A Government priority is that every child has the opportunity to participate in early childhood education (ECE). This Education Review Office evaluation of how well early childhood services include children with moderate to severe special needs supports this priority.
ERO undertook this evaluation in 268 early childhood services (ECS) reviewed in Terms 3 and 4, 2011. Just over a third of services (104) had children with moderate to severe special needs enrolled. The evaluation focused on the following questions:
Nearly all of the 104 services were very inclusive (44 percent) or mostly inclusive (49 percent) of children with special needs. The main characteristics of very inclusive services included:
Carefully managed transitions into, within, and from almost all services (97 percent) ensured the continuing wellbeing, learning and development of children with special needs. Similarly, ERO found children with special needs were well supported to be confident and capable learners at 91 percent of services. In these services, educators knew the child and their strengths and interests. They had also developed positive relationships with the child and their whānau. Appropriate programmes had been developed collaboratively that allowed children with special needs to equitably take part in all activities and access resources. Specialists and educators worked together to share information and strategies to work with children with special needs. Assessment showed children with special needs as confident and capable learners.
In the few services found to be less inclusive, (seven percent) it was not a lack of the right attitude that limited quality. Rather it was a lack of shared understanding, knowledge of strategies, and pedagogy to adapt programmes, as well as limiting physical environments. ERO found that in these services the overall quality of teaching for all children was poor.
Regardless of the service’s inclusiveness, ERO found little self review related to the progress of children with special needs in most services. Only a few services undertook self review that focused on outcomes for children with special needs. In most cases self review was informal and spontaneous.
In the 164 services that did not currently have children with moderate to severe special needs enrolled, ERO evaluated how well placed the services were to enrol this group of children. If services had enrolled children with special needs in the past, ERO discussed successes and challenges. ERO found that most of these services were well placed to enrol children with special needs.
ERO also found that regardless of the level of inclusiveness, services faced challenges in transitioning and supporting children with special needs. These included working collaboratively with parents who may be reluctant to acknowledge their child had a special need or were previously unaware of it. Difficulties with making referrals and accessing funding and support were also highlighted. Some services were better placed than others to successfully address these challenges.
It is pleasing to see that leaders and educators in the majority of services have the positive attitudes and practices needed to fully support children with special needs during transitions and in their learning and development. However, it is now time for services to extend their self review to better understand and plan for practices and programmes that result in positive outcomes for children with special needs.