Quality in parent | whānau-led services Publications
The main purpose of this research was to find out more about the contributions parent and whānau-led early childhood education (ECE) services are making to children’s learning, parent knowledge/skills and social support, and community, in order to provide the Ministry of Education and parent/whānau-led services with information that could be used to support quality in these services.
Author(s): Linda Mitchell, Arapera Royal Tangaere, Diane Mara and Cathy Wylie, New Zealand Council for Educational Research.
Date Published: June 2006
The main purpose of this research was to find out more about the contributions parent and whānau-led early childhood education (ECE) services are making to children’s learning, parent knowledge/skills and social support, and community, in order to provide the Ministry of Education and parent/whānau-led services with information that could be used to support quality in these services. Parent/whānau led services are playcentres, köhanga reo, Pasifika early childhood centres and groups, general playgroups, community language playgroups and puna.
Three research questions framed the project:
- How does the learning and development that happens for adults impact on the learning and development for their children?
- How does children’s learning and development impact on the learning and development of the adults?
- What is the interaction between the learning processes happening in services and the home context.
The project investigated these aspects first through interviews in 2003 – 2004 with key informants involved in parent and whānau-led services, government officials and international researchers. The first phase information is detailed in Mitchell, L., Royal Tangaere, A. and Whitford, M. (2005) Investigating quality learning experiences in parent and whānau-led early childhood services. Background Report, and is used here to describe each of the main service’s characteristics. This first phase also pointed to aspects to include in the second phase of the research where we gathered data in mid 2004 from a sample of 28 parent and whānau-led services. This is a small scale research project aimed at showing patterns that appear to be consistent for the centres in the study, and is suggestive of possible factors that may relate to the outcomes the Ministry of Education was interested in. It is not a quantitative study aimed at showing causality.
This overview focuses on
- Providing a portrait of each of the distinctive service types: their history, philosophy and operation, and then the patterns of strength related to the goals of the services in this study on 11 outcomes or contributions that parent/whānau led services can make to children and parents’ learning and wellbeing, as well as community.
- Examining what factors were associated with some individual services making a greater contribution to outcomes than others.
- Discussion of what it means to be a parent and whānau-led service, examination of the three research questions, and discussion of implications of the study.
Portrait of service types
We found the service goals and aspirations were distinctive, and were wider than children’s learning. Playcentre was committed to parent learning and support, köhanga reo to total immersion in te reo Māori and tikanga Māori, Pasifika to maintenance and strengthening of Pacific language and culture, playgroups to providing social support for parents, community language playgroups to maintenance and strengthening their community language and cultural identity. One puna in this study was committed to te reo and tikanga Māori, while the other had goals more similar to general playgroups. The service goals linked to where services put their energy, and tended to be associated with strengths in relation to outcomes in those areas.
Factors associated with strengths
Not all services of a distinctive type were uniformly doing well in relation to the same outcomes and to the general pattern of strength for their service type on these outcomes.
In relation to children’s learning, some factors associated with outcomes are structural features of quality that are common to all ECE services, i.e. good quality resources, adult qualifications and training, and participation in professional development/wananga. In services where parents were the educators we found that having a mix of adults with some holding higher qualifications and more years of experience seemed to contribute, perhaps because parents placed store on learning through mentoring and working alongside others. Centres with higher overall quality ratings tended to have a wider range of professional advice and support and often had mutually beneficial relationships with other ECE services in their locality.
Parents contributing to the education programme on a regular basis combined with takeup of professional support for adults as learners contributed to centre-home connections in the interests of children.
All the services had aspirations to support and encourage children in socialising and caring for each other, and we observed co-operative play and children supporting each other in most. However, few of the services in the study were rated highly on more cognitively challenging interactions, such as adults asking open-ended questions and adults scaffolding learning which enable adults to engage with children’s interests and thinking.
There were differences in access to special needs support, with playcentre and köhanga reo being supported through their structures to obtain early identification of needs and specialist support if appropriate.
Parent learning and support
Many services were providing social support for parents and whānau, and some were strong on opportunities for parent learning. Factors associated with strengths in parent learning were:
- parent involvement in the education programme and in other aspects of centre operation;
- parents in training and professional development;
- leadership for adult learning.
Language and culture
High levels of language fluency were a contributing factor to language and culture learning and maintenance, underscoring the need for fluent speakers in the language immersion services. Centres that were stronger in helping children to learn had a higher communal level of fluency through paid staff, parents and kaumātua or grandparents. Köhanga reo with high proportions of whānau who could speak te reo focused their support on encouraging whānau to speak the language at home. Services took active responsibility to support parents to improve fluency where these were low, köhanga reo through kura reo and wananga, Pasifika centres and community language playgroups through parents learning alongside their children.
What does it mean to be a parent and whānau-led service?
The clearest hallmark that was evident from this study was that parents using these services emphasised the importance of their own involvement in, or gain from, the service, whether or not the service used paid staff. For some, this meant full involvement in the educational programme. For others, it means learning from others, either through a growing involvement in the programme itself, or in specific programmes and support provided as part of the service. These gains for parents were not just seen as gains for individuals, but for their communities. This was particularly the case for services whose very reason for being is to ensure the life of te reo or another community language, and the tikanga or values of a particular culture, through their use in family as well as community life.
How does the learning and development that happens for adults impact on the learning and development for their children?
Parent learning and development gained through the parent/whānau led service did make a contribution to the overall quality of the education programme for children where parents and whānau were the educators. These contributions were likely to be positively related to children’s learning. Parents did gain useful knowledge and practical ideas that they could also use at home; cultural identity was supported where this was a focus for centres; some gained confidence to support their child in other educational settings; and their involvement could create links with other families that supported children outside the centre as well as in it.
How does children’s learning impact on the learning and development of the adults?
Parents involved in parent/whānau led centres could identify the part they had played through their involvement, and this encouraged their own continued learning. In immersion services, children’s learning in the language spurred adults to make the effort themselves.
What is the interaction between the learning processes happening in services and the home context?
Interactions between learning processes in home and the ECE service seemed to vary according to service type, to be related to the aspirations and goals of the services, and to the nature of parent and whānau involvement. Interactions were about children’s learning generally, cultural practices and social interactions.
Implications for policy
Data from the study services and findings from other relevant New Zealand research show varying levels of the factors contributing to the outcomes that each service is seeking. These are highlighted as useful aspects to consider in policy and service work aimed at raising quality with general suggestions as well as specific suggestions made for each service type:
- finding ways to support small centres through temporary staffing or a mobile staffing reserve if this is needed to achieve a balanced mix of educators. Some smaller centres seemed to have a limited pool of parents with relevant skills, qualifications and experience on which to draw, and playgroups had no or limited access to professional support. Access to a greater range of expertise would help them.
- perhaps regulating for a maximum playgroup size to avoid having very large playgroups and supporting very large groups to operate as two groups. Playgroups tended to do better when they were of moderate size (20-25 children) rather than very large or very small. There is no maximum playgroup size as there is for licensed centres.
- providing incentives to retain experienced and qualified people as educators in the programme, especially in centres with many transient families or those of small size. Both qualifications and experience tended to be associated with higher quality ratings.
- providing access to good quality curriculum resources, mainly for playgroups. The Ministry of Education Play to Learn newsletters provide useful ideas about equipment and resources, many of which are inexpensive and home-made, and ideas for activities. Playgroup parents in this study would like more of these ideas, alongside a professional support person to work with them directly. Some would like support to purchase resources. Other options (not mentioned by parents) are provision of a mobile resource service with a qualified co-ordinator to regularly visit centres, similar to the mobile kindergarten concept, and expansion of the Correspondence School early childhood education service to offer curriculum resource advice and professional support.
- facilitating access to special needs support for centres that need such help. The issue this could address for some playgroups and Pasifika centres is their lack of information about what is the meaning of “special needs” and how to go about getting support for children with these needs.
- reducing high levels of volunteer work in playcentres, e.g. for fundraising and administration, where these distract parents from participating in aspects of playcentre that are more important for children’s educational opportunities, and making a greater contribution towards the costs of playcentre education courses and professional advice since these contribute so much to adult learning for work with children both in the playcentre and at home;
- offering playgroups regular access to good quality professional support and professional development/workshops in the community where the playgroup is located, with “hands on” sessions in the playgroup being taken regularly by qualified teachers working alongside parents; assisting playgroups, including Pasifika playgroups that have extra costs such as employing a teacher or rental accommodation, to meet these costs;
- finding ways to address uneven access of Pasifika centres to professional support; supporting staff to become qualified in licensed centres; providing practical advice and support with the licensing process so that staff and parents are not distracted from putting energy into the education programme and adult learning; retaining fluent qualified staff to work in Pasifika centres and playgroups;
- recruiting and retaining fluent qualified kaiako and kaumātua to work in köhanga reo to support children’s learning of te reo and tikanga Māori and offer pathways to parents for their own learning and encouraging parent involvement in whānau based learning wananga; offering all köhanga reo ongoing training and professional development focused on the curriculum, planning, assessment and evaluation.
While the Te Köhanga Reo National Trust has a network and system of support for köhanga reo whānau focused on improving the quality of te reo, and on enabling whānau to understand their role, there are barriers to achieving these aims. Individual köhanga reo whānau, who are responsible for recruiting and retaining kaiako, are finding it more difficult to recruit fluent, qualified (Tohu Whakapakari) kaiako, or even fluent kaiako, unless a competitive salary is offered. Similarly, the retention of kaiako is related to salary levels. Those köhanga reo in the study who said they paid “market rates” had to charge higher fee levels than others, which could have the effect of lowering participation levels. Providing ongoing training on te reo and the curriculum through Whakapiki Reo and Te Whāriki contracts with the Ministry of Education also has limitations. Lack of availability of expertise means that not all köhanga reo can receive support at the köhanga reo or purapura levels. There are fluent qualified kaiako, who are expert and have specialist skills but to employ them as professional leaders means removing them from the köhanga reo and reducing the level of quality provision for children’s learning of te reo. An expansion of the Trust’s role to service all köhanga reo is limited by resourcing, both human and financial. It will take a long time to build up the expertise.
A fruitful area for research is language learning in köhanga reo, community language playgroups and Pasifika centres. What approaches to teaching and learning can strengthen language and multi-literacy learning for parents as well as children in these services?
It would be useful to consider the role that might be played by ICT in providing professional support for playgroups and isolated centres, in connecting centres with others, and in providing access to websites. Broadband access in the schools sector has enabled rural schools taking part in pilots for project PROBE to participate in broadband-enabled two-way video-conferencing that allowed advanced subjects to be taught where no local teacher was available. Perhaps a pilot project linking a qualified co-ordinator with a group of playgroups through local school broadband access could be developed and evaluated. Or broadband access in playgroup settings could enable a co-ordinator to observe the setting in action, and advise and respond to parents during and at the end of a session.
A further research project to evaluate the impact of any policy changes made as a result of the review of parent/whānau-led services should be undertaken. It would be useful to consider the same outcomes studied in this evaluation for comparison, and, ideally, return to the same centres and groups.
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