Executive summary

Diverse New Zealand

Increasingly diverse communities are evident throughout New Zealand. Auckland is New Zealand’s most culturally diverse city, with over 100 ethnicities and more than 150 languages spoken on a daily basis. Thirty‑nine percent of Auckland residents were born outside of New Zealand and 51 percent of Auckland’s population are multi‑lingual. The learner population in Auckland and New Zealand is rapidly becoming heterogeneous, as is evident through the diversity of learners’ ethnicity, language, heritage, and immigration status.

Linguistic diversity is a facet of a larger cultural diversity. ‘Culturally and linguistically diverse learners’ (CLD learners) refers to learners whose home language is a language other than English, who are second language learners, have limited English proficiency, are bilingual, language minority learners, and mainstream dialect speakers. As such, CLD learners include English language learners, a term used specifically in the context of English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision.

This evaluation focused on CLD learners who speak one or more languages other than English, and are learning the English language. The terms family and whānau are used interchangeably to mean family or extended family.

Positive interactions with cultural and linguistically diverse learners and their families can help teachers and other learners to acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes that equip them to live in a world of diverse languages and cultures.

Evaluation focus

ERO‘s overarching key question was ‘How are the early learning and school sectors in Auckland responding to culturally and linguistically diverse learners?’

In particular, ERO sought to find out:

  • who are our culturally and linguistically diverse learners in Auckland and why does diversity matter?
  • how well are Auckland early learning services and schools responding to the increase in culturally and linguistically diverse learners?
  • what are the effective practices of Auckland services and schools’ responses to the challenges and opportunities for these learners?   

Evaluation information strands

ERO undertook this evaluation in the Auckland region, in three phases:  

  • qualitative research with a diverse array of Auckland stakeholders about what was important for Auckland early learning services and schools in responding to cultural and language diversity; and perceived challenges and support or advice given to services, schools and families of CLD learners (Part 1)
  • external evaluation of 74 early learning services and 38 schools in Auckland and their responses to the increasing cultural and language diversity in their community (Part 2)
  • interviews and focus groups with a sample of early learning services and schools that exemplified aspects of effective practice. The sample was based on suggestions from stakeholders and schools identified from the evaluation (Part 3). 

Although Auckland is the locus of this evaluation, the findings hold relevance for education providers throughout New Zealand who are welcoming and supporting increasing numbers of new migrants, refugees and their children.

Key findings

ERO found that there is an overall need for early learning services (services) and schools to improve their response to culturally and linguistically diverse learners, and to support their acquisition of the English language.  Most services and schools knew who these learners were and had, to some extent, taken steps to respond to their language and culture. However, only 37 percent of services and 58 percent of schools intentionally promoted learning by using a home language or cultural lens to support the learners’ acquisition of English, and to promote engagement with the learner, their parents and communities. 

The key features of responsiveness to culturally and language diverse (CLD) learners identified from our evaluation framework are as follows:  


  • support CLD learners, their parents and whānau as partners in learning
  • support and encourage intergenerational learning
  • develop authentic relationships that promote inclusion
  • create ways for CLD families to authentically participate in the life of the service/school
  • develop a rich curriculum that celebrates the backgrounds and interests of all families 
  • collaborate and learn from other agencies.


  • strategic appointment of appropriate bilingual and/or qualified teaching staff
  • develop coherent pathways for learners from early education through to employment
  • drive system changes and develop skill sets for all sectors of the community to experience success.

Know the learner

  • understand the differences and similarities between migrant, refugee, and New Zealand‑born CLD learners, and their families
  • appreciate and celebrate cultural and linguistic diverse backgrounds
  • show empathy and understanding for previous life experiences 
  • listen actively and learn from the learners’ parents and siblings, and others from the same culture

Plan for individual learning priorities

  • understand what works and tailor the curriculum for CLD learners
  • model high expectations for these learners and support them to succeed
  • consider that these learners’ knowledge and thinking may be significantly more advanced than their ability to express themselves in English
  • take care not to attribute learning difficulties simply to these learners’ level of English knowledge or behavioural issues. The potential of a referral to a hearing or speech therapist or other learning support services could be missed.

Demonstrate best practice

These features offer considerable opportunities and challenges to ensure all CLD learners in Auckland and New Zealand are effectively supported to reach their potential, enjoy success and recognise themselves as capable and confident learners.


All services and schools have a critical role to play, as often they provide the first regular daily contact with New Zealand society for new citizens.  Effectively catering to the learning priorities of a diverse learner community directly relates to ERO’s commitment to equity and excellence and, applying the principles and values embodied in Te Whāriki and The New Zealand Curriculum in practice.

Further, if we are to raise all our New Zealand children as global citizens, first‑hand experience and understanding of the cultures of their peers is an important first learning step for everyone.

ERO recommends that services and schools:

  • develop an engagement strategy for getting to know CLD learners, their parents and whānau
  • prioritise the identification of these learners’ strengths, interests and learning priorities  
  • plan and implement teaching strategies appropriate for supporting cultural diversity and English language learning  
  • increase opportunities for all teachers to obtain the TESSOL qualification.                             

ERO recommends that The Ministry of Education:

  • support the development and sharing of language resources, particularly for early learning services, to encourage children and their whānau to use and maintain their home languages
  • review the current provision of professional and learning development, resource materials and tools, given the rapid increase and demand for the teaching of CLD learners
  • ensure that ESOL funding to support CLD learners’ acquisition of English is tailored to ongoing learning priorities. Evidence gathered from this evaluation aligns with research that shows, depending on their age, CLD learners’ can take between 5‑10 years to learn the English language before they are considered competent (Haynes, 2007; Cummins, 2000).

ERO recommends that the education sector:

  • aim to build a diverse knowledge base for every teacher, with desired competencies in second language acquisition theory and development, understanding the relationship between language and culture, and an increased ability to affirm the culture of the learners
  • promote the integration of the seven ESOL principles into teaching practices to support CLD learners to make both academic and language progress in all curriculum learning areas.