Findings - part one

ERO found considerable variability in how well services supported children as they approached transition to school. Approximately half of services supported children well or very well through their curriculum and assessment practices, and their relationships with parents and whanau, schools and external agencies. However, many Maori and Pacific children were more likely to be in services that were less supportive. Only around a third of services could identify the impact of their practices and processes that supported children as they approached transition to school.

ERO's overall findings

Figure 2 is a diagram called ERO’s evaluation focus. It has four rows, the first of which is labelled as   Assessment and has a bubble in the middle labelled Children. The second row is headed Responsive Curriculum. The third row is formed by two bubbles labelled Parents and Whānau and External Agencies, and the fourth by another bubble labelled Schools. These three bubbles overlap each other in the middle. To the right of the first two rows is a horizontal side bar labelled Self Review.

These findings are expanded on in the following section, highlighting good practice, challenges for services and improvements needed. The final section of the findings focuses on how well services are supporting children at risk of poor educational outcomes, particularly Maori and Pacific children, as they approach transition to school.

Curriculum, assessment, relationships and self review

Curriculum that supports children's transition to school

Many early childhood services that effectively supported children’s transition to school had a strong focus on children’s dispositional learning, independence and social competence. In many of these services, older children had the opportunity to participate in a specific programme that focused on extending their particular strengths and interests in authentic contexts. These services focused on:

  • literacy and mathematical concepts, knowledge and skills
  • scientific concepts, sparking imagination, creativity and a sense of wonder and awe
  • fine and gross motor skills
  • independence and self management
  • listening and following instructions
  • social competence
  • negotiating and making choices
  • exploring and discovering
  • asking questions and problem solving.

The following examples show how dispositions, specific skills and concepts were incorporated into meaningful and authentic learning contexts and, in some services, reflected their philosophy.

The service has a strong focus on child-centred learning, and children make choices for themselves from a broad range of learning experiences provided by teachers.

Hui Time supplements the programme. Children have a choice as to whether they wish to participate. Hui Time is an opportunity for children to identify what they would like to learn about. Children decide on the Hui Time focus by brainstorming and negotiating at the start of the week. Teachers work with the children’s interests and suggested activities to plan a programme. A teacher facilitates discussions and decision-making and supports children with appropriate resources and activities.

For example, a focus on dinosaurs included children investigating through webclips and books, sharing their knowledge, creating 3D artworks and drawings, baking, being palaeontologists and discussing their learning. Hui Time helps children develop leadership and negotiating skills, confidence to share ideas in a group, work collaboratively, research the topic and develop presentation skills.

Education and care service

A nature discovery programme is a feature of this kindergarten (in keeping with their philosophy) where the oldest children regularly spend a morning in the bush. The purpose is for the children to develop a deeper interest in taking care of the natural environment, independence, greater observational skills, deep enquiry, negotiation, making friends, mathematics, literacy and physical skills.

Kindergarten

Clear links between a service’s curriculum and the principles and strands of Te Whāriki and, in many services, links to The New Zealand Curriculum, meant that children experienced a relevant and meaningful curriculum and teaching practices based on teachers’ understanding of both the early childhood and school curricula. In some services the curriculum made connections between the key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum 1 and children’s dispositions, especially ‘learning to learn’ dispositions, such as risk taking, confidence, perseverance, taking responsibility, self­care skills, problem-solving and thinking skills. In a few services, teachers worked collaboratively with local new entrant teachers to make considered and appropriate decisions about the service’s curriculum, and how the curriculum in both the service and the school could assist a smooth transition for children.

Good practice also included services responding well to the interests, strengths and capabilities of children at risk of poor educational outcomes. Leaders and teachers worked closely with parents of children with special education needs and with external agencies to develop programmes that were appropriate and inclusive. Children for whom English was a second language were encouraged to speak their first language. Teachers knew, and used, common words in their first language sourced from parents. In a few services, the language and culture of Maori and Pacific children was integrated into, and reflected in, the curriculum and environment. The curriculum emphasised the people, places and things significant to Maori whanau and Pacific families. Children were developing their own identity and confidence which helps them manage change more successfully.

The service operated under the umbrella of a local iwi trust. All the children at the centre are Maori and most whakapapa to one of six local marae. Teachers use local landmarks, history and environmental issues to develop a strong kaupapa Maori curriculum. For example, children enjoy exploring the banks of the Waikato River and learning about river restoration programmes. These experiences integrate with other initiatives supported by the local iwi trust and deepen children’s understanding of the significance of the local environment to their history and identity. Maori language, karakia, pepeha, waiata, tikanga, and myths and legends are visible in the centre on a daily basis, and help Maori children build a strong sense of their language, culture and identity.

Education and care service

Improvements needed to support transitions through the curriculum

Substantial improvements were needed in many services to provide a supportive curriculum as children approached their time to transition to school. These improvements included:

  • increasing teachers’ understanding of Te Whāriki and the guidance it provides about ensuring continuity between early childhood education and school, and how it links to The New Zealand Curriculum
  • responding to and extending children’s strengths, interests and dispositions through the service’s curriculum
  • using strategies to develop literacy, mathematical and scientific concepts and skills in more meaningful and authentic contexts, rather than using extensive mat times, worksheets, isolated letter and number rote learning, reading books, and learning to write books
  • developing transition programmes based on children’s interests, rather than teacher- directed activities based on what parents and teachers think children might need to know for school
  • moving from a surface awareness of children’s language, culture and identity, to a deeper and more meaningful integration of these into their curriculum planning and implementation.

In some services, the expectations of parents for formal transition programmes presented a challenge to leaders and teachers. Often leaders and teachers did not have the professional knowledge or confidence to implement a curriculum that responded meaningfully to children’s interests and enquiries and to parents’ expectations, or that promoted the skills and dispositions that would support transition to school.

The challenge for many services was to develop and strengthen their understanding about the significance of children’s language, culture and identity when designing and implementing their curriculum. Many services intended to respond to children’s cultural heritage, but few had done so in a deliberate and planned way.

Supportive assessment practices and information

What did supportive assessment look like?

In these services children’s strengths, dispositions and interests were the focus of assessment. Their learning, its increasing complexity over time and next steps were identified and recorded. Assessment information informed planning and identified children’s next learning steps.

As children approached transition to school, the focus on literacy and mathematical concepts, and self management increased. Assessment information reflected children’s learning in relation to the strands of Te Whāriki. In some services, this information highlighted for parents the links between children’s learning dispositions and the key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum. Parents and whanau were involved in, and understood, their child’s progress and learning over time.

Children’s identities, experiences, and parents’ aspirations were visible in assessment information, acknowledging and celebrating their culture. This visibility led to greater confidence and participation of parents and whanau at the service.

Good practice included services providing parents with a summative assessment report about their child’s learning and encouraging them to provide a copy to their child’s teacher at school. These were detailed narratives of children’s learning, based on Te Whāriki. They included comments on children’s dispositions, and literacy and mathematical knowledge and skills. Often these reports included information about any additional support that might be required for a successful transition. A few services were part of professional learning clusters with primary schools. This involvement had increased awareness and understanding of what assessment information is helpful to schools and new entrant teachers. Many of these services encouraged parents to share portfolios and summative assessment reports with their child’s teacher at school.

The following examples about assessment practice and information highlight how assessment supports children as they approach transition to school.

Learning journals for all children approaching school show children’s developing dispositions and skills. These journals are used as a formal means for teachers to identify trends and patterns in children’s learning and to provide focused support for individual children. Children know about their learning and how they are supported to get along with others, make independent choices, and apply what they have learnt to new situations. These journals contribute to conversations between teachers and parents about what children are learning and how this learning supports their transition to school.

Education and care service

Learning stories integrate the vision of the daily four-year-old programme, which aims to support children’s developing dispositions, skills, understanding, and relationships; for example: resilience, love of learning, openness, responsibility, listening, and opportunities to change things. The stories are comprehensive, show progress over time, and include children’s voice. An assessment is done when children are four and a half years old as part of the transition to school programme. This focuses on three strengths of the child in terms of the vision of the programme and on one area that the child is developing. Another assessment is made when children are about to start school, which provides information about their learning in relation to each of the strands of Te Whāriki.

Education and care service

Improvements needed to support transitions through assessment

Just over half of the services in this evaluation needed to improve assessment practices to better support children as they approached transition to school. Assessment records often focused on children’s participation in activities, rather than their learning. In some, children’s portfolios included mostly worksheets and checklists of tasks and skills, and did not show any analysis of learning or next steps.

In these services leaders and teachers showed little awareness of the use of assessment to support children’s transition to school, and many had not considered sharing assessment information with schools. Some services left it up to parents - and while they encouraged them to share assessment information, they did not provide a good rationale for doing so. Many did not know if their assessment information was useful to schools. In a few services, assessment practices were aligned to inappropriate teacher-directed and formal transition to school programmes. Teachers in some of these services used primary school standardised tests, including word recognition tests, GLoSS and NumPA 2 inappropriately.

Some services had supportive assessment practices, but improvement was needed in the schools’ responses to the information provided. Leaders were frustrated when schools were not interested and saw little value in this information.

The teachers commented on the frustration they had with a new entrant teacher at a local school who was not at all interested and said she preferred to have a clean slate and know nothing about the children that were transitioning into her class.

Kindergarten

Collaborative relationships

What did collaborative relationships with parents and whanau look like?

In many cases, by the time children were approaching transition to school, teachers knew children and their whanau well, and had established meaningful ways of connecting with parents about their aspirations for their child’s learning. Relationships with parents and whanau were well established and affirming for all involved.

Early childhood services strengthened those relationships and supported and collaborated with parents and whanau as children approached transition to school. Good practice included:

  • providing a key teacher for each child as they approach transition, so that parents have a dedicated person to ask for information and support
  • providing information packs and/or DVDs about local schools
  • providing individual transition books for children
  • holding parent evenings to explain the rationale for special transition programmes and/or how learning occurs in meaningful contexts
  • holding parent evenings focusing on transition and attended by new entrant teachers and/or junior school leaders
  • developing graduate/school boards - who’s going/gone to school and where, to maintain friendships
  • facilitating school visits at a number of schools so parents make informed choices
  • offering individual help for parents not familiar with New Zealand schools
  • seeking feedback from parents regarding transition to school
  • encouraging return visits to the centre/service after children have started school.

Some of these practices are reflected in the following examples:

“We connect with parents to discuss their child’s transition - portfolio books, practices, strategies and needs around going to school. We attend meetings with parents at the school, and discuss what the child needs and/or finds challenging.

We follow up with the parents once the child is at school to see where we can improve next time.”

(Leader) Specialist education and care centre for children with a disability

The centre has a ‘four-year-old’ meeting to begin the dialogue with parents about transition to school. Teachers talk with parents about early literacy and mathematical concepts, and self-management skills. They explain the links between Te Whāriki and The New Zealand Curriculum so parents and whanau understand how the two curricula link.

Education and Care Service

The centre has a school wall display with photos of the local schools and recently transitioned children attending each school. “It gives children a clear sense of connection to their school prior to transition and is the basis of many conversations between children, teachers and parents. Parents use the wall to plan play dates with children attending the same school. We promote this as an effective transitioning tool.”

Education and Care Service

Leaders stay in contact with children who have transitioned to school for a period of 12 weeks after they leave. These children are welcome to come back to visit.

This period is essentially in place to support the children’s emotional wellbeing and ensure that they can still maintain relationships with Playcentre peers and adults they have particularly strong bonds with beyond their time at Playcentre. Children are always an ongoing part of the Playcentre whanau and attend social family events with younger siblings and their parents as they continue through their schooling.

Playcentre

Services worked on developing collaborative and meaningful relationships with parents and whanau of Maori and Pacific children. Parents valued these relationships and acknowledged the role of the service in helping their child transition to school.

The following example shows how a bilingual education and care service collaborated with parents and whanau to support children. All the children at this service identify as Maori, including some who also have Pacific heritage.

When the child turns four and a half, the teacher with responsibility for transition to school talks with the child’s whanau to ask what school they plan to send the child to, and what help they need. The teacher closest to the whanau will normally arrange for the child and a few friends from the service to visit the chosen school before enrolment. This teacher also produces a book for the child with photos about their new school and school staff so that they can share this with their friends and whanau. In this way, four-year-olds can visit a number of new entrant classes in a number of schools. The centre also works with the whanau so that they can arahi (guide) the child and whanau into the school by attending the whakatau or powhiri. Even if there is no formal welcoming process, teachers will often accompany the whanau when they first visit the school.

Education and Care Service

What did collaborative relationships with schools look like?

This ERO evaluation included some services where children predominantly transitioned to one local school, as well as services were children transitioned to six or more schools spread across a metropolitan city area. The collaborative relationships developed with schools went beyond visits in the time leading up to children starting school. In some services, more collaborative relationships were triggered by self review or professional learning and development (PLD) focusing on transitions to school. The following examples highlight some of the practices resulting from self review and PLD, such as sharing expectations and teaching philosophy, and school leaders and new entrant teachers observing and reflecting on early childhood education in action at one or more services.

The service’s self review looked at whether strengthening relationships with the schools in their area would make the transition from kindergarten to school easier and better for the children. The teachers visited schools to observe and talk with new entrant teachers to get a better understanding of the new entrant programme. Teachers recognised some aspects of the new entrant programme they could or already did use. They also purchased some additional literacy and mathematics- based resources for their service. The leader encouraged visits by principals and new entrant teachers once a term, and had reciprocal visits to the new entrant classroom at one school. The service displayed the school newsletters, and started a school photo folder - “Who will be in your class or at your school?”

Kindergarten

As a result of PLD about transitions, the kindergarten had a meeting with teachers from three of the four schools children transition to. The purpose of the meeting was to get to know each other, and to share how the kindergarten curriculum feeds into the school curriculum, particularly in relation to learning dispositions. The teachers made links to the key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum.

They also talked about school expectations, and how the services and schools could work together to ensure children and their families were supported to transition to school as successfully as possible. Since then, the kindergarten has had alternate visits with the new entrant classroom at the adjacent school every two weeks. This has led to a better understanding of each other’s curriculum.

Kindergarten

A few services participated in ‘professional learning clusters’ or ‘readiness for school’ forums. The purpose of these meetings was to share what teachers do to support children and their families regarding transition, what strategies have worked and what could be improved. Teachers also shared assessment processes and examples of assessment information, exchanged ideas about technology, literacy and mathematical concepts in their service’s curriculum. They also discussed the links between Te Whāriki and The New Zealand Curriculum.

ERO found that when relationships between services and schools were collaborative, transitions to school for Maori and Pacific children and children with special education needs were likely to be more successful. These relationships meant there were regular conversations and sharing of knowledge about children to support their transition.

ERO identified the following good practice in these services:

  • teachers at an aoga working collaboratively with the bilingual unit at the school to which most Pacific children were transitioning to share information about children’s learning and parents’ aspirations
  • teachers at a service catering for children with disabilities worked collaboratively with mainstream school teachers and provided workshops about effective strategies for working with individual children
  • early childhood teachers working with school leaders to secure Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour (RT:LB) and teacher aide support while the child was still at the service to ensure there was no interruption to the support as the child transitioned to school.

However, even at some of the services where ERO identified good practice, teachers were frustrated about being actively discouraged by some schools that did not want to develop any sort of relationship with the service, or discounted the service’s knowledge about strategies to help children with special needs better transition to, and learn at, school.

What did collaborative relationships with external agencies look like?

The external agencies that services worked most closely with included the Ministry of Education’s Special Education staff (including specialists such as speech-language therapists, early intervention teachers, advisers on deaf children and special education advisers), 3 Child, Youth and Family staff, providers of ‘B4 School checks’ such as Plunket 45 and District Health Board staff such as public health nurses.

Some of the ways services developed collaborative relationships with these agencies included:

  • meeting with schools, parents and agencies to smooth transitions and share information and strategies
  • arranging for Education Support Workers (ESW) 6 to attend school visits with children with special needs
  • helping secure funding and teacher aides for children with special education needs when they start school
  • attending Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings with new entrant teachers of children with special needs.

Improvements needed to develop collaborative relationships

Just under half of services evaluated needed to strengthen their relationships with parents and whanau, schools and external agencies.

Challenges for these services included:

  • increasing their understanding of the links between Te Whāriki and The New Zealand Curriculum, so they communicate to parents and whanau about how the service’s curriculum is supporting children as they approach transition to school
  • providing parents and whanau with relevant information that responds to their questions and concerns about transition to school
  • developing collaborative relationships with schools that focus on sharing information about children, their learning, and their language, culture and identity
  • developing collaborative relationships that better position services to negotiate support from external agencies
  • recognising the role of early childhood services in advocacy and support for children as they transition to school.

Self review - identifying the impact of practices and processes

What did this look like when impact was well identified?

ERO found that services with good overall self-review practices were more likely to have undertaken a comprehensive review of the impact of transition processes and practices. Much of this self review focused on gathering multiple perspectives or information from various sources, including:

  • parents and whanau at the service, including those children who had recently transitioned to school
  • children and teachers at the service
  • external agency staff, such as education support workers or therapists
  • local school staff, particularly new entrant teachers
  • recent research and information about best practice regarding transitioning to school. Self review led to improved practice and included:giving children opportunities to develop literacy and mathematical concepts, and dispositions in meaningful contexts rather than through a formal teaching programme
  • increasing children’s awareness of what happens at school
  • aligning learning dispositions with key competencies to help make connections between Te Whariki and The New Zealand Curriculum
  • providing assessment information that shows children’s progress and continuity of learning over time
  • proactively approaching schools to develop collaborative relationships and share knowledge of curriculum and approaches to teaching and learning
  • accessing professional learning and development about transitions
  • revisiting parents’ aspirations for their children as they approach transition to school
  • increasing parent and whanau involvement in the transition processmaking contact with children and their parents and whanau after they have started school.

Improvements needed to review the impact of practices and processes

ERO found that many of the services in this evaluation needed to include transition to school as a focus of their self review. Leaders and teachers did not recognise the importance of reviewing transition practices and processes, or the need to identify what makes a successful transition for all the children at their service.

Supporting language, culture and identity

ERO found that few services nurtured and maintained children’s connections to their language, culture and identity as they approached transition to school. In some services, the curriculum and associated practices supported many of the children enrolled because the values and practices of the service and the school they were transitioning to closely reflected those of their family. However, this was not the case for many Maori and Pacific children.

For Maori and Pacific children the curriculum must be responsive, with strong connections to their language, culture and identity, and focused on developing ‘learning to learn’ dispositions and social competence. 7

Good practice

The following examples show some of the ways early childhood services sought to nurture children’s language, culture and identity. The children in these services developed a strong sense of identity and belonging that was based on who they were. Their language, culture and identity was valued, and leaders and teachers worked to ensure this was maintained as the children transitioned to school. Children learnt in meaningful contexts, and their assessment information made visible the learning that was valued both at the service and by their family.

Parents and whanau, and teachers from both the services and the schools worked collaboratively to develop strong learning partnerships and support children so they made positive transitions to school. This nurturing of a strong sense of identity and belonging helps children cope with any discontinuity experienced when transitioning to school. 8, 9

 

Aoga - total immersion Samoan service sharing primary school grounds

The aoga forms part of a collaborative community, along with bilingual units at the local primary and intermediate schools, promoting Samoan language, culture and identity. Teachers at the aoga meet with teachers at the school regularly as part of the transition process. The new entrant teacher visits the aoga to observe the children, to get to know the teachers and see the curriculum in action. The teacher is part of the interview process for children transitioning to primary school. Portfolios are used for this interview and information (children’s language, culture and identity, and aiga backgrounds) is noted by the primary teachers who know the children due to regular visits.

Partnerships with parents are well established, with many opportunities to interact on a formal and informal basis. Understandings and beliefs about children’s learning are shared between parents and teachers, and parents have many opportunities to comment on, and provide input into, the curriculum, philosophy and governance. Fa’aloalo (respect) is a key ‘poutu’ at the aoga. This is a shared concept for all.

 

Early childhood service with mostly Maori children (next to local school)

Almost two-thirds of the children at the service are Maori, as are the managers. Teachers build children’s confidence in their identity and culture and a sense of belonging before they leave the service. The service is very responsive to the needs and interests of individual children. All children have individual development goals set with input from parents and whanau and all teachers at the service through observations during play. Goals are worked on through the child’s interests. Learning stories are linked to children’s progress with the goals, and they note their new and emerging interests. The managers check portfolios monthly for evidence that learning stories tell a relevant, useful story about children’s learning and progress. The service’s curriculum is regularly reviewed for relevance for children and their families. Ninety percent of parents are involved in the service, contributing to the curriculum, and the managers are reviewing ways to get 100 percent involvement.

Te reo and tikanga Maori is integral to who the teachers are, and is very evident throughout the curriculum, including interactions with children and the learning environment. The managers and teachers have visited all schools in their area.

They have joined a readiness for school community forum of early childhood and school teachers to share what they do, what has worked, and what is still needed to be done to support children and families. Both schools and early childhood services have shared their expectations for children with each other, so they have a better understanding of each other’s perspective.

 

Education and care service supporting children with special needs

The leaders and teachers were very supportive of a child with autism who recently transitioned to school. Leaders and teachers collaboratively developed strategies to support the child with the parent, special education specialists, and the education support worker. Teachers tailored activities to motivate the child to participate and be involved. With the teachers’ help, the parent developed a ‘passport’ that gave school staff very clear information about the child’s needs, and what works and what does not work in engaging the child. Assessment information, which included the Ministry of Education’s Special Education observations and learning stories, and learning stories from the early childhood service, supported this process. The parent talked with school staff, the children in the new entrant classroom and the parents at the school to inform them of her child’s needs and strengths and answer any questions they had prior to the child starting school. The parent told ERO the best thing that happened for her child at the service was everyone sitting down and making a plan together. The parent commented, “the perfect transition is strong communication, listening to families, letting parents lead with support, recognising that the parent is the expert on the child. The parent has to feel comfortable to ask questions. I was empowered to do all of this through, in part, the emotional support I got from the preschool.” The parent also identified what could have been done better:

  • More school visits prior to starting school.
  • More support from GSE 10 with both the education support worker and teacher aide on board during the transition.
  • ORS funding 11 applications begun and processed earlier so they are already in place when a child starts school. 12

 

Challenges for services to better support language, culture and identity

The findings of this evaluation highlighted a lack of response to children’s language, culture and identity and prompted a closer analysis of where there were greater numbers of Maori and Pacific children enrolled. This analysis focused on the services in the sample where the number of Maori or Pacific children made up 40 percent or more of a service’s roll.13 Figures 3 and 4 show that in the services that had poorer quality practice overall in supporting children as they approach transition to school, there were higher proportions of Maori or Pacific children enrolled. This was particularly in relation to curriculum, assessment, collaborative relationships, and self review. Children in these services were less likely to develop and maintain a strong sense of identity and belonging that would support them as they transitioned from their early childhood service to school.

Figure 3: Māori children over-represented in least supportive services

19 of the 38 services are in the partially or not supportive groups.495 Māori children were enrolled in these 19 services.

Figure 3 is a table called ERO’s overall findings. It has two columns, and six rows labelled from top to bottom as Responsive Curriculum (for which the finding is 56% very responsive or responsive); Supportive Assessment (49% very supportive or supportive); Parents and Whānau (57% very collaborative or collaborative), Schools (52% very collaborative or collaborative), External Agencies (55% very collaborative or collaborative), and Self Review (36% very well or well).

Figure 4: Pacific children over-represented in least supportive services

12 of the 17 services are in the partially or not supportive groups. 329 Pacific children were enrolled in these 12 services.

Figure 4 is a diagram called Māori children over-represented in least supportive services. It is headed 38 services had 40% or more Māori children enrolled, and has two columns, in which a house symbol represents each of the 38 services. The diagram has four rows labelled from top to bottom as Highly Supportive (for which there is 1 service); Supportive (18 services); Partially Supportive (11 services); and Not Supportive (8 services). A note to the side of the lower two rows reads: 19 of the 38 services are in the partially or not supportive groups. 495 Māori children were enrolled in these 19 services.