Locality-based evaluation of Pathways to the Future - Ngā Huarahi Arataki
Pathways to the Future: Ngā Huarahi Arataki was a 10-year strategic plan for early childhood education published by the Ministry of Education in 2002. This report synthesises findings from a locality-based longitudinal evaluation of Pathways to the Future: Ngā Huarahi Arataki.
Author(s): Linda Mitchell, Patricia Meagher-Lundberg, Diane Mara, Pam Cubey and Margaret Whitford, The University of Waikato. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.
Date Published: July 2011
Pathways to the Future: Ngā Huarahi Arataki was a 10-year strategic plan for early childhood education published by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in 2002. It had three overarching goals to promote participation in good quality early childhood education (ECE); to improve the quality of ECE; and to enhance collaborative relationships between ECE services, parent support and development, schools, health and social services. Four supporting strategies underpinned these goals: to review regulations; review the funding system; undertake ongoing research; and involve the sector in ECE policy development.
Strategic plan action steps were developed along the way to achieve these goals. Distinctly new roles for the Government in planning and provision, in supporting teaching and learning, and in creating coordination and coherence between systems were created. Key action steps were as follows.
- Promoting participation: Across New Zealand, MOE undertook analysis of the current network of ECE services. The purpose was to assist in identifying where investment in new services might be needed and where existing provision was sufficient to meet community needs. The Discretionary Grants scheme was expanded to increase funding for new ECE services in areas of low participation or high population growth. Land was set aside on new school sites for ECE provision. Targeted Promoting Participation Projects aimed to identify families who did not participate in ECE and provide options for them to start participating.
- Improving quality: The Government set targets and provided initiatives to increase the proportion of registered teachers in teacher-led services. The aim was that by 2012 all regulated staff in teacher-led services would be registered teachers or at least 70% would be registered teachers and the rest would be studying for a New Zealand Teachers Council-approved qualification. Assessment and other professional resources congruent with the sociocultural framing of Te Whāriki, New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum, were published. Funding was provided for associated professional development. The Government established and supported Centres of Innovation (COIs) to build the use of innovative approaches that improved early childhood teaching and learning based on Te Whāriki and to share models of practice with others in the ECE sector.
- Promoting collaborative relationships: Interagency work took place between MOE, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to improve links in early years. From 2006, MSD provided three years of funding for 10 pilot projects offering parent support and development from their service. These were extended to 16 in 2007. MOE assessment exemplars included how assessments include and construct a learning community (Ministry of Education, 2005c).
- Supporting strategies: Funding was reviewed over 2003 to 2004, and a new system of funding, based on the main staffing and operational costs of service provision and with significantly enhanced rates, was implemented in April 2005. On 1 July 2007, a policy that three- and four-year-olds in teacher-led services could access up to 20 hours per week free ECE (if their service opted into the scheme) was implemented. The 20 hours free ECE policy did not apply to all children and did not guarantee an entitled place. Optional charges and voluntary donations could be sought. The policy was subsequently renamed 20 hours ECE.
This report synthesises findings from a locality-based longitudinal evaluation1 of Pathways to the Future: Ngā Huarahi Arataki. The entire evaluation provides a baseline picture of how things were in mid-2004 in eight localities in the study in relation to the three goals of the strategic plan and before the major ECE strategic plan policy changes began (Mitchell, Royal Tangaere, Mara, & Wylie, 2008), tracks changes that occurred in services and for parents between 2004 and 2006 as strategic actions got underway (Mitchell & Hodgen, 2008), and in 2009 after strategic plan actions had been in place for some time.
Four evaluation questions were asked. To what extent, in what ways, and how effectively has the strategic plan:
- increased participation in ECE
- improved the quality of ECE
- facilitated the formation of collaborative relationships between ECE services, parent support and development, schools, health and social services
- supported parents’ ability to engage in work and training?
Changes from 2004 to 2006 to 2009 were measured using indicators of the intended outcomes of the strategic plan from a sample of 32 services in each of eight localities that remained in the evaluation over the time period. These were 12 education and care centres, eight kindergartens, eight playcentres, two Pasifika services and two home-based services2.
Methods included a parent survey, management questionnaire, teacher/educator interview, service profile, and observations of process quality. Process quality refers to the environment, interactions, and relationships that occur in an early childhood education setting and shape children’s learning opportunities and experiences in that setting. MOE national and locality datasets were used to provide a context for changes occurring at ECE service level.
The strategic plan appears to have contributed to increased participation. Nationally, ECE participation prior to school entry increased from 92.9% in 2004, to 93.4% in 2006 to 93.9% in 2009. Average weekly hours of attendance in an ECE service also increased from 16 hours (2004) to 16.9 hours (2006) to 19.5 hours (2009).
At a locality level, the targeted participation initiatives undertaken by MOE were associated with increased provision of new services and increased participation in the localities in which they had been implemented. However, these targeted initiatives did not affect most of the ECE services in the evaluation sample.
By 2009, the 20 hours ECE policy initiative was having a strong influence on provision and participation. The funding incentives offered by 20 hours ECE and the new funding system enabled sessional services to increase their hours to access more funding and better meet community need. The main need expressed by parents in the sample services in 2004 and 2006 was for more hours of ECE. By 2009, this need had reduced slightly and there was a decrease in the percentage of children on waiting lists, suggesting service operation was better matched to parental needs. There was some matching of hours of attendance of three- and four-year-olds with 20 hours ECE and an increase in enrolments for this age group. Overall the average hours of ECE attendance increased from 10-15 hours per week in 2004 and 2006, to 17 hours per week in 2009. The 2009 hours are within the range of 15–20 hours for children over two suggested by Loeb, Bridges, Bassok, Fuller, and Rumberger (2005) as affording good opportunity for cognitive gain. In 2009, fewer children were attending ECE for just a few hours per week than in 2006 and 2004.
Improvements in the levels of funding through the funding policies were strongly associated with services having greater financial sustainability and less spare capacity in 2009 compared with previous evaluation years. Costs were much more affordable for families in 2009. 20 hours ECE appeared to have a strong impact on increasing the number of children attending and their hours of participation, and parental decisions about participation. Seventeen percent of all parents and 30% of low income parents reported that they decided to participate in ECE because of the 20 hours ECE policy.
Improving ECE quality
The strategic plan was effective in contributing to sustainable good quality ECE in a majority of services that took up the various opportunities for teacher education and professional development and accessed and used MOE professional resources. In 2009, positive shifts in overall quality were apparent. ‘Good’ and ‘very good’ quality had been sustained or strengthened between 2006 and 2009 in 22 of the study services (69%). The variable shifts in ratings that had occurred between 2004 and 2006 were replaced with a pattern of consolidation or gain.
Positive shifts from 2004 to 2006 to 2009 occurred on the intermediate outcomes of the strategic plan, but only for the outcomes that had been a specific focus for MOE initiatives.
Quality teaching and learning practices improved for many services. In 2009:
- twenty-nine of the 32 services were rated as having ‘good’ or ‘very good’ assessment practices, up from 16 services in 2006, and one service in 2004
- twenty-four services had ‘good’ or ‘very good’ planning processes, up from 19 in 2006
- eighteen services had ‘good’ or ‘very good’ evaluation processes, up from eight in 2006
- eight services had ‘good’ or ‘very good’ self-review processes, up from one in 2006, and one in 2004.
Teachers’ understanding of Te Whāriki improved. Twenty-four services (75%) had ‘good’ or ‘very good’ ratings in 2009, compared with 15 in 2006, and nine in 2004. Ratings of implementing a bicultural curriculum, which had improved for about a third of individual services between 2004 and 2006 did not change in 2009, however.
The gains were clearly linked to the high and continuing usage of Kei Tua o te Pae. Assessment for Learning: Early childhood exemplars, the newer usage of self-review guidelines Ngā Arohaehae whai hua. Self review guidelines for early childhood education, Centre of Innovation publications and workshops and professional development linked to Te Whāriki. These were MOE funded strategic plan initiatives.
Taken together, the strategic plan initiatives have provided significant opportunities and affordances for a curriculum that is ‘permeable’, open to contribution from all comers (Carr et al., 2001, p.31) and that enables teachers to work with families’ funds of knowledge (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). Teachers’ understanding of sociocultural theory of learning has been enhanced.
The strategic plan targets and qualification incentives led to a marked increase in the percentage of qualified teachers in teacher-led ECE services nationally and in the services in the study. A striking finding was the relationships with observed quality. One hundred percent of the staff in each of the teacher-led services that were rated ‘very good’ quality were registered teachers at the time the observations of quality were made. This was true in every evaluation year. Those rated ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ quality had lower levels of qualified teachers and did not take up the comprehensive opportunities for professional development or make full usage of the MOE professional resources.
Ratios and group size did not change over the period of the evaluation. These were not a focus of strategic plan initiatives. It is likely that setting targets and incentives for recommended standards for ratios and group size would support positive change in these aspects, as it did for improving qualification levels. These structural features of teacher qualifications, ratios, and group size are important since they provide conditions for the kinds of teaching and learning that lead to quality outcomes for children (Mitchell, Wylie & Carr, 2008). Qualified teachers are likely to draw on their knowledge and experience of children and pedagogy to offer the kinds of cognitively challenging adult:child interactions that are linked with gains for children. Lower ratios and smaller groups enable more interactions (National Institute for Child Health and Human Development [NICHHD] Early Child Care Research Network, 2002).
Enhancing collaborative relationships
More integrated services for children, parents and whānau
A focus within MOE professional resources, Centres of Innovation (COI) publications and associated professional development was on teachers/educators finding out about and using families’ ‘funds of knowledge’. Use of these resources and take-up of professional development appear to have contributed to improvements in relationships with parents, particularly over educational aims. The percentage of services reaching ‘good’ or ‘very good’ levels of quality in their relationships with parents quadrupled over the evaluation years, from 9% in 2004 to 38% in 2009. Most parents reported that they talked with teachers/educators about their own child’s progress, behaviour, and well-being, they found this communication was useful and they contributed to assessment and planning for their own child. Sixty percent of parents were participating in assessment and planning in 2009 compared with 47% in 2006 and 36% in 2004. Parents’ overall ‘very good’ satisfaction with their ECE service also rose from 65% in 2004 to 68% in 2006 to 70% in 2009.
Relationships with health and welfare services were not supported by any particular strategic plan actions. They appeared dependent on the efforts of individuals or ECE service support management making connections or of community services reaching out to ECE services. Relationships with health services improved over the evaluation period. In most services health professionals visited to check children’s health (but only if a visit was requested), health professionals talked to parents but this was infrequent and ECE services made referrals to health services. In 2009, relationships with welfare services were mixed, ranging from ‘very good’ to ‘poor’, similar to what was found in 2006 and 2004. Two localities where relationships improved over the evaluation period were undertaking initiatives for government agencies and community to work together.
Stronger connections were made with local marae in 2009 compared with 2006. Twenty-four services (75%) had contact with local marae, up significantly from three services in 2006 (10%). Some of these services were supported to make the connections with local marae by the focus within the MOE funded exemplars on relationships with community. Relationships with local Pasifika groups or organisations improved only slightly: six services had contact in 2009, up from only two Pasifika services in 2006. Most of those who did not have contact stated they did not know what organisations or groups were in their locality, suggesting that external support would assist.
Cohesion of education from birth to eight
Strategic plan initiatives appear to have helped ECE services to strengthen professional relationships with each other. In 2009, structural support was occurring through professional development clusters, IT networks and formal ECE networks. These opportunities were not visible in 2004, when the main impetus for teachers working together was through service umbrella organisations. Relationships between local ECE services became more focused on pedagogy in 2009. Services were more likely to share professional development and to share information about children attending two or more ECE services.
Professional relationships with local schools also improved. ECE services and schools were more likely to share professional development and curriculum ideas in 2009.
Supporting Parents’ ability to engage in work and training
Participation in ECE offered greater support for parents to engage in work and training in 2009 compared with 2006. Three main shifts occurred. First, parents were more likely to use ECE alone rather than to combine non-ECE arrangements with ECE. Secondly, there was a reduction in use of more than one ECE service while parents worked or studied. Thirdly, the hours of ECE used as arrangements to support engagement in work and training increased in 2009. The changes are likely to better support children and families. They limit the need for children to make transitions from one service to another and for parents to juggle complex care arrangements for their child. Childcare barriers of cost, hours available, and choice of service type were less of a hindrance for parents who wanted to work and study in 2009 compared with 2006.
The hours available and choice of service type became more closely aligned to parental employment and study needs in 2009. Changes to service operation were largely made possible by the funding improvements, which opened up possibilities for change, and by service leadership and their willingness to consult with community about operation hours.
The main message from this evaluation is that the strategic plan initiatives were being used as intended to increase participation, improve quality, and enhance collaborative relationships. The greatest gains have come from initiatives that were universally available. The evaluation provides substantial support for continuing to give good quality ECE priority in New Zealand’s policy efforts to improve outcomes for children and support families.
- The MOE evaluation strategy for the ECE strategic plan also included development of a monitoring system designed to provide indicators of progress and identify emerging problems, and targeted evaluations that both contributed to the overall evaluative picture and informed decisions about individual initiatives.
- The sample in 2004 and 2006 was of 46 services. Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust decided not to participate in the Stage 2 evaluation and as a result the eight kōhanga reo and one puna in the initial sample did not participate in Stage 2. A decision was made not to include the playgroup because of low attendance and limitations in what could be said about it. A Pasifika service had closed in 2006. Two other Pasifika services and a home-based service declined to participate.