Locality-based evaluation of pathways to the future Ngā Huarahi Arataki: Stage 1 Baseline Report

Publication Details

This report presents findings from the first phase of data collection for the stage 1 evaluation of the ECE Strategic Plan. It describes the localities and services participating in the evaluation and provides a baseline picture of how things were in mid-2004 in relation to the participation, quality and collaborative relationships goals of the Plan.

Author(s): Linda Mitchell, Arapera Royal Tangaere, Diane Mara, and Cathy Wylie, New Zealand Council of Educational Research and Te Kohanga Reo National Trust Board.

Date Published: August 2008

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Executive Summary

The locality-based longitudinal evaluation of Pathways to the Future - Ngā Huarahi Arataki, the strategic plan for early childhood education, is one part of the Ministry of Education's wider evaluation strategy. The strategy also includes development of a monitoring system designed to provide indicators of progress and identify emerging problems, and targeted evaluations that both contribute to the overall evaluative picture and inform decisions about individual initiatives.

This first phase of the evaluation covers only the initial stages of the long-term strategic plan. The most important aspect of this phase of the evaluation is to provide a baseline picture of how things were in mid-2004 before the major policy changes began, so that when we return to the same early childhood education services in 2006, we can map the changes that occur in services and for parents between 2004 and 2006. This comparison will provide some insight into how change occurred, and whether it is heading as expected against the participation, quality and collaborative relationship goals of Pathways to the Future - Ngā Huarahi Arataki.

The eight localities for the study were chosen by the Ministry of Education and researchers to provide diversity on key relevant variables of geographical location, ethnic composition, demographic changes anticipated, Early Childhood Education (ECE) service supply and demand and range of ECE services. All had individual incomes below the median. Electoral wards were used as a systematic way to define locality boundaries.

This report provides a description of the eight localities and early childhood education services in them in mid-2004. These descriptions provide some 'snapshots' of how different services actually work, and what is important to them and the people who use them. This information should have a use for the early childhood education sector, particularly in relation to professional development, support for individual services, and needs analysis in both areas and services.

In this baseline phase, data was collected from four sources:

  • community meetings held in each locality mainly to inform communities about the study;
  • at a sample of individual services of different types in each locality, through gathering information about operation and practice, a parent survey, management interview, teacher/educator interview, and observations of aspects of adult interactions with children, children's interactions with each other, and the education programme that contribute to the learning environment and outcomes for children. A total of 46 services in all the localities combined formed this sample;
  • discussion and interviews with Ministry of Education (MOE) regional staff in August 2004 and April 2005 about actions regional MOE staff are taking with respect to the strategic plan and their views of implementation issues;
  • MOE data on participation, provision and staffing for each locality.

Patterns at a locality level showed wide variations by locality of types of service available and the number of weeks open per year. MOE data provided baseline information about staff qualifications against which to track progress to meeting qualification targets.

Information on participation showed most children were enrolled for less than the 20 hours per week that will be offered free to 3- and 4-year-olds in teacher-led services in 2007. But the group most likely to be waiting for a place was aged three, suggesting further pressure may occur with free provision for this age group. There was some irregular attendance and variable levels of attendance linked to socio-economic status of locality and ethnicity of children—this has implications for children's learning opportunities, and for a service's sustainability since MOE funding is tied to attendance.

  • Two-thirds of children were enrolled in ECE for less than 21 hours a week.
  • Eighty percent were attending regularly.
  • Attendance was lowest in low socio-economic localities.
  • Eighty-four percent were said by their parents to have had some ECE attendance when they started school.
  • Attendance was higher for European/Pākehā children, and lowest for Māori, Pacific and children of other ethnicities.
  • The age group most likely to be waiting for a place was aged 3 years.

Eight hundred and eight-six parents from the eight localities completed the parent survey. They provided information about their child's attendance patterns and their views, their reasons for going to an ECE service, and views of how well their ECE service met their needs.

Key findings that are relevant to the strategic plan and are important to consider in respect to the types of provision available locally and the goal of parents valuing ECE were:

  • There was a high incidence of dual enrolment, peaking at 23 percent at age four years.
  • Children attending kōhanga reo and Pasifika centres were more likely to attend only one service. The role of these services in supporting language and culture is a clear purpose that makes them distinct.
  • Parents of children attending Pasifika centres had the widest range of expectations that their centre would meet parental needs. Cost was one of these.
  • Parents of children attending playcentre were less likely to think that their service was meeting their needs very well. Playcentres were under pressure from a high volunteer workload, ongoing turnover of parents and difficulty in attracting parents to undertake higher levels of playcentre training.
  • The main locality differences in parental views were related to parental employment, rather than any different values that parents in different localities placed on ECE in relation to children's development.

We developed indicators from data gathered for sample services to tell us how well a particular ECE service was achieving a strategic plan goal or target. This provides a baseline against which to analyse change in 2006, and information about where there are pressures for services and localities, and enables analysis of relationships between indicators.

Our analysis shows quality in the sample services was generally at a medium level, but with considerable variability between services. Understanding and use of Te Whāriki, and strength of assessment, planning and evaluation, and self review were also variable. There were relationships between:

  • some indicators of strategic plan targets (teacher qualifications, professional support, leadership support, collaborative relationships with schools and ECE services for mutual support); and
  • outcomes intended to promote quality teaching and learning processes (strength of use and understanding of Te Whāriki, assessment, planning and evaluation, and self review);
  • and overall ratings of process quality.

Strength of collaborative relationships was largely dependent on willingness of individual services to make connections, and those services to reciprocate. While participants were positive about developing linkages with parents in the interests of children's learning, and with schools to support transition, only some ECE services were keen to foster professional linkages and share information and resources with other ECE services, although benefits seemed to occur when these relationships were formed. And while there was a desire for most services to have greater connections with Māori and iwi (except kōhanga reo where these were strong) and with Pacific communities (except Pasifika ECE services where these were strong), there was often little confidence about how to go about approaching this.

It is too early to judge the initial impact of the strategic plan. The purpose of this report is to provide a picture of the ECE context prior to the mid-2004 policy changes as a baseline for comparison and, as such, it is primarily descriptive. It is too early in the early evaluation to assess the initial impact of the strategic plan and subsequent evaluation reports will provide an analysis of the impact of the plan. However, in the final section, we include our thoughts about some issues and pressures raised by the evaluation findings, that the MOE and the ECE sector may find useful to consider.

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