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Participation in ECE Evidence Booklet

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The percentage of children not attending any early childhood education before school is down slightly to 5% on 2011 when it was 5.3%, according to new data from the Ministry of Education’s Early Learning Taskforce published on the Education Counts website this month.

The Participation in Early Childhood Education evidence booklet contains data on non-attendance in ECE and was prepared as part of work being done by the Ministry on increasing participation in ECE in line with government targets for 98% of children to have attended ECE before starting school set for 2016.

The rate of non-attendance has been falling since 2000 with two periods highlighted – between 2001 and 2004 when several policies for ECE were introduced and around 2008 after the 20-Hours Fee ECE subsidy was introduced.

The Participation in Early Childhood Education evidence booklet contains data on non-attendance in ECE and was prepared as part of work being done by the Ministry on increasing participation in ECE in line with government targets for 98% of children to have attended ECE before starting school set for 2016.

The booklet begins with a claim that “participation in quality early childhood education (ECE) has significant benefits for children and their future learning outcomes” and cites reports by Statistics NZ and the Ministry of Pacific Affairs, the Competent Children research, an OECD report on PISA school test results, and a literature review by Mitchell, Wylie (an author with the Competent Children Study) and Carr to back this claim. There is no mention of empirical evidence, from longitudinal studies with control groups of children not in ECE, showing ECE participation can also have disadvantages for children and highlighting that ECE is probably not a silver bullet for improving children’s future educational achievement unless able to replicate the high levels of funding and staffing (etc.) present in interventions such as the Abecedarian Project in the USA. 

The data presented in the booklet shows that children who go on to attend low decile schools are less likely to have been in ECE prior to school and that Pasifika and Maori children are less likely to attend ECE than other ethnic groups. In 2011 most children who attended ECE did so for between 20 and 30 hours a week and attended for at least two years before they started school.

In the section about early childhood education services the booklet notes growth in the numbers of kindergartens and ‘education and care’ centres and home-based networks, alongside a decline over the past decade in the numbers of playcentres, kohanga reo and casual ECE services. The number of ‘education and care’ centres fell by 225 from 2011 and the booklet attributes this to a change in licensing regulations raising the maximum number of children on a licence to 150 that resulted in some services merging their licences to reduce costs.

A breakdown of the statistics by region found that the Northland region has the highest percentage of non-attendance. The region’s poor economy and remote locations were factors suggested for the high rate. The remote locations in Gisborne were also highlighted as a reason for low participation in this region. The area also has a large Maori population who tend to be over-represented in non-attendance statistics.

Auckland also had a high rate of non-attendance with a large concentration of Pasifika families, accounting for a large proportion of children who do not attend ECE.

The last part of the booklet details some of the current programmes run by the Ministry of Education to try to increase participation in ECE.

These include:

  • equity funding which provides additional funding to services that offer ECE to high-needs families such as those from low socio-economic background
  • participation initiatives such as Engaging Priority Families which supports families with 3 and 4-year-olds
  • supported playgroups
  • flexible and home-based initiatives which help establish home-based services or transition informal care arrangements by families into licensed or certificated ECE services.


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