. At the same time, quality education is ensured by societies, above all through their competent public authorities. Therefore, the recommendation unites the two concerns in a consideration of what the competent public authorities could or should do in order to make quality education a reality.

Quality education relates to all levels and strands of education but may be articulated differently at different levels. Seeking to develop a nuanced view of how measures to ensure quality education articulate at different levels is one of the key concerns of the recommendation. While discussions about facilitating access to and completion of education often focus on possible measures for specific groups, quality education should be enjoyed by everyone. The recommendation recognises that specific measures may be required for individuals with specific learning disabilities or other impairments to benefit from quality education but it is primarily concerned with ensuring such education for all. Promoting the social recognition of teachers and dignifying the teaching profession are important measures in furthering quality education.

Public responsibility is understood as exercised through public authorities. These terms are defined as in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)6 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the public responsibility for higher education and research. The competent public authorities may, according to the level and strand of education concerned and the constitutional arrangements of various countries, be located at national, regional, local or other levels but the principles for the exercise of public responsibility remain the same. The recommendation is mainly concerned with defining the principles of public responsibility and recognises that various countries may choose to exercise this responsibility in different ways. It also recognises that public responsibility may be exercised directly by the competent public authority or authorities or by another body – public or private – mandated to exercise the responsibility on behalf of the competent authority. In the latter case, public responsibility is delegated but not abdicated: the competent public authority may withdraw the mandate of the body exercising public responsibility on its behalf and will have a duty to do so should the body to which responsibility is delegated exercise it irresponsibly or in other ways unsatisfactorily.

The recommendation addresses the provision of formal education within national education systems. Those benefitting from quality education are referred to as “pupils” or “students”, depending on the level and strand of education concerned as well as local usage. Even if “learners” is a broader term designating all persons engaged in some kind of learning, the terms “pupils” and “students” are preferred because the Recommendation takes the view that the public responsibility for quality education is primarily exercised through organised, formal education programmes leading to recognised qualifications. These may be supplemented but not replaced by informal and non-formal education, the public responsibility for which would be much more difficult to define in operational terms as well as to make it enforceable.

Basic principle: equal opportunities (paragraph 10)

The formulation of the basic principle in paragraph 10 refers to Article 14 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms stipulating that “the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status”.

It should also be recalled that the Committee of Ministers has adopted Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity,1 as well as provisions related to non-discrimination on grounds of disability or state of health.

Paragraph 10 also underlines that ensuring quality education is a question not only of access but also of completion.

Public responsibility for ensuring quality education (paragraph 11)

Public authorities have the responsibility for ensuring the quality of all education offered as a part of the education system for which the authorities are responsible and should do so through transparent procedures taking into consideration the quality of the institutions and programmes. These should include their ability to deliver programmes leading to qualifications recognised by the competent public authorities as well as their commitment to counselling and equal opportunities with a view to enabling all pupils to define their aspirations and realise their potential, talents and abilities. Public authorities should make their decisions public.

While promoting quality is an important part of national and European education policies, these policies are not always explicit about their understanding of the term “quality”. For the purposes of the present recommendation, the understanding of quality is that outlined in paragraph 6. It comprises the ability and will to deliver education leading to qualifications recognised by the competent public authorities as well as a commitment to counselling and equal opportunities.

General provisions aiming to ensure quality education

Paragraphs 12 to 19 outline general provisions aiming to ensure quality education for all pupils and students. This part of the Recommendation also provides elements for a common understanding of each level of education while recognising that national and local practice may vary.

Quality education may be considered in relation to three main dimensions:

    (i) whether the education in question is compulsory or non-compulsory;
    (ii) the level of education, ranging from pre-primary to higher education and with lifelong learning as cutting across levels;
    (iii) whether provision is public or private.

This part of the recommendation is organised around these three dimensions and in the order outlined above. First, consideration is given to compulsory education, thereafter consideration is given to various levels of non-compulsory education and finally consideration is given to private provision. The reason for this organisation of the text is that the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory education appears fundamental. The right to compulsory education is absolute and without exceptions. The right to non-compulsory education may be articulated somewhat differently according to the level of education. Pupils and students – or their parents or legal guardians – may choose private instead of public provision, provided the private provision in question is recognised by the competent public authorities.

Compulsory education (paragraphs 12-13)

An essential distinction is between compulsory and non-compulsory education. Compulsory education is an obligation as well as a right. This implies that no individual in the age groups or levels for which education is compulsory according to national or other relevant legislation – and which vary from country to country - may withdraw from education, nor may parents or legal guardians withdraw the children or youth for whom they are responsible from compulsory education. Public authorities have a right and a duty to react to any such attempts, preferably by counselling and persuasion but ultimately through sanctions if attempts at counselling and persuasion fail.

At the same time, public authorities have the obligation to provide all residents on its territory in the relevant age groups with adequate offers of compulsory education. This obligation is absolute and cannot be withdrawn from for reasons of finance, current capacity or any other reason. No individual residing on the territory falling within the competence of the public authority who is in the age group for which education is compulsory can be denied the right to education. Access to compulsory education cannot be subject to access requirements and all those in the relevant age groups must have access to public provision compulsory education. Pupils and their parents or legal guardian may choose to enrol in private compulsory education instead, see below.

The degree to which compulsory education is differentiated will depend on local circumstances and the age of the pupils. Where it exists, specialisation may be between different profiles, such as between general and vocational education and, within each of these broad categories, between different specialisations, such as a specialisation in modern languages, mathematics and natural sciences, social sciences, mechanics, food production, carpentry or hairdressing. Where education is differentiated or specialised, access to differentiated or specialised education programmes must be equitable and non-discriminatory so as not to deprive any pupils of access to programmes commensurate with their abilities and aspirations.

Non-compulsory education

Non-compulsory education may be of different kinds and levels. A guiding principle is that all non-compulsory education should be provided on a non-discriminatory basis but specific considerations apply to different kinds and strands of non-compulsory education.

Pre-primary education (paragraphs 14-15)

Pre-primary education is compulsory in some European countries and non-compulsory in others. Where pre-primary education is compulsory, the provisions related to compulsory education apply. Where all or part of pre-primary education is not compulsory, public authorities should nevertheless to the full extent possible provide parents with children in the relevant age group, or legal guardians with responsibility for children in this age group, with the possibility to enrol their children in pre-primary education programmes because children who benefit from pre-primary education are likely to be better prepared for the early stages of compulsory education than children who do not benefit form pre-primary education. It is therefore important that public authorities develop adequate pre-primary education offers with sufficient capacity to satisfy demand and that parents and legal guardians be encouraged to enrol the children for whom they are responsible in pre-primary education programmes.

Pre-primary education should aim to provide all pupils with a good basis for their further education. It should not aim to provide especially advanced programmes for fast learners. Public authorities should nevertheless provide especially adapted programmes for pupils with special needs, to ensure, as far as possible, that these pupils get a good start in formal education.

Non-compulsory secondary education (paragraphs 16-17)

The extent to which upper secondary education is compulsory or not, varies between member States. Where it is compulsory, the provisions on compulsory education apply also to upper secondary education. Where it is not compulsory, it should, however, be incumbent on the competent public authorities to provide adequate upper secondary education offers to all those who wish to enrol in such education. This is partly a question of overall capacity, so that the education system should offer a sufficient number of places overall at this level. It is, nevertheless, not only an issue of overall capacity since at this level, education programmes will be more specialised than they are at lower secondary level. Pupils should therefore have real options to choose from so that they may be able to enrol in programmes commensurate with their aspirations and abilities. While enrolment in a given programme may be made conditional on applicants fulfilling reasonable competence criteria, public authorities should ensure that the combined body of competence criteria for access to non-compulsory secondary education programmes do not de facto bar some pupils who have successfully completed compulsory education from acceding to any non-compulsory education programmes.

Public authorities should endeavour to ensure that all pupils who have completed compulsory education, where compulsory education does not comprise all of secondary education, have at least one reasonable offer of non-compulsory secondary education. For example, pupils aspiring to enrol in a vocational education programme should, as far as possible, not have to undertake secondary education instead or to enrol in a very different kind of vocational education programme because of insufficient capacity in the programme(s) which correspond most closely to their aspirations and abilities. Where pupils’ preferred option(s) cannot be satisfied for good reason, public authorities should endeavour to provide alternative options which correspond as closely as possible to the pupils’ preferred option(s).

The text does not seek to specify what “good reasons” may be as these may differ from country to country as well as over time. They may range from the lack of physically adapted facilities through problems with encouraging sufficient numbers of qualified teachers to work in certain parts of a country or failure to encourage an interest among students for certain educational programmes to economic problems. Wherever “good reasons” exist, public authorities should seek to ensure that such issues are overcome as rapidly as possible so as not to constitute a long term or permanent obstacle to ensuring quality education.

Higher education (paragraphs 18-19)

Measures to ensure quality higher education are articulated somewhat differently than measures concerning other kinds of non-compulsory education in view of the highly specialised nature of higher education, the increasing maturity of students and, in some cases, of the considerable financial needs involved. Access to higher education should be effective and equitable and commensurate with students’ abilities and aspirations.

Public authorities, then, have the obligation to ensure that access to higher education is given on an equitable basis. However, selectivity is a much more prominent feature of higher education than of education at other levels. Rather than universal access, the goal for higher education should therefore reasonably be that public authorities should provide all those qualified for higher education with access to a study programme which is compatible with their aspirations and qualifications. As stated in the Preamble to this recommendation, public authorities should ensure that all persons should enjoy quality of education, commensurate with their aspirations, abilities and circumstances and for some persons, their aspirations, abilities and circumstances will take them along learning paths which do not include higher education.

The recommendation underlines that the qualifications which students will earn should fulfil the full range of purposes for higher education. These are defined in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)6 by the Committee of Ministers to member States on the public responsibility for higher education and research:

    - Preparation for sustainable employment;
    - Preparation for life as active citizens in democratic societies;
    - Personal development
    - The development and maintenance, through teaching, learning and research, of a broad, advanced knowledge base.

The first sentence of paragraph 19 follows the wording of Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)6. The paragraph further underlines the importance of observing the principle of institutional autonomy.

Unlike all pupils in pre-primary and the majority of pupils in compulsory education as well as non-compulsory secondary education – unless they are older learners enrolled in lifelong learning programmes – the vast majority of higher education students will be legally adult and hence competent to make their own decisions, even if in many cases, parents or legal guardians will have an important role in advising students about their choice of whether or not to seek access to higher education as well as about which study programmes to apply for.

Private education provision (paragraphs 20-22)

In many countries, private education provision is a valuable supplement to public provision for reasons of capacity or because private provision offers a different perceptive from that offered by public education institutions. Public authorities are responsible for all parts of the education system, whatever the level and whatever the form of provision. This means that public authorities are responsible for the general framework within which education is provided and also for deciding what education provision and programmes belong to the education system for which the public authorities are responsible. The competent authorities of country A decide which education institutions and programmes belong to the education system of country A. It is important that there be publicly available information on which institutions and programmes belong to the national system and that decisions are made according to transparent criteria. A quality assessment will be an important part of these criteria and for the areas of education for which a formal quality assessment procedure has been established, such as higher education and in many countries also vocations education and training, the outcomes of these procedures will be the basis of the decision. The commitment of institutions and programmes to providing equal opportunities to quality education should also be given consideration, either as a part of the quality assessment or as a separate consideration.

Paragraph 22 underlines that public authorities may choose whether or not they wish to provide financial and other assistance to private education. If they choose to provide such assistance, it should be provided fairly and according to transparent criteria. This is of vital importance with a view to preventing corruption as well as to providing fair opportunities to quality education. The wording of this paragraph should not be understood as aiming to change the practice of institutions which provide education for either male or female pupils and students only.

Lifelong learning (paragraphs 23-24)

Lifelong learning is an essential part of European education policies for a variety of reasons. In terms of individual and social justice, lifelong learning provides an opportunity for those who, for various reasons, were unable to avail themselves of education offers commensurate with their aspirations and/or potential at an earlier stage of their lives. For our societies, lifelong leaning also provides a means of developing our human resources to their full potential in cases where more traditional education provision has been unable to do so. A characteristic of modern societies is that knowledge, understanding and skills develop very rapidly and even those who were highly qualified ten years ago run the risk of losing their de facto competence unless it is updated regularly. Lifelong learning is therefore important also in providing an opportunity for individuals to update and further develop their competences in accordance with their own aspirations and potential as well as the needs of society, in particular those of the labour market. At the same time, many lifelong learning offers fall outside of the formal education system and many have a narrower objective than providing quality education as defined in paragraph 6 of this recommendation. For reasons explained elsewhere in the recommendation and the explanatory memorandum, this recommendation focuses on formal education provisions. These are not exclusively aimed at lifelong learning but should provide for lifelong learning paths leading to qualifications recognised by the competent public authorities, which should also facilitate access to formal education on the basis of qualifications earned through lifelong learning arrangements. Paragraphs 23-24 outline key principles and measures in this respect. It also recognises that while opportunities for lifelong learning should be given to all, special measures should be developed as required for those who have made inadequate use of other education opportunities. In recognition of the fact that school drop outs constitute an important group in many European countries, these should include measures directed at those who have dropped out of the education system with no or inadequate qualifications.

Learning paths and qualifications frameworks (paragraph 25)

Qualifications frameworks are a new way of describing the full body of qualifications of a given education system. They describe not only individual qualifications but also the way in which these qualifications interlink and the learning paths that pupils and students as well as those engaged in informal and non-formal education may follow in order to obtain a given qualification. Qualifications frameworks are therefore, among other things, instruments which make it easier for students to obtain quality education and to help them identify the learning paths which suit them the best. They should help education institutions as well as public authorities identify ways in which they may ensure that courses and programmes best lead to qualifications which are a part of the national framework and hence of the national education system. By emphasising learning outcomes – what pupils and students know, understand and are able to do – on the basis of a given qualification, they should, in the words of the Council of Europe/UNESCO Recognition Convention (ETS No. 165) on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, further the fair recognition of qualifications.

It should be noted that all 47 countries party to the European Higher Education Area have committed to developing national qualifications framework for higher education – an effort coordinated by the Council of Europe - and that 32 countries are engaged in the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning, supported by the European Commission and covering all areas and levels of education. Qualifications frameworks are therefore a key instrument of European education policies and competent public authorities as well as institutions and pupils and students should see qualifications frameworks not merely as technical instruments but as instruments helping fulfil the main goals of education.

It should also be noted that the Council of Europe has developed the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which serve a similar purpose by enabling learners to describe their language competences according to defined and hence transferable and comparable levels of competence in five specific areas of language proficiency ranging from listening skills to oral and written production.

Measures for vulnerable groups and/or groups with special needs (paragraphs 26-29)

The recommendation recognises that some individuals are unable to benefit mainstream education provision and that the reasons for this may be highly diverse. Public authorities have responsibility for providing individuals concerned with suitable education offers adapted to their needs and circumstances.

Quality education should be inclusive. An important goal should be to enable all those with the possibility to follow regular education programmes to do so and that education avoid segregation as far as possible, whether this be of ethnic groups – such as Roma children in many countries – or pupils and students with learning or other disabilities. Making quality education inclusive may require special measures on a temporary basis, such as intensive training in the language(s) of instruction or remedial teaching in the case of pupils or students transferring from schools or education systems with substantial differences in education curricula. The term “language(s) of instruction” is used in a broad sense, referring to language(s) used in any part of teaching and learning, including but not limited to classrooms, individual tutoring and independent study. Such pupils and students may need to undertake additional work for a period of time in order to ensure that they may successfully follow regular education programmes as rapidly as possible. It is understood that the obligation to provide training in the language(s) of instruction for those lacking the required proficiency may be articulated differently at different levels of education, so that such training will, for example, be different for those in primary education and for those in higher education. It may also be articulated differently for pupils in compulsory education that for higher education students engaging in academic mobility.

It is important to distinguish factors, such as cultural and linguistic factors, which temporarily may prevent pupils and students from following regular education programmes, from more long term factors. For example, the Report of the Group of Eminent Persons “Living Together. Combining Diversity and Freedom in 21st Century Europe” points out that “[i]n some places Romani children are segregated from the rest of the population for educational purposes, for instance by being placed, in disproportionate numbers, in special schools for children with mental disabilities”

The recommendation underlines the need to adapt special education provisions to the needs and circumstances of the individuals concerned. Where the needs are permanent or at least long term, public authorities have an obligation to provide specially adapted quality education offers covering at a minimum the ages of compulsory schooling. Public authorities are nevertheless encouraged also to ensure provision for ages beyond compulsory schooling and it may be particularly important to ensure adequate provision of well adapted pre-primary education.

Education for persons deprived of their liberty (paragraph 30)

The provisions of paragraph 30 follow those of the European prison rules, adopted in the framework of Recommendation Rec(2006)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on European Prison Rules and building on provisions in the earlier Recommendation Rec(89)12 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on education in prison while taking account of the focus of the present recommendation on ensuring quality education within formal education. Such education should be adapted to the needs of persons deprived of their liberty, many of whom have low education qualifications, including a lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills. Paragraph 30 should also apply to children deprived of their liberty as stipulated in Recommendation CM/Rec(2008)11 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the European Rules for juvenile offenders subject to sanctions or measures. The application of paragraph 30 may take into account also the fact that it is not always necessary or possible for member States to take formal steps to provide access to education for persons deprived of their liberty for a very short time only.

Combating corruption in education (paragraph 31)

Corruption may be understood as the use of public office or position for private benefit. In the context of education, it does not matter whether provision is public or private as all education is a function or activity in the public domain. Corruption may take a variety of forms, ranging from payment in exchange for preference in access to an education institution or programme, for passing examinations or for being given better grades than justified by one’s achievements through mutual favours, such as granting access or giving improved grades in exchange for other favours, such as building permits, the employment of relatives or friends or sexual favours, to more subtle forms of corruptions such as teachers selling text books directly to students or offering extra lessons against tuitions and passing only students who pay for such “services”.

Whatever forms it takes, the effect of corruption in education is to favour those who are able and willing to pay for favours at the expense of those who do not. Access to education is then not based on merit or on need, and qualifications earned through education are then not based on achievement. Instead of being an instrument of social cohesion, education becomes an instrument for further differentiation as those who are able and willing to pay will receive better offers regardless of their merits and needs. Corruption diminishes the quality of education systems and institutions and can destroy their reputation. Its destructive effects are long term both because graduates are granted qualifications that do not correspond to their achievements and they can therefore cause damage in their professional careers and because students observing or benefitting from corruption can easily conclude that corruption rather than hard work is required to “earn” qualifications or even to obtain one’s basic rights.

The extent of corruption in education varies from country to country and with the kind of education. In particular, access to and qualifications from higher education seem to be areas in which corruption is the most widespread. Nevertheless, corruption is a real or potential issue in all countries and for all kinds and levels of education.

Public authorities have the responsibility to take measures against corruption in education. These should involve all stakeholders as well as the general public and in addition to providing adequate legal regulation measures should aim to develop attitudes so that corruption is widely condemned and those engaging in it run a strong risk of exposure and denunciation.

1 The Russian Federation recalls that it could not support the provisions of Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 and has made an interpretative statement on the occasion of the adoption of the recommendation by the Committee of Ministers.



  Related Documents
   Other documents