Participation in early childhood education

Why This Is Important

Participation 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).


Three indicators have been used in this report. They are:

  • Prior participation in ECE shows prior participation in ECE for children starting school. The indicator focuses on changes across ethnic groups between 2000 and 2015.
  • Enrolment /attendance1 rates in ECE, 2000-2014. This shows the number of enrolments/attendances in ECE over time as a percentage of the population. The indicator focuses on differences between years of age and compares enrolment patterns across different service types and ethnic groups. This section also compares participation in New Zealand with that in other OECD countries.
  • Average hours per week spent in ECE, 2000-2014. This shows the average number of hours per week that children have spent in ECE. The indicator focuses on differences between years of age and service types.

Interpretation Issues

Enrolment rates over estimate participation in ECE because of double- or triple- counting of those children who attend more than one early childhood education service. This is particularly problematic for 3 year-olds and 4 year-olds, as they have fairly high rates of participation. To get a more accurate perspective of the numbers of children who participated in ECE services, prior participation in ECE is a better indicator to look at. 

 For the prior participation in ECE indicator, students who identify with more than one ethnic group have been counted in each group they identified with. The figure in the 'Total' column will therefore generally be less than the sum of the students in each group.


  1. The term enrolments/attendances refers to 2014 data, when there was a change in data collection method, and 2014 has been a transition year. Prior to 2014, data was collected on the count of children enrolled in each service, whereas in 2014 data was collected on combination of the count of children enrolled in a service, as well as the count of the number of children attending in a service.