The Education Review Office (ERO) gathers system-wide information on a variety of educational issues, reporting on overall sector performance and highlighting good practice.

This retrospective study synthesises findings from 17 national evaluation reports1 about curriculum implementation in early learning services published over the last ten years.

While the national evaluations over this time have not covered every aspect of early childhood curriculum, they provide an insight and consistent messages about how effectively services are designing, implementing and evaluating their curriculum based on Te Whāriki2. The evaluations highlight the dimensions of pedagogical leadership, teacher knowledge, and capacity to develop powerful learning partnerships as key factors impacting on quality.

Across these 17 evaluations we have collected examples of effective practices by early learning services as they design, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of their curriculum. We share some of these examples again in this report.

What ERO knows about curriculum in early learning services

ERO's national evaluation reports on curriculum in early childhood have a recurring and common theme: 'variability of quality across the sector'. This variability is a feature of understanding and implementation of Te Whāriki, regardless of the focus (age or ethnicity or specific learning needs of children; subject area; or curriculum principles and strands) of ERO's evaluation findings over this time.

Issues of quality and equity impact on children's learning and development in early childhood settings. All children should experience an early learning curriculum that is responsive to their language, culture, identity, strengths, interests, needs and abilities. Variability in curriculum understanding and practice impacts on the extent to which children are provided with equitable opportunities to learn in meaningful contexts and through rich and challenging experiences.

In the best examples of practice, children have opportunities to learn and experience a curriculum that extends and promotes their learning across the breadth and depth of Te Whāriki. A mix of deliberate and spontaneous teaching, balanced with child-initiated learning enables teachers to extend children's developing understandings. Where this is happening children are developing sound foundational knowledge, skills and attitudes along with a repertoire of working theories and dispositions, critical for their success as lifelong learners. Pedagogical leadership has featured as a key contributing factor in services with well-aligned curriculum processes and practices.

Where ERO has found variability

Across ERO's national evaluation reports on curriculum in early childhood we have found that variability of practice extends across the ages of children attending early learning services. For instance we have found that infants and toddlers are usually well cared for and many services support them to confidently and competently explore and communicate. However some services provide limited opportunities for infants and toddlers to develop physical confidence and make sense of the world.

We have similarly found variability in the curriculum associated with children's transitions to school. In services that successfully support transitions, children have a wide variety of opportunities to extend their interests and strengths in authentic contexts that promote foundational learning in literacy, mathematics and science.

We have repeatedly highlighted variability in assessment quality. Good assessment is fundamental to ensuring children experience a responsive curriculum, and to support successful transitions at each stage of their learning pathway.

Internal evaluation (self review) underpins high quality practice. Leaders in services who value and champion internal evaluation coupled with clear expectations about how to inquire into and evaluate practice are essential to services' effectiveness in improving outcomes for children. Leaders need to engage teachers in discussion about their practice and children's learning, and can use ERO evaluation indicators3 as a basis for evaluating their effectiveness. This is a key area that requires improved understanding and practice across the sector.

Poor pedagogical leadership and a narrow curriculum reduces children's opportunities to fully engage in learning experiences that respond to their emerging interests and strengths. Lack of teacher knowledge limits opportunities to extend and scaffold children's learning. Similarly, a lack of understanding about assessment impacts on the quality, breadth and depth of information documented about children's progress, learning and development.

Our national reports have emphasised the value of leaders and teachers working in partnership with parents and whānau to promote children's learning. Such collaboration needs to move beyond one-way communication and notions of informing parents and whānau about what is happening in the service, to authentic learning partnerships that have the child and their progress as the focus. Partnerships require practices (already evident in some services) where leaders and teachers listen, respect and respond to what parents and whānau expect of the service and what their aspirations are for their child.

New Zealand has many settings where Te Whāriki is well used to develop and implement a curriculum that engages children in rich activities to develop their foundation knowledge and skills.

In this report we share examples of effective practice from across New Zealand's early learning services, focusing on the following areas:

>    anchors for practice - Te Whāriki and priorities for children's learning

>    designing and implementing a responsive curriculum that responds to children with diverse backgrounds and needs

>    positive foundations for children's learning: social and emotional competency; literacy and mathematics; and transition to school

>    pedagogical leadership

>    effective teaching practice

>    assessment for learning

>    internal evaluation for improvement

>    learning partnerships for a responsive curriculum.

Sharing and developing these effective practices across all early learning services will help to ensure all children participate in a well-designed, implemented and evaluated curriculum that ensures equity and excellence in early learning.

New Zealand's national early learning curriculum, Te Whāriki

New Zealand is regarded internationally as having a world-leading curriculum. Children's learning and development in early learning services has been influenced and supported by Te Whāriki, He Whariki Matauranga mo nga Mokopuna o Aotearoa,4 the Ministry of Education's curriculum policy statement since 1996. The nature of this curriculum document is well summarised in the 2011 report of the Early Childhood Taskforce An Agenda for Amazing Children:5 

New Zealand's national early childhood education curriculum, Te Whāriki, is based on the principles of empowerment, holistic development, family and community and relationships. It is not prescriptive, and does not tell teachers ‘what to teach'; rather, it focuses on supporting learning dispositions and broad competencies that can be readily transferred to new situations (such as entry to school). It is bicultural, inclusive of all ages from birth to six, and 'anticipates that special needs will be met as children learn together in all kinds of early childhood education settings.'

The findings of this retrospective study of what ERO knows about the effective design, implementation and evaluation of curriculum in early learning services will be used to inform the Ministry of Education's 2016 update of Te Whāriki.

[1] See Appendix 1 for a list of ERO reports included in this report

[2] Ministry of Education. (1996).Te Whāriki, He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa. Retrieved from: 

[3] Education Review Office. (2013). He Pou Tataki: How ERO reviews early childhood services. Retrieved from:

[4] Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whāriki, He Whāriki Mātauranga mā ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa. Retrieved from:

[5] ECE Taskforce. (2011). An Agenda for Amazing Children: Final Report of the ECE Taskforce. Wellington. Ministry of Education. p114.