More children in early childhood education

The government wants as many children as possible to take part in early learning and early childhood education (ECE). This is because taking part in quality learning builds a strong foundation for children’s ongoing education.

The government set a Better Public Service goal in 2012 to increase participation, so that, in 2016, 98% of children starting school will have experienced quality ECE.

While this is no longer a BPS target, it remains a goal that informs the work of the Ministry, which runs several participation initiatives to make it easier for families to find an ECE service that meets their needs.

To help achieve this, the Ministry has several participation initiatives that make it easier for families to find an ECE service they like that meets their needs.

The Ministry is working with communities

The Ministry believes that each community knows what will work best. We support communities to put together local initiatives, innovation and actions that stimulate demand for early learning and increase participation by our youngest learners. 

Our approach has four strands.

  1. To partner with Māori and Pasifika communities to understand and co-construct solutions and outcomes for their tamariki, looking for ways to address gaps in provision and improve the quality in early learning.
  2. To seek support from the broad community, including churches, employers, sports clubs and social service groups.
  3. To work with other agencies, including the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Health, Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs.
  4. To work with low decile schools to identify families where children are not taking part in ECE and work with them to get higher participation.

Setting up community action groups

We have set up community action groups, which drive the delivery of action plans to raise the value of early learning. They are made up of people who have interest, connections, passion, drive and reach – the 'doers' in their communities – and they encourage early learning in ways that are meaningful for their communities.

They help create demand, fill available ECE places, and address supply issues. To date, more than 30 community action groups have been set up.

Promoting early learning

The Ministry also promotes early learning and ECE at places where families and children are likely to naturally come together, for example, at community festivals.

We support community events, such as play days and street parties, to promote early learning and raise awareness of its benefits. It’s this kind of innovation that reaches families who might not otherwise have access to information about the benefits of early learning. These events target families with children under 5 who are not currently in ECE.

Making ECE participation easier

The Ministry of Education sets up participation initiatives in areas where many children aren’t going to ECE. A lot of its focus is on Māori and Pasifika children and those from low socio-economic backgrounds. The initiatives make it easier for families to find an ECE service that is affordable, is easy to get to, feels right for them and has suitable hours.

Two examples of participation initiatives are Engaging Priority Families (EPF) and Targeted Assistance for Provision (TAP).

Working through Engaging Priority Families (EPF)

EPF coordinators help 3 and 4 year old children to go to ECE. They support the hardest-to-reach families, helping them to find the right ECE for them, encouraging regular attendance, supporting learning at home and helping them with the transition to school. There are 29 EPF initiatives across the country, working in communities with the most need.

Working through Targeted Assistance for Provision (TAP)

TAP is to provide funding through grants, incentives and partnerships to provide new ECE places where they are needed most. Over the past 4 years, it’s made 166 grants and created over 6,200 new places.

By using partnership-based funding, it’s kept the average cost of each place at just over $10,300 – a huge improvement on previous schemes that created child places at an average cost of $25,000.

Progress towards 98%

Prior ECE participation rate - quarterly for the previous year.

The December 2016 ECE prior participation rates nationally and for priority groups are as follows:

The ECE prior participation rate for children starting school in the year to 31 December 2016 was 96.7%, up 0.3 percentage points on the year-ended December 2015 rate and up 0.1 percentage points from 96.6% for the year-ended June 2016.

The prior participation rate for Māori children increased 0.7 percentage points to 95.0%, up from 94.3% for the year-ended December 2015 and up 0.1 percentage points from 94.9% for the year-ended June 2016.

The prior participation rate for Pasifika children increased 1.1 percentage point to 92.9%, up from 91.8% for the year-ended December 2015 and up 0.2 percentage points from 92.7% for the year-ended June 2016.

The prior participation rate for low decile (1-3) schools increased 0.9 percentage points to 94.0%, up from 93.1% for the year-ended December 2015 and up 0.3 percentage points from 93.7% for the year-ended June 2016.

The number of children not attending an ECE service before they start school is now very small – 782 children short of 98%.

We have seen achievement of 98% at a regional level, and the greatest gains being made by target groups. Weekly data indicates that we are closing the gap - the rate was over 97% in the starting weeks of terms 2, 3 and 4 for 2016.

The Ministry of Education will continue to connect with the hardest to reach children and their families, with a specific focus on raising ECE participation for Māori, Pasifika, and low socio-economic communities, particularly for three and four year old children.

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback