An Evaluation of Initial Uses and Impact of Equity Funding Publications
Equity Funding is a small amount of additional funding for early childhood education (ECE) services intended to reduce educational disparities between different groups, reduce barriers to participation for groups underrepresented in ECE, and support ECE services to raise their level of educational achievement. This evaluation of the initial uses and impact of Equity Funding, funded by the Ministry of Education, is intended to contribute to the development of policy within the early childhood education sector.
Author(s): Linda Mitchell, Arapera Royal Tangaere, Diane Mara, Cathy Wylie, New Zealnad Council for Educational Research.
Date Published: January 2006
Equity Funding is a small amount of additional funding for early childhood education (ECE) services intended to reduce educational disparities between different groups, reduce barriers to participation for groups underrepresented in ECE, and support ECE services to raise their level of educational achievement. The funding pool was $8.5 million in the 2002/2003 year, rising to $11 million in the 2004/2005 year. Funding is given to community-based services that meet criteria for one or more of four components: low socio-economic community, special needs and non-English speaking background, language and culture other than English, and isolation.
ECE services first received Equity Funding in March 2002. The purpose of this evaluation was to look at their use of Equity Funding over a year, and the effects it had. It focuses on a cross-section sample of 47 services, including education and care centres, kindergartens, kōhanga reo, playcentres, Pasifika centres, home-based services, and hospital services, with data collected in late 2002–2003, and again in late 2003–2004, when 8 other kōhanga reo were also included.
We triangulated interview data, service data and field researcher observation data to ascertain patterns of use and levels of participation and quality for the evaluation sample services. We then checked to see whether these patterns were consistent with national patterns revealed through two surveys and a random sample of annual reports. We triangulated the data collected from within individual sample services, to relate uses made of Equity Funding to changes in participation and quality indicators reported by ECE services or evident in field researcher observations. Through this process we found some changes in quality and participation for the evaluation sample services that seem to be connected to Equity Funding expenditure, as well as conditions that support positive impacts.
The relationships found between particular uses and effects seem consistent. However, we cannot distinguish between the direct effects of Equity Funding itself and possible effects of other external factors that would be expected to impact on quality and participation. The strategic plan for early childhood education Pathways to the Future - Ngā Huarahi Arataki was published in the same year as the introduction of Equity Funding. Changes also occurred in staff qualification requirements for teacher-led services, with a range of incentives for teachers to train or upgrade their qualifications. A greater role for government with respect to encouraging ECE participation and property provision also began to occur parallel to the evaluation fieldwork.
Use of Equity Funding
The use of Equity Funding did vary by component. Evaluation sample services, those responding to the national surveys, and those providing annual reports were most likely to spend on the following.
Those receiving the low socioeconomic component mostly spent Equity Funding on curriculum resources, professional development, excursions and staffing. Kōhanga reo were less likely than others to spend on staffing and excursions, and somewhat more likely to spend on kai and the running costs of a vehicle.
The special needs and non-English speaking background component was not specifically directed towards the two groups of children it identified for most ECE services that received it. The few services that did treat it as targeted funding were those that had such children currently attending. They usually had many such children. Some services with children in the targeted groups were not receiving this component because it was derived from the EQI.
Spending for children with special needs in the sample services was most likely to be for additional staff to work individually with these children, professional development related to children’s special needs, and building modifications such as ramps. The national survey data suggest that resources, building modifications, and professional development were the main uses nationwide. Services thought this component of Equity Funding could not meet their need for readily available external advice and support. The need was not so much to purchase advice and support, but to have it available through established agencies when required.
Spending for children from non-English speaking backgrounds added staff from these backgrounds, usually as teacher-aides or specialist part-timers, or adding to children’s experiences through resources and excursions. It was harder to meet needs for permanent staff members who were multilingual and to provide access to interpreters and translators. Equity Funding was not intended to cover full permanent staff costs.
The language other than English component was spent by kōhanga reo on training fees for Whakapakari,1 and professional development and wānanga related to te reo and tikanga Māori. Te reo training was specifically mentioned by just under a fifth of all kōhanga reo nationwide. All the Pasifika centres also received other components and mostly spent Equity Funding on ECE professional development, support staff to gain ECE teaching qualifications, including some studying for the Pacific Islands Early Childhood (PIEC) Diploma, and resources.
Both isolated kōhanga reo and English-medium services spent the isolation component on professional development and resources. In line with their kaupapa to ensure the highest possible participation, kōhanga reo were more likely to spend it on transport, and the English-medium services, on staffing. Some isolated English-medium services were concerned with their sustainability. Teacher-led services spent it on recruiting qualified staff. Where Equity Funding was spent on administrative or maintenance tasks usually undertaken by volunteers in parent-led services, parents/whānau became more enthusiastic about the service and parental involvement and child attendance increased.
Impact of Equity Funding expenditure on quality
Over half the sample services shifted to higher levels of process quality or sustained already high levels (interactions within the service to support learning, aspects of the education programme, resources and environment), and many improved aspects of structural quality (staffing levels) and opportunities for professional support from 2003–2004, with Equity Funding expenditure contributing to these shifts.
- Sample service participants thought spending on resources, playground development and excursions improved these aspects and led to greater stimulation for children. Field researcher ratings showed those spending Equity Funding substantially on curriculum resources and playground development generally improved their ratings on the adequacy and amount of books/toys/equipment, on equipment and activities to encourage fine motor play and on equipment and activities to encourage gross motor play from 2003–2004. The NZCER national survey data showed over half the recipients of Equity Funding generally thought it had improved their resources and facilities.
- Sample service participants thought staffing expenditure was linked to more responsive and challenging interactions with children, and better relationships with families. Patterns of shifts in field researchers’ overall quality ratings between 2003 and 2004 showed that services that made gains were more likely to spend on professional development and teaching technology, such as digital cameras, that can be used for communication with parents and involving them in their child’s learning, as well as directly for children’s learning. NZCER survey participants also linked use of Equity Funding on digital cameras to improved communication with families.
- Sample services that spent Equity Funding to provide staffing support for children with special educational needs or professional development, focused on the needs of individual children, thought they were making better provision for those children. Field researcher ratings showed those few sample services using Equity Funding for this purpose were already operating at a high level with respect to inclusion in 2003, and showed some minor slippage and some minor gains in 2004.
- Sample kōhanga reo whānau thought quality of cultural interactions and te reo was improved through Equity Funding expenditure on training and wānanga in te reo and tikanga Māori. Kōhanga reo making gains in quality ratings of language and culture items were more likely to have staff and whānau in training, to be attending more wānanga, and wānanga focused on te reo Māori. They were also more likely to have good relations between staff and whānau.
Services in the study and nationally made more use of Equity Funding to improve quality than to increase participation. The main gains in improving participation were in improving the regularity of attendance and strengthening relationships with parents/whānau and parent involvement in the service rather than enrolling children not currently attending. Most services other than some isolated ones were not under-subscribed. Thus increasing enrolments was not critical to services’ own viability.
Fee relief for individual children whose families found cost to be a barrier enabled those children to attend regularly or for longer periods. Some of these families were under stress and having their child in an ECE service supported them.
Those few kōhanga reo using Equity Funding for transport costs to collect children reported more regular attendance.
Unexpectedly, the use of Equity Funding to enhance quality was sometimes associated with gains in the regularity and duration of attendance and parent/whānau involvement. These gains occurred when parent and whānau-led services, particularly playcentres, employed staff to reduce volunteer workloads, when services included parents in activities that interested them, such as excursions and wānanga, when additional staff were employed to work with families, and when improvements were made to resources and the service environment. The Equity Funding use made the service more attractive to parents/whānau or led to better communication.
Equity Funding can enable services to remain open in isolated areas through uses such as recruitment incentives to address difficulties in attracting qualified teachers. Playcentre sustainability was strengthened through use of Equity Funding to reduce volunteer workload.
Equity Funding was used by one service to expand provision, although this is not an intention of Equity Funding policy.
Making effective use of Equity Funding
Analysis of decision-making processes, expenditure, and impact indicated several factors that may be related to making effective use of Equity Funding in respect to improving quality and parent involvement. The services that made gains or sustained their quality ratings and enhanced parent involvement were more likely to:
- use needs analysis linked to goals for children to make their decision on how to use Equity Funding;
- involve teacher/educators with close knowledge of the children and service needs in decision-making;
- spend directly on items related to quality; and
- use Equity Funding alongside other actions or resources aimed at improving that aspect of provision.
The total amount of Equity Funding received by the services in this study varied, from a few hundred dollars, to just under $30,000. There does not appear to be a minimum amount of money needed to allow services to make good use of the Equity Funding. Even small amounts of money, well-aimed at needs linked to service goals or Te Whāriki/DOPs2 appeared to make some difference.
The low socio-economic, isolation, and language and culture other than English components of Equity Funding are generally being used to address some current needs of these services that are not being met through other forms of MOE, Work and Income or other funding, and to raise quality or participation. Since these needs tend to be ongoing, Equity Funding is likely to be required for gains to be sustained and further gains made in the future, unless base funding is improved to levels able to address these needs.
The comparatively low level of targeted use of the special needs and non-English speaking background component, and the inability of Equity Funding to meet needs for access to external advice and support raises the question of whether this way of supporting children with these needs is the most productive. Such information could inform thinking about this component of Equity Funding and whether it is reaching the right early childhood education services.
The administration of Equity Funding as a separate fund, MOE guidelines about expenditure, and the requirement to report on expenditure annually are features that support services to think critically about their needs. Guidelines could be expanded to encourage services to follow processes of effective decision-making about expenditure described above. There could be a description of how use of Equity Funding can support parent involvement.
The findings suggest that some issues related to playcentre sustainability could be addressed through finding and emphasising ways to relieve parents of their high volunteer workload. In this study, some playcentres addressed their high workload by using Equity Funding to pay for administrative or maintenance work.
- Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust (TKRNT) qualification. This is a three year NZQA approved course focusing on traditional Māori child-rearing practices, Māori pedagogy of learning and teaching, Māori assessment processes, whanaungatanga (inter-relationships), whaioranga (health) and te reo and tikanga Māori. It is relevant to the language and culture programme.
- Te Whāriki is the early childhood education curriculum. DOPs is the Desirable Objectives and Practices, a mandatory requirement for licensed ECE services conveying government expectations of the standard of education and care services provide.