In May 2010 ERO’s report Success for Māori Children in Early Childhood Services identified that:

One of the biggest challenges for early childhood managers and educators is to understand, review and develop processes that enable them to listen, respect and respond to what parents and whānau of Māori children expect of the service. To make such a commitment, early childhood services have to find out about parents’ aspirations and expectations, and acknowledge and respond to these in authentic ways.[1]

In this evaluation Partnership with Whānau Māori in Early Childhood Education, ERO focussed on the extent to which:

  • services understood and valued the identity, language and culture of Māori children and their whānau, particularly when the child and whānau enter the service
  • managers and educators built positive relationships with the whānau of Māori children
  • each service worked in partnership with the whānau of Māori children.

Partnership with whānau Māori in early childhood education (ECE) means going beyond welcoming whānau and building relationships. Informal ‘chats over a cup of tea’ and catching up with whānau are not partnership. ERO found that while a significant proportion of early childhood services built positive relationships (78 percent) with whānau, only 10 percent had built effective and culturally responsive partnerships. The difference between a good relationship and a culturally responsive partnership is substantial for whānau. Conversely the view held by many educators that ‘all children should be treated the same’ typically fails to acknowledge the culture of Māori children.

Culturally responsive partnership is characterised by the ability of managers and educators to:

  • listen to whānau Māori and respond appropriately to their aspirations
  • recognise and respect the diverse and unique perspectives of whānau Māori
  • involve whānau Māori in all aspects of management, programme planning, implementation and evaluation
  • recognise that Māori culture is an advantage for children and their whānau
  • use the knowledge of Māori children and whānau to develop rich learning
  • appreciate that New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki is a document based upon the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and partnership with whānau
  • use the skill and expertise that whānau Māori bring to the service.

ERO found that when a high level of partnership is achieved early childhood educators place themselves in the position of learner:

If I am responsive to Māori culture, I don’t have to be an expert ...[being] culturally responsive is not being an expert but listening to experts (Teacher response cited in Goren 2009, p. 54). [2]

Strong partnerships with whānau were evident when early childhood services had well articulated philosophies of working with whānau. They were evident when professional leaders understood whānau aspirations and worked with whānau to achieve their goals. ECE staff drew on Māori experts and their knowledge to improve their teaching strategies for Māori children. Some also effectively included whānau in self-review processes that examined the impact of the learning programme for Māori children and the quality of the service’s policies and procedures for whānau Māori.

Based on the findings of this evaluation, there needs to be a considerable improvement in the way most services work with whānau Māori. Early childhood services need systematic self review to provide managers and educators with information about their relationships with whānau Māori and to develop respectful, collaborative and reciprocal partnerships. Professional development is also needed for most early childhood educators so that they can build partnerships with whānau, give full effect to Te Whāriki and help Māori children achieve their potential.