Digging deeper into the findings

This section looks deeper into the information ERO collected from early learning services. It explores services’ involvement in and the impact of PLD, the use of appraisal, and the steps services have taken in reviewing and designing their local curriculum based on priorities for children’s learning.

Better use could be made of professional learning and development and appraisal to support leaders and kaiako to implement Te Whāriki

Leaders and kaiako in 88 percent of the early learning services in this evaluation had accessed workshops, webinars, online guidance and resources. Some services had also used internal expertise and support from their governing organisation. There was wide variation in the impact of the PLD services had undertaken, and what they knew about the impact of the PLD across their services/teaching team. This also influenced how well services identified their PLD needs. ERO is concerned that in nearly half of the services that participated in PLD, engagement in PLD was limited; it did not include the whole team and/or the nature of the learning was very superficial.

Variable use of webinars, workshops and Curriculum Champions as effective PLD

About half of services had leaders and/or kaiako who had engaged with the webinars. Leaders and kaiako commented on the webinars being useful for:

  • supporting access to PLD for services in isolated areas
  • helping kaiako reflect on curriculum implementation, and deciding ‘what next?’
  • growing knowledge of Te Whāriki
  • supporting shared discussion among kaiako in some services.

Leaders and kaiako who did not find the webinars useful commented on:

  • poor presentation
  • basic or not relevant content
  • a preference for face‑to‑face PLD.

Although half of the services had leaders and/or kaiako who had engaged with the webinars, in some services this had been left to individual kaiako. Subsequently, the learning from webinars was not shared among kaiako to promote deeper discussion about implications for practice which were pertinent to the service.

Almost half of services had leaders and/or kaiako attend Ministry‑funded workshops. Leaders and kaiako appreciated that the workshops helped them understand the changes to the updated curriculum document. However, those who did not find the workshops useful felt they did not fit their service’s context, or did not make the changes in Te Whāriki clear. Leaders and kaiako in some services had difficulty accessing workshops due to a lack of space in sessions, or the workshops were not offered in their area. 

Curriculum Champions were appointed as part of the Ministry’s PLD to support implementation of the revised Te Whāriki curriculum. The Curriculum Champions provided PLD to Pedagogical Leaders who were identified by their service to support leaders and kaiako to engage in curriculum inquiries. Few leaders and kaiako told ERO they used Curriculum Champions to support the implementation of Te Whāriki. Services where leaders and kaiako had used Curriculum Champions were most likely to be identified as “preparation underway”. In these services, leaders and kaiako were supported by Curriculum Champions to build knowledge about the Te Whāriki document, and how to use internal evaluation more effectively to consider how well they were implementing Te Whāriki.

PLD was having an impact in many services but not in all services or for all kaiako

ERO asked what leaders and kaiako knew about the impact of their PLD. Leaders and kaiako told ERO they recognised the impact of PLD from noticing changes in:

  • their daily professional conversations about children’s learning and the curriculum
  • their teaching practices, such as intentional teaching, and the ways they were documenting children’s learning
  • the emphasis on learner voice in decision making.

In some services ERO found the impact of PLD was variable for a variety of reasons. These included:

  • PLD targeted at a level of understanding not appropriate for the leader or kaiako
  • only some staff attended PLD
  • kaiako background and experience influenced their attitude towards PLD
  • kaiako learning preferences influenced how well they engaged with the different PLD approaches such as online or face‑to‑face delivery.

Some kaiako and leaders recognised and addressed the variability of understanding in their services. They did this in different ways, including working with kaiako as a group (such as team meetings) to build capability to implement Te Whāriki, or working with individual kaiako to build their knowledge.

In services where PLD had a positive impact, leaders and kaiako told ERO this had resulted in:

  • a greater understanding of assessment, planning and evaluation, including using the learning outcomes of Te Whāriki
  • stronger internal-evaluation processes
  • richer conversations and communication among kaiako, and between kaiako, parents and whānau about the curriculum and children’s learning
  • increased understanding of bicultural curriculum and more culturally‑responsive practices
  • more deliberate, intentional, and purposeful teaching strategies after reflecting on practice.

One‑third of services told us PLD had had no impact as they had:

  • attended minimal PLD or none
  • not seen any shifts in practice because of the PLD
  • not found the PLD useful.

Nearly half of these services indicated it was too early to determine the impact of PLD. Some of these services did not have a clear process for evaluating the impact of PLD. 

Well‑prepared services were better at identifying what PLD they needed to do next

While over two-thirds of services had identified further professional learning needs to support the implementation of Te Whāriki, 28 percent had not. The well‑prepared services and some of the preparation‑underway services used a variety of ways to identify PLD needs.

Leaders and kaiako, and in some cases governing organisations, identified PLD needs in a variety of formal and informal ways including appraisals, strategic priorities, internal evaluation, and discussions with leaders.

The most common areas for further professional learning and development included:

  • increasing understanding and awareness of the updated Te Whāriki
  • integrating Te Whāriki into assessment, planning and evaluation
  • strengthening curriculum in practice and pedagogy, including more emphasis on child‑led and mana‑enhancing practices, and addressing specific learning needs of children
  • increasing bicultural and culturally‑responsive practices
  • exploring how to develop and implement a localised curriculum.

Some services lacked a clear process for identifying PLD needs, or appraisal systems were not fully implemented. In others, leaders and kaiako felt they had had limited access to initial external PLD and it was too early to identify their needs beyond wanting more external support. A few did not identify PLD as a need, as they believed Te Whāriki (2017) had few changes from the previous version.

Almost half of services were in the early stages of making deliberate use of appraisal

Almost half of services had started to link or intended to link appraisal for leaders and/or kaiako to Te Whāriki. In services making more deliberate use of appraisal, practices were already well established and effectively implemented. The use of Te Whāriki was considered an integrated part of the appraisal process. Leaders and kaiako had meaningful appraisal goals and inquiry processes that supported initial knowledge building about Te Whāriki and supported them to reflect more deeply on its implementation into practice. 

A variety of factors were evident in services where limited use was being made of appraisal processes. Leaders and kaiako did not include Te Whāriki in appraisal because they were focused on other areas, or the service’s appraisal processes required development. Four percent of services in this evaluation sample were not meeting Teaching Council standards for appraisal.

Most services were not well prepared to review and design a local curriculum based on priorities for children’s learning

Review of philosophy and determining of priorities for children’s learning was variable

Almost a half of services had recently reviewed their philosophy with most aligning it to the updated Te Whāriki, Mostly leaders and kaiako undertook this review, with only half of these services involving parents and whānau in such review.[6] Few services sought the views and perspectives of children or the wider community when reviewing their philosophy. Philosophy review was largely prompted by changes in the service such as change of owner, or changes to leadership and teaching teams. Other prompts included PLD, the update of Te Whāriki and engagement in planned internal evaluation. Philosophy review was underway in almost one-fifth of services, but still at an early stage in the process.

Over one-third of services had not taken any steps to review their philosophy. Changes such as owners or staff turnover meant it was not yet a priority in some of these services. In others, leaders and kaiako were waiting for PLD to help them to review their philosophy, or they were part of a governing organisation that took responsibility for the overarching philosophy. A few of these services had not reviewed their philosophy for some time.

While half of services had determined their priorities for children’s learning,[7] the approaches to identifying, and the nature of, these priorities varied considerably. In most of these services, priorities were developed from the aspirations of parents and whānau, the intent of their philosophy, and the strengths and interests of individual children. In a few services priorities were pre‑determined by the governing organisation. ERO is concerned that few services were considering the learning outcomes in Te Whāriki (2017) when deciding their priorities.

Fifteen percent of services were in the process of determining their priorities for children’s learning. A further one‑third of the services had not taken any steps to determine their priorities. The lack of action in these services was due to one or more of the following factors:

  • not knowing this was an expectation in Te Whāriki
  • awaiting PLD to help them
  • limited understanding about how to determine priorities and what to base these on
  • yet to review their philosophy and/or update their strategic plan
  • changes affecting the service including change of owner, leadership changes and/or staffing changes.

There was variable understanding about what is meant by ‘local curriculum’

Just over half of services had not taken any steps to review and design their local curriculum. In these services this was often because they either did not understand the concept of a ‘local curriculum’ and/or had not realised this was something that they needed to do. In some services there were staffing issues impacting on professional development and leadership, or they were waiting for the appointment of new staff before they could undertake these steps.

In the 30 percent of services where leaders and kaiako had taken steps to review and design their local curriculum, the outcome of this process varied widely. We found widely differing approaches to thinking about a local curriculum and in the extent to which it was consistent with Te Whāriki. Services with a specific educational philosophy, such as Montessori or Steiner, considered that to be their default local curriculum. In others, it was very much business as usual planning for children’s interests and strengths that didn’t show how kaiako and leaders were responding to the updated Te Whāriki. A few services showed deliberate consideration of the updated Te Whāriki as they developed their local curriculum.

Most services wanted further PLD but this needed to be more focused to make a difference

Eighty percent of the services had identified their next steps for supporting the implementation of Te Whāriki.

The most common next steps related to further PLD and internal evaluation. The focus of further PLD needed to be on:

  • ongoing discussions in team meetings
  • accessing the webinars
  • support to review philosophy and determine priorities for children’s learning
  • support for unqualified kaiako
  • focusing on the use of learning outcomes in assessing children’s progress
  • linking theory to practice.

Leaders and kaiako identified the need to undertake internal evaluation to:

  • review aspects of practice related to teaching, planning and assessment
  • identify further next steps for supporting the implementation of Te Whāriki
  • review the service’s philosophy
  • monitor and track improvements to teaching practice
  • evaluate the service’s curriculum against Te Whāriki.

In the 20 percent of services that had not identified their next steps for implementing Te Whāriki (2017), it was because they were:

  • waiting to participate in initial external PLD  
  • at a very early stage of engaging with Te Whāriki
  • experiencing significant change in the service ownership, leadership or staffing
  • coping with other issues, such as maintaining licensing requirements
  • of the belief that not much had changed from the previous version of Te Whāriki
  • of the view they were already implementing the updated curriculum.

[6] This will be a focus in subsequent evaluations.

[7] This reflects ERO’s findings in its 2013 report, Priorities for Children’s Learning in Early Childhood Services.