Findings

Rationale

Te Whāriki (p.11) describes each service’s curriculum as distinctive and dependent on a number of influences, including:

  • cultural perspectives
  • structural differences
  • organisational differences
  • different environments
  • philosophical emphases
  • different resources dependent on setting
  • local community participation
  • age range of children.

Te Whāriki places the child at the centre of the curriculum – as the learner engaged with the learning environment, surrounded by various levels of learning: home, family, and the service; the adult environment and networks; and the nation’s beliefs and values about children and their learning and development (p.19). A strong emphasis is placed on each service’s curriculum being responsive to the development and changing capabilities of the children at the service.

Overall Findings

ERO evaluated the extent to which early childhood services implemented a curriculum (including assessment and self-review practices) that reflected their identified priorities for children’s learning.

ERO found that 17 percent of the 387 services reviewed in Terms 1 and 2, 2012 implemented a curriculum that was highly reflective of their identified priorities for children’s learning. In a further 54 percent of services, the curriculum was mostly reflective of their identified priorities. In 24 percent, the curriculum was minimally reflective of their identified priorities, and in five percent of services it was not reflected. Table 1 highlights the practices associated with each category of services.

Table 1: Reflecting identified priorities for children’s learning

Figure 1 is called Reflecting identified priorities for childrens learning. It has four columns labelled from left to right as Highy reflective 17 percent, Mostly reflective 54 percent, Minimally reflective 24 percent and Not reflective 5 percent, which are each accompanied by a pie chart highlighting these respective proportions. Below this is a table that has one row decribing the characteristics of centres in each category.

Figure 2: Reflecting identified priorities for children’s learning by service type

figure 2 is a bar graph called Reflecting identified priorities for children’s learning by service type. The x-axis is labelled Percent of services and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 20. The y-axis is labelled from left to right as casual education and care, Kindergarten, Hospital based service, Playcentre, Education and care community based, Education and care private and Homebased network. For each of these categories there are four bars labelled Hightly reflective (for which the respective percentages are 0%, 24%, 0% 4%, 19% 7% and 0%), Mostly reflective (0%, 46%, 62%, 26%, 42% and 44%), Minimally reflective (100%, 26%, 38%, 40%, 44%, 36% and 56%), and Not reflective (0%, 4%, 0%, 9%, 11%, 15% and 0%)

Figure 2 shows the extent to which the 387 services reviewed in Terms 1 and 2, 2012 implemented a curriculum that was reflective of their identified priorities for children’s learning by service type.[14] The differences between service types were statistically significant. [15] Kindergartens were more likely than other service types to implement a curriculum that was reflective of their identified priorities for children’s learning.

ERO also tested for differences based on other characteristics, as follows:

  • there were no statistically significant differences by location or EQI rating (Equity Index Assessment)[16]
  • services with 100 percent, and 80-99 percent, of qualified and registered teachers were more likely than services with less than 80 percent qualified and registered teachers to implement a curriculum that was reflective of their identified priorities for children’s learning.[17]

Aligning practices

In services where the curriculum was highly reflective of their priorities for children’s learning, the processes associated with curriculum design, teaching and assessment practices, and self review were well aligned. Although many services in this evaluation were implementing the various processes associated with curriculum, assessment and self review, the alignment between these was often lacking. Some services had the various processes in place but had not identified their priorities for learning.

Figure 3 shows the alignment between the various processes and suggests some questions that services can consider when determining and responding to priorities for children’s learning.

Figure 3: Priorities for children's learning

figure 3 is a flow chart called priorities for childrens learning. It has a central bubble which is labelled prorities for childrens learning developed fro mTe Whariki, parents aspirations, childrens strengths and interests and other influences on the services curriculum. Anchors all practice.  There are links from this to four bubbles, which are also linked to each other in a circle (cloclwise from top): Curriculum design and guiding practice; Teaching practice - guided by identified priorities for childrens learning - what do we want to achieve; Assessment - Notice, Recognise and respond to the learning highlighted.  Used in review and curriculum design; Self review - focus on identified priorities for childrens learning and outocmes for children. On the outside of the circle are three boxes labelled (clockwise from top) as How will we design our curriculum to promote learning and success for all children? How well are our children learning and progressing? and How well are we achieveing our priorities? Where can we improve

Identifying priorities for children’s learning

ERO investigated what influences services’ curriculum priorities and emphases, [18]including:

  • Te Whāriki
  • the aspirations parents and whānau have for their children
  • children’s strengths, interests and abilities
  • teachers’ interests, beliefs and knowledge. [19]

Rationale

Te Whāriki (p44) states that each service will develop its own emphases and priorities for children’s learning. These priorities will vary in each service, with programmes being developed in response to the children enrolled in the service, the aspirations of their parents’ and whānau, and the service’s particular setting. Parents often choose a service for their child because of its identified curriculum priorities.

Each service’s curriculum priorities and emphases – the learning valued in their service – should guide curriculum planning and implementation, inform assessment practices and be visible in assessment documentation, and provide a focus for self review. A strong emphasis is placed on each service’s curriculum being responsive to the development and changing capabilities of the children at the service.

Effective practice – identifying priorities for children’s learning

In the services with effective practices, their priorities for children’s learning were clearly underpinned by the service’s values and beliefs as expressed in their philosophy. These priorities were enacted through curriculum, assessment and self-review practices. Teachers in these services ‘walked their talk’ by aligning the learning valued in their service with what happened in all aspects of the curriculum. They understood Te Whāriki well and used this knowledge to make links between the principles and strands and the priorities they identified for children’s learning.

In these services, priorities for learning reflected and acknowledged the aspirations parents and whānau had for their children. Teachers found out about these aspirations both formally and informally. Formal means included using surveys, holding parent evenings, organising hui, and seeking parents’ contributions to their child’s assessment records. However, it was more often during the informal discussions where aspirations and expectations were shared. Day‑to‑day interactions between teachers and parents provided opportunities for two-way sharing of information about children’s learning.

Teachers identified children’s individual strengths, interests and abilities. They knew children well. Assessment information made learning visible and provided a basis for teachers to review the extent to which identified priorities were reflected in assessment information.

In these services, teachers kept up to date with current research and developments in early childhood education. They engaged in professional reading, robust discussions and debate about practice. Teachers were well supported with planned and relevant professional development. The curriculum experienced by children was meaningful and contributed to their growing competence.

Self-review processes helped services identify their priorities for learning and use the priorities as a basis for evaluating their curriculum. Teachers in these services had a well considered and thoughtful approach to identifying priorities that balanced information from different perspectives. A culture .of review and improvement prevailed. Leaders played a critical role in promoting a coherent approach to managing and implementing a curriculum that reflected the learning valued in these services.

Less effective practice – identifying priorities for children’s learning

In services where ERO identified less effective practice, there was often a lack of purpose or direction and the curriculum was not well defined. Good intent in terms of priorities for learning was evident in philosophy statements but this intent was not aligned with practice. Te Whāriki was not well understood and therefore did not inform the curriculum. Teachers lacked the professional knowledge to usefully reflect on or challenge their practice.

The curriculum experienced by children focused largely on their interaction with resources or participation in activities. Curriculum decisions were not connected to what teachers knew about children or to any priorities for learning. These services lacked the processes to identify children’s strengths, interests and abilities and teachers often viewed children in a deficit way, responding to them as having needs rather than building on their strengths.

In many of these services, issues associated with leadership and turnover of leaders and/or teachers negatively impacted on their capacity to implement a curriculum that reflected the learning valued in their service.

Assessing children’s learning

ERO investigated how:

  • assessment processes and practices reflected each service’s priorities for children’s learning
  • assessment information showed children’s progress towards meeting these priorities
  • assessment information showed that teachers recognised and responded to the different cultures, ages and interests of the children, and led to positive outcomes for children.

Rationale

Te Whāriki identifies the purpose of assessment as improving the programme provided for children (p.29). The links between curriculum, assessment, self review and a service’s identified priorities for children’s learning are highlighted in Part A ofTe Whāriki. Explicit links are made between the purpose of assessment and the four principles of Te Whāriki – empowerment, holistic development, family and community, and relationships (p.30).

Each service’s curriculum priorities and emphases – the learning outcomes they want for the children enrolled at their service – should guide assessment practices and be visible in assessment documentation. As noted in Book 6 of Kei Tua o Te Pae:

“Assessments can make learning visible and foster learning that is valued.” [20]

Curriculum criterion 2 (C2), which is part of the regulated Curriculum Standard, [21]outlines how assessment information informs a service’s curriculum in ways that take into account children’s current learning, interests, whānau, and life contexts.

Assessment documents the learning that is valued in the service. The importance teachers place on certain learning is in turn reflected in curriculum decisions and in self review. When a service is effectively documenting children’s learning and making links to the principles, strands and associated goals and outcomes in Te Whāriki, this information becomes an integral part in the assessment, planning and evaluation process.

Effective practice –assessing children’s learning

In services where teachers understood Te Whāriki and what the service was trying to achieve through its curriculum, this knowledge was used to plan for and assess children’s learning. The principles and strands of Te Whāriki, in particularrelationships, wellbeing, belonging, exploration and communication, were valued and made visible in assessment. Where educational philosophies such as Montessori, Steiner, Reggio Emilia or Pikler [22] influenced a service’s curriculum, this was reflected in assessment information. Assessment information was documented for individuals and for groups of children and was well analysed to show continuity of, and next steps for, learning.

Effective assessment practices included:

  • valuing children’s social and cultural backgrounds
  • linking assessment to children’s goals and next steps
  • using children’s and parents’ first languages where appropriate
  • using assessment to guide planning and the curriculum
  • recognising and incorporating parents’ aspirations and perspectives.

In services with effective practices, assessment information informed their curriculum’s emergent nature, and showed how the curriculum responded to identified priorities for learning. It showed that children were well supported in their learning, and that planned next steps led to progress over time. The service’s curriculum acknowledged and was responsive to children’s interests and cultural identity, and to their parents’ aspirations.

Less effective practice – assessing children’s learning

In services where ERO identified less effective practice, assessment information was not analysed to show children’s progress, continuity, or next steps for learning. Assessment information related only to aspects of Te Whāriki and was usually thewellbeing and belonging strands, and the principle relating to relationships. The poorest performing of these services had not established any priorities for children’s learning, and assessment practice was poor overall.

In these services, there was little evidence of how teachers were building on or extending children’s learning. For children aged up to two assessment generally focused on age‑stage developmental milestones with limited evidence of how teachers were following or developing children’s interests and building on their strengths.

Sharing information about children’s learning

ERO investigated how:

  • teachers were sharing information about children’s learning, in relation to identified priorities, with children and their parents and whānau
  • teachers were using this information to support transitions, both within the service and to school.

Rationale

Parents and whānau can support positive outcomes for children through involvement in assessment.

Including families and whānau in the early childhood centre’s curriculum and assessment enhances children’s learning. Families enrich the record of learning, reduce some of the uncertainty and ambiguity, and provide a bridge for connecting experiences. [23]

Effective practice – sharing information about children’s learning

Services with effective practice had well-developed links between the principles and strands of Te Whāriki, other educational philosophies and their particular priorities for children’s learning. In these services, teachers shared information about children’s learning with parents and whānau in a variety of ways. Parents were well informed about their child’s progress. They had opportunities to contribute to their child’s learning during conversations with teachers about children’s activities and learning at home. In many services, portfolios or profile books had space for parents to record information about their child’s interests and activities outside of the service, and this was followed up by teachers in their work with children.

Assessment information was well analysed in children’s portfolios and reflected the service’s priorities for learning. Assessment records were most effective when they identified:

  • what learning had taken place
  • how it related to children’s interests and dispositions
  • what steps could be taken to extend and support future learning.

Services also shared information about children’s learning to support transitions, both within the service and to school. Effective transition to school practices included sharing portfolios, face to face meetings with new entrant teachers, and reciprocal school visits. Parents and whānau were an integral part of these transition practices.

Particularly effective practice involved services engaging in self review to find out how useful their assessment information had been for the school. Leaders at these services said the response from schools was variable. Some services received positive feedback about their assessment information and its usefulness to schools, while others did not.

Less effective practice – sharing information about children’s learning

In services with less effective practices, their priorities for children’s learning were often not visible to parents, usually because these were not explicit in assessment information or because the service had not yet identified such priorities. In many of these services, assessment information was not well aligned to the principles and strands of Te Whāriki, or only related to selected strands, for example the wellbeingand belonging strands.

One of the most critical differences between effective and less effective practice was the sophistication of the assessment information. In services with less effective practice, assessment was more of a record of children’s participation in activities and did not include any analysis of, or next steps for, learning. Consequently, the information shared with parents was not useful in helping them to see continuity in their child’s learning over time.

In many of the services with poor practices, assessment information was either not used to help support transitions or this use was very limited. Where assessment information was shared with schools, there was a strong focus on children’s social competence, but not on the service’s identified priorities for children’s learning. Some services were sharing information with schools, but only on an informal or anecdotal basis. In a few services, the quality of assessment information was so poor that it was of little use to schools, as it did not show children’s learning or progress.

Using information about children’s learning

ERO investigated how:

  • a service’s self review was linked to their priorities for children’s learning
  • a service’s self review was ongoing and responsive to priorities for children’s learning
  • priorities for children’s learning were evident in a service’s curriculum design and implementation.

Rationale

Each child learns in his or her own way. Te Whāriki recognises there can be wide variations in the rate and timing of children’s growth and development and in their capacity to learn new things in new places (p.20). Designing the curriculum should be a continuous process, involving careful observation, identification of interest and capabilities, provision of resources, and ongoing assessment and evaluation (p.28).

The service needs to understand what young children are learning, how the learning happens, [and] the role that both adults and other children play in such learning (p.28).

Robust and rigorous self review of teaching and learning helps teachers to continually improve outcomes for children. When services undertake effective self review linked to Te Whāriki and their identified priorities for children’s learning, they are better placed to know how well they are promoting positive outcomes for all children. [24]

The Ministry of Education provides some guidance in the form of questions for services to consider in relation to implementing a curriculum that is consistent with the prescribed curriculum framework. [25] Self review is referenced as important in helping services to identify the influences on teaching and learning. Services are asked to consider why they do certain things with regard to their curriculum, and where self review fits into their service’s curriculum. [26]

Self-review findings can be used to inform decision-making, improve the quality of practice, and promote positive outcomes for all children. Services are able to use these findings to identify contributing factors and priorities for enhancing children’s learning. [27]

Effective practice – using information about children’s learning

In services with effective practices, self review was ongoing, well embedded, responsive to the service’s priorities for children’s learning, and linked to the principles and strands of Te Whāriki. Self review was a mix of spontaneous and responsive practice, and longer term planned self review.

In services where self review was effective, it informed strategic planning, professional development, teacher appraisal, and curriculum decisions. Teachers reflected critically on their practice. Self review was improvement oriented, with a clear focus on strengthening the service’s emergent curriculum and teaching practice. It was collaborative and inclusive of parents’ views and children’s perspectives.

In services with effective practice, self review was strongly focused on their priorities for children’s learning. Typical topics for self review included:

  • providing a bicultural curriculum
  • incorporating te reo and tikanga Māori
  • improving literacy and numeracy, and science teaching and learning
  • developing children’s social competence
  • valuing parent and whānau contribution and communication
  • developing assessment practices
  • strengthening the sense of family
  • transitioning children to school
  • managing relationships with and between adults and children
  • developing children’s learning through outdoor play
  • incorporating other philosophies such as Reggio Emilia, Montessori and Steiner
  • weaving Te Whāriki into children’s learning.

In these services, there was a strong alignment between their identified priorities for children’s learning, and their assessment practices, curriculum decisions, self review and teaching practices. Children’s interests, strengths and dispositions identified through assessment were used to design a responsive curriculum. Parents’ perspectives and their aspirations for their children informed curriculum decisions. Such decisions were also influenced by teachers’ daily discussions and reflection. The programme was regularly evaluated, and teachers could discuss the rationale for changes made and how they related to the service’s priorities for children’s learning.

Less effective practice – using information about children’s learning

In services with less effective practice, there was a general lack of understanding of self review. In many of these services, self review was at a very early stage of development and, when undertaken, focused mostly on describing what was happening in activities, children’s use of resources, and aspects of compliance. Self review often reinforced poor practice. Teachers were not good at reflecting on their service’s priorities for children’s learning, or on the quality of their teaching practice.

Curriculum implementation in these services was variable. In some of these services, the curriculum was based on selected principles and strands from Te Whāriki and there was a lack of focus on children’s dispositions, strengths and interests. Services with the poorest practice had little or no evidence of how their curriculum related to their priorities for children’s learning.

Responsiveness to Māori and Pacific children achieving success

Responsiveness to Māori Children

ERO investigated how responsive each service’s curriculum was in supporting Māori children to achieve success as Māori in Terms 1, 2 and 3, 2012. ERO found very responsive practices that focused on achieving success for Māori children in 14 percent of services.

In these services, teachers worked with whānau to design and implement their curriculum, and encouraged them to share their expertise, experiences, aspirations, whakapapa and iwi history. Local iwi and kaumātua were also consulted so teachers could improve their knowledge and practices relating to local history and kawa, and kaupapa Māori. Teachers and leaders were aware of, and responded to Ministry of Education initiatives such as Ka Hikitia and Tātaiako. [28] Each service’s curriculum, environment and assessment practices reflected Māori values and celebrated Māori children as competent learners, celebrating their language and culture. In a few of these very responsive services, success for Māori children was highlighted in teachers’ performance goals.

In services with some responsive practices (25 percent), there was an understanding of the approaches and strategies that enabled Māori children to experience success. Whānau aspirations were sought, and their knowledge was valued. Teachers responded to these aspirations and included them in their assessment practices. Self review led to:

  • changes in teaching and assessment practices
  • increased participation by teachers in relevant professional learning and development
  • more involvement of whānau of Māori children in the service’s curriculum.

In 28 percent of services, understanding was limited in terms of how to provide a curriculum that was responsive for Māori children. Although these services made a commitment to a bicultural curriculum in their philosophy statements, only half were implementing aspects of a bicultural curriculum such as basic te reo, waiata, karakia, poi, pepeha, korowai and some tikanga, along with a celebration of Matariki. A few of these services were beginning to explore ways to provide a responsive curriculum for Māori children, but this was very much in the early stages of development.

Twenty-six percent of services were not providing a curriculum that was responsive to Māori children achieving success as Māori. There were no Māori children enrolled in the remaining seven percent of services, and few of these services were well placed to promote success as Māori for any Māori children that might enrol in the future.

Responsiveness to Pacific Children

ERO investigated how responsive each service’s curriculum was in supportingPacific children achieving success in Terms 1, 2 and 3, 2012. Six percent of services had very responsive practices. An important feature of these services was their robust self review that reflected a desire to improve outcomes for Pacific children. Leaders and teachers recognised the importance of Pacific children’s culture, language and identity and provided a culturally responsive environment that reflected Pacific ethnicities. This was achieved through the employment of Pacific teachers, implementing an appropriate curriculum, supporting children’s language development, developing partnerships with parents, celebrating cultural events, having appropriate teaching and learning resources and including relevant visual displays. Children displayed a strong sense of pride and knowledge about their culture, and this was reflected in their assessment records.

In these very responsive services, warm, trusting, respectful and affirming relationships were integral to developing children’s social competence and emotional wellbeing. Getting to know children and their parents was an important first step for teachers in developing relationships. In some cases, the service provided opportunities for parents to meet and contribute their ideas to the curriculum. Some services also used external research in Pacific education and health and their knowledge of the Pasifika Education Plan to inform their curriculum.

Fifteen percent of services had some responsive practices that enabled Pacific children to experience success. Parents were encouraged to share their ideas about their child’s learning and development and this information was used to build teachers’ knowledge about Pacific children’s culture, language and identity. Pacific teachers in these services were proactive in creating an environment that reflected Pacific ethnicities. This was mainly related to resources and the use of Pacific languages. However, children’s assessment records did not often reflect their Pacific heritage. Some of these services were familiar with the Pasifika Education Plan and used aspects to strengthen experiences for Pacific children.

The curriculum in 21 percent of services had very little or no impact on Pacific children’s success. Teachers had discussions with Pacific parents on aspects of culture, language and identity, but made limited use of the information to design the service’s curriculum. Some services showed a desire to support Pacific children, but lacked the necessary knowledge and skills to move beyond welcoming relationships. ERO found that even when there were Pacific teachers in some of these services, leaders did not seek to use their knowledge to improve outcomes for Pacific children.

Thirteen percent of services had no awareness of how to promote success for Pacific children and some indicated that they applied the same approach for Pacific children as others. In the remaining 45 percent of services, there were no Pacific children enrolled. A few of these services recognised the need for a more responsive curriculum if they were to enrol Pacific children in the future.