Poor quality education and care

The factors that contribute to poor quality education and care for children are many and varied. It is generally not one particular aspect of the service that results in poor quality, but a combination of factors that have a negative effect on children’s learning. Factors such as leadership, vision and professional learning and development that contribute to high quality in some services are lacking or ineffective in poor quality services. Rigidly implemented routines, poorly resourced or unsafe learning environments and inappropriate teaching practice are also factors in poor quality education and care.

In many services where quality is poor, there is little sense or understanding by managers and/or educators of what high quality looks like. Managers and educators lack the capability to change practice, often believing that their service is operating well, and are unaware of issues or risks to children. Poor quality practice is often entrenched and a lack of willingness or motivation to change prevails.

Ineffective leadership can result from lack of experience. Some leaders, although technically qualified, take on the role too early in their careers or are without the necessary support to do the job well. Some people in leadership roles are not well informed about what constitutes effective practice. Often they do not seek or have access to opportunities to engage in relevant professional learning and development.

Other issues in services where quality is poor include:

  • educators not having responsive relationships with children, often coupled with high staff turnover
  • programmes driven by imposed routines that focus more on adults’ routines than the children’s needs
  • adult-directed activities, and rote learning methods, where adults decide what children do, and when and how they should do particular activities
  • interactions that direct and control children
  • adults being slow to respond to children or not recognising their cues or attempts at communicating
  • a lack of modelling of good quality teaching practice
  • practice not matching documentation expectations
  • few qualified educators
  • ineffective or non-existent self review
  • poor personnel practices and inadequate working conditions.

Poor quality provision often results in children:

  • appearing bored and flitting from one activity to the next
  • hurting or bullying other children
  • spending time waiting for food, toileting or sleep
  • crying or showing signs of being unsettled
  • trying to learn in a noisy and unsettled environment.

Poor quality education and care can contribute to high stress levels for both staff and children and can have a negative influence on relationships at all levels of the service.

ERO’s national evaluation reports have included findings about poor quality provision, particularly in relation to assessment practice, self review, provision for infants and toddlers, and responsiveness to Māori children and their whānau.

ERO’s report The Quality of Assessment in Early Childhood Education, highlighted poor quality assessment practice and the factors that contributed to this. Examples include:

  • educators lacking a shared understanding of the purposes and intent of assessment
  • little or no collaboration between educators about assessment and children’s learning
  • high staff turnover and had many new or unqualified educators on the team resulting in little consistency in assessment
  • only one or two educators having any knowledge of the purpose of assessment
  • educators not being involved in professional learning and development activities to increase their knowledge of effective assessment practice
  • poorly written assessments, mostly describing participation and activities and with little analysis of children’s learning
  • a lack of strategies and systems to support assessment practice
  • children being assessed as a group rather than as individuals
  • a lack of leadership and higher-level professional discussion
  • educators failing to see opportunities to increase the complexity of children’s learning through their play and current interests
  • very little evidence that interactions between educators and children extended and supported the development of children’s language, understanding, and thinking and other interpersonal skills.

In Implementing Self Review in Early Childhood Services, ERO reported on how well managers and educators understood and implemented self review. Where self review was poorly understood and implemented factors included:

  • managers and educators lacking a commitment to ongoing improvement
  • managers and educators in leadership roles not having:

- a good understanding of self review

- a professional commitment to supporting self review

- an awareness of the value and purpose of self review

- the knowledge and skills to develop and implement manageable systems to guide self review

  • leaders’ inexperience and lack of an early childhood education background and/or qualification
  • managers and supervisors or head teachers being isolated and working without professional support
  • changes in management or ownership resulting in systems lapsing or other priorities dominating
  • services struggling to manage the impact that staff turnover had on embedding self review as an integral part of the operation.

A report in ERO’s monograph series, The Quality of Education and Care in Infant and Toddler Centre, January 2009, identified the following concerns in the provision of education and care for infants and toddlers:

  • the lack of grass areas, gardens and natural resources available to children
  • teachers not interacting with children during meal times because they were focused on cleaning tasks rather than engaging with the children
  • teachers talking at children rather than interacting with them
  • teachers not taking more time to listen and respond in ways that extended children’s learning.

In Success for Māori Children in Early Childhood Services, ERO confirmed some of the findings of an earlier pilot study, Māori Children in Early Childhood: Pilot Study, (July 2008)about services lack of responsiveness to Māori children and their whānau. In particular ERO found poor practice where:

  • services stated that they “treated all children the same” and lacked strategies that focused upon Māori children as learners
  • services included statements about values, beliefs and intentions in centre documentation that were not evident in practice
  • they did not use effective processes to find out about the aspirations of parents and whānau of Māori children
  • services lacked adequate self-review processes to evaluate the effectiveness of their provision for Māori children.

The following examples from ERO reports of poor quality services highlight some of these issues.

A lack of leadership has a negative impact on the management and operations of the centre. Staff do not have the guidance they need to operate as an effective care and education team. Poor teaching practices and ineffective child management strategies result in children who appear bored and fractious and whose learning needs are not being met. Underdeveloped self review and inadequate centre planning further hinder progress. The centre is unlikely to improve its standard of education and care without a major influx of trained and capable teachers, stronger centre leadership and a more effective and ongoing professional development programme.

The centre manager is currently the only registered early childhood teacher. She has been unable to access professional support and development to strengthen her knowledge of centre management, leadership and current early childhood education practice. This lack of professional support, mentoring and development is having a negative impact on the centre’s ability to provide appropriate education and care for infants, toddlers and young children. In addition, the three newly appointed educators have limited understanding or experience of teaching in an early childhood setting.