Participation in early childhood education
What We Have Found
ECE participation has steadily increased between 2000 and 2012. Overall, the ECE attendance of children starting school rose by 5.6 percent, from 90.0 percent in 2000 to 95.0 percent in 2012. While participation remains lowest for Māori and Pasifika children, these groups also had the highest increase in participation over the period (9.4 and 14.4 percent, respectively).
New Zealand has a relatively high enrolment rate for its 3 and 4 year-olds compared with other OECD countries; In 2009, 90.1 percent of 3 and 4 year-olds were enrolled in centre-based ECE (compared with the OECD average of 70.1 percent), which ranked New Zealand 11th in the OECD for this group.
Older children (those aged 3 and 4 years) remain more likely to be enrolled in ECE than younger children (those aged 2 years and under). However, between 2000 and 2007, enrolments for younger children rose by 45 percent while older children’s enrolments rose by 17 percent. Since the introduction of 20 Hours ECE in 2007, enrolments for both groups have risen at similar rates of around 9 percent.
Children are spending more hours in ECE, although this growth slowed in recent years. The average number of weekly hours per enrolment rose from 13 in 2000 to 20 hours in 2011 – a rise of 53 percent. This growth slowed after reaching 20 hours for those aged 3 and over in 2010 and a year earlier for those aged 2 and under.. Historically, younger children on average spent more hours in ECE than older children although they had lower overall enrolment rates. However, this gap has now closed, and since 2010 both groups spent, on average around 20 hours a week in ECE.
Date Updated: July 2012
Indicator DescriptionThree indicators have been used in this report. They are:
- Prior participation in ECE, 2000-2012: This shows prior participation in ECE for children starting school. The indicator focuses on changes across ethnic groups between 2000 and 2012.
- Enrolment rates in ECE, 2000-2011: This shows the proportion of population enrolled in ECE over time. The indicator focuses on differences between years of age, and also compares participation in New Zealand with that in other OECD countries.
- Average hours per week spent in ECE, 2000-2011: This shows average number of hours per week that children have spent in ECE. The indicator focuses on differences between years of age and service types.
Why This Is ImportantParticipation in high quality ECE has significant benefits for children and their future learning ability. Some studies have found that engagement in ECE helps to develop strong foundations for future learning success (Statistics NZ and Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, 2010).These effects apply to all children but may be particularly important for building academic achievement in children from poorer communities and socio-economic backgrounds (ibid, and Mitchell, et al, 2008).
ECE has been shown to positively impact literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills well into the teenage years, while other studies have shown that high quality ECE encourages the development of cognitive and attitudinal competencies, and leads to higher levels of achievement and better social outcomes (ibid, OECD, 2011, Statistics NZ and Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, 2010, and Wylie et al, 2009).
International and longitudinal studies have also found that participation in high quality ECE can translate into improved longer-term outcomes. Several studies have identified links between participation in ECE and better social and economic outcomes for children when they reach older ages (ibid). This link is, again, strong for disadvantaged children. Some studies have also identified positive relationships between ECE participation and the affect on wider societal outcomes; for example, ensuring participation in the labour force and in building labour force capability (Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2004).
ECE Participation has been identified as a key factor in supporting vulnerable children which has led to its inclusion in the Better Public Services Programme, launched in 2012. This Programme aims to increase participation in early childhood education to 98 percent of all new entrants by 2016 (State Services Commission, 2012).
How We Are Going
Participation rose steadily between 2000 and 2012
There have been steady rises in ECE participation between 2000 and 2012 (Figure 1). Overall, participation increased by 5.0 percentage points, rising from 90.0 percent of all children starting school to 95.0 percent. European children were the most likely to attend ECE across the period with participation rates reaching 98.0 percent, while Māori and Pasifika children continued to be the least likely to attend.
Figure 1: Prior participation in ECE of children starting school by ethnic group, 2000-2012
- Analysis uses prioritised ethnic groups from 2000 to 2009 while total response ethnic groups are used from 2009 onward.
However, the rise in participation was greatest for the Pasifika and Māori ethnic groups. These groups’ participation rose by 14.4 and 9.4 percent, respectively, between 2000 and 2011. By 2012, 86.8 percent of Pasifika and 90.9 percent of Māori children had participated in ECE before starting school, compared with 75.8 and 83.1 percent, respectively, in 2000.
There were also two distinct periods of enrolment growth. Children in most of the ethnic groups maintained steady rises in participation from around 2007. The introduction of 20 Hours ECE in that year encouraged higher uptake of ECE across all groups of children and accounts for much of this trend.
The other significant period of rise in participation was between 2001 and 2004 which was, again, especially distinct in the increase of Pasifika and Māori participation. Developments in ECE and related policy during this period might partially account for this trend.
Much of the policy that was developed over this period was designed to increase access to and uptake of ECE for families from lower socio-economic backgrounds (Adema, 2006, and McTaggart, 2005). They include:
- rises in funding for the Childcare Subsidy in the early-2000s
- the expansion of the Family Start programme in 2001, and
- the initiation of Equity Funding for community-based services in 2002.
The ECE Participation Programme was introduced in 2010 to improve participation in ECE, by targeting specific local areas where participation is low. This Programme is made up of various projects that aim to support Māori, Pasifika, and low-income families to enrol their children in ECE. In 2012, 96 percent of children in the Programme came from target groups; just over half of the participants (56 percent) as Māori children and 44 percent as Pasifika children.
OECD figures reveal New Zealand’s comparatively high ECE participation
An international comparison of enrolment rates for children aged 3-4 years shows that New Zealand ranked 11th highest across the OECD in 2009 (Figure 2). Overall, the average enrolment rate for 3-4 year-olds across the OECD was 70.1 percent while the enrolment rate for New Zealand 3-4 year-olds was 90.1 percent.
Figure 2: Enrolment of 3-4 year-olds by OECD country, 2009
- OECD, Education at a Glance 2011 (Table C1.1a).
- OECD figures exclude centre-based participation so New Zealand figures will be lower than published figures as home-based services are not included.
Figure 3 shows that enrolments for older children accounted for the majority of total enrolments between 2000 and 2011. Enrolments for children aged 3 and 4 years collectively made up between 61 and 67 percent of the total enrolments over the period.
Figure 3: Total enrolments by year of age, 2000-2011
Although higher proportions of older children were enrolled in ECE, enrolments for younger children rose at a faster rate up to 2007.
Between 2000 and 2007, enrolments for younger children almost doubled, rising by 44.7 percent while older children’s enrolments rose by 17.2 percent.
Since the introduction of 20 Hours ECE in 2007, enrolments for both groups have risen at similar rates of around 9 percent (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Population and number of enrolments by age group, 2000-2011
While changes in rates of ECE participation are affected by a range of factors, population changes remain one of the key influences on participation trends. Figure 4 shows how population growth can explain both the rise in enrolments for younger children to 2007, and how older and younger children then shared similar enrolment growth from 2008.
First, the population of those aged 2 years and under grew by 5.2 percent between 2000 and 2007 compared with 0.1 percent of older children. This at least partially accounts for this groups’ markedly higher rise in enrolments compared with older children across the period.
Second, older children had a higher growth in population from 2008 (8.7 percent for older children compared with 2.2 percent of younger children) which explains why their rate of enrolment growth matched that of younger children.
Notably, the flattening in the population of younger children also suggests a potential future flattening of enrolment numbers –– assuming current rates of participation stay the same.
Children are spending more time in ECE per week
The time that children spend in ECE per week has been increasing. The average number of hours per enrolment rose by 53 percent from 13 hours in 2000 to 20 hours in 2011. From 2010, the rising trend levelled off at 20 hours a week for both younger and older children.
On average, younger children tended to spend around one or two more hours in ECE per week than their older counterparts between 2000 and 2009. These trends may be a reflection of two factors.
First, certain types of services tend to be used by children of particular ages which, in turn, affects the number of hours children will spend each week in that service. For instance, Figure 6 shows that the average number of hours spent in Education and Care and Home-based services has always been favoured by younger children while Kindergarten and Playcentre services tend to have higher attendance from older children. Kindergartens and Playcentres are more likely than other services to provide shorter, sessional services which will lower the number of hours older children will attend ECE.
Figure 5: Average hours spent per week in ECE per enrolment by year of age, 2000-2011
Second, there have been changes in ECE service preference over time. These changes in preference may be linked to how parents have been participating in the labour market, and have meant that factors like cost, flexibility in the length of sessions provided, and levels of parental involvement have become prominent in how families assess what services they use (Adema, 2006).
For instance, in the mid-1990s, session-based kindergartens that catered for older children and that had a high level of parental involvement also had higher enrolments (ibid). Today, services that offer higher levels of flexibility in the length and regularity of their services, cater for younger children, and do not require parental involvement (such as education and care and home-based services) are most popular (Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2004, Ministry of Education, 2012, Adema, 2006).
Figure 6: Average number of hours spent per week in ECE per enrolment by year of age and service type between 2000 and 2011
In some cases, there has been some notable cross-over in the ages of children that will use certain types of ECE services. For instance, hours spent at kindergarten services increased over the period and, most significantly for younger-aged children. This may be because of changes to funding criteria in the mid-2000s which led many kindergartens to incorporate all-day rather than sessional formats.
- Adema, W. (2006). Towards coherent care and education support policies for New Zealand families. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 28, 46-76.
- McTaggart, S. (2005). Monitoring the impact of social policy, 1980-2001: Report on significant policy events. Wellington: Social Policy Evaluation & Research Committee.
- Ministry of Education (2012). Provision of ECE services. Education Counts
- Ministry of Women’s Affairs (2004). Influences of maternal employment and early childhood education on young children’s cognitive and behavioural outcomes.
- Mitchell, L. Wylie, C. & Carr, M. (2008). Outcomes of early childhood education: Literature review. A report by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research for the Ministry of Education. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2011). PISA in focus: Does participation in pre-primary education translate into better learning outcomes at school? .
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2011). Education at a glance 2011: OECD indicators. OECD Publishing.
- State Services Commission (2012). Better public services: Supporting vulnerable children.
- Statistics New Zealand and Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs (2010). Education and Pacific peoples in New Zealand. Wellington: Author.
- Wylie, C., Hodgen, E., Hipkins, R., & Vaughan K. (2009). Competent learners on the edge of adulthood: A summary of key findings from the Competent Learners @ 16 project. Wellington: Ministry of Education and New Zealand Centre for Education Research.
Downloads / Links
Where to Find Out MoreRelated ECE Indicators
For other indicators on early childhood education please visit: Affordability of ECE Provision of ECE Services Registered ECE teachers ECE Statistics & Publications
For a large range of statistics on ECE services, provision (including waiting times), and ECE related publications please visit: Statistics on ECE Participation ECE Statistics ECE Publications Websites of Interest
For a large range of other information on ECE in New Zealand please visit: ECE Lead website