ERO evaluated how well early childhood services implemented processes that enabled them to identify and respond to the aspirations and expectations of parents and whānau of Māori children, and the extent to which they focused on realising Māori children’s potential to become competent and confident learners.

Improving educational outcomes for Māori learners is a key priority for the education sector. Current education strategies include a focus on improving how Māori learners are given support to realise their potential. Early childhood education has a key role in building strong learning foundations and enabling young children to develop as competent and confident learners.

Education strategies

Education strategies specific to early childhood services and schools give priority to improving learning outcomes, with a particular focus on Māori children.

The Ministry of Education’s Māori education strategy Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success 2008-2012 outlines a framework of priorities, goals and actions with a focus on improving the quality of early childhood experiences for Māori children and the education services they attend. Ka Hikitia highlights the importance of children developing strong learning foundations early in life. It notes that successful learning in the early years is necessary for achieving at school and in later years. Ka Hikitia seeks the best start in life and education for Māori children through:

  • participation in high quality early childhood education;
  • effective transition to school;
  • strong literacy and numeracy foundations; and
  • effective partnerships between home and service or school focused on learning.

The Māori Potential Approach described in Ka Hikitia provides a useful framework for ERO’s evaluation. The three key principles are:

  • Māori Potential: all Māori learners have unlimited potential.
  • Cultural Advantage: all Māori have cultural advantage by virtue of who they are – being Māori is an asset.
  • Inherent Capability: all Māori are inherently capable of achieving.

Requirements of early childhood services

The requirements for licensed and chartered early childhood services at the time of this evaluation were set out in the Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations (1998), and in charters that included the Revised Statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices, 1996 (DOPs). [2] The DOPs include two guiding principles which require services to:

  • work in partnership with parents/whānau to promote and extend the learning and development of each child who attends or receives the service; and
  • develop and implement a curriculum that assists all children to be:
    • competent and confident learners and communicators;
    • healthy in mind, body and spirit;
    • secure in their sense of belonging; and
    • secure in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society.

Regulation 32 (c) of the Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations requires the licensee of a licensed centre to encourage children to become and remain confident in their own culture, and to develop an understanding of and respect for other cultures of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Bicultural curriculum

The principles and strands of the early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki, [3] set out the framework for services to implement this bicultural curriculum. Te Whāriki notes that children should be given the opportunity to develop knowledge and an understanding of the cultural heritage of both partners to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It states that “decisions about the ways in which bicultural goals and practices are developed within each early childhood education setting should be made in consultation with the appropriate tangata whenua” (p.11).

ERO’s evaluation indicators

ERO’s Evaluation Indicators for Education Reviews in Early Childhood Services refer to Dr Mason Durie’s goals for advancing education achievement for Māori to:

  • live as Māori;
  • actively participate as citizens of the world; and
  • enjoy good health and a high standard of living. [4]

Early childhood services can contribute to these goals by promoting Māori children’s learning and giving them a sound start to life and to schooling. Services need to consult Māori families and provide programmes that foster their aspirations and assist Māori children to achieve to their potential.

Previous evaluation and research studies

ERO’s 2004 national evaluation report Catering for Diversity in Early Childhood Services concluded that, although most early childhood services recognised the need to cater for the range of diversity in their communities, there was still room for considerable improvement.

Two Ministry of Education research reports are relevant to this evaluation. The report on Parental decision making in relation to the use of Early Childhood Education services [5] found the availability of culturally appropriate services was important for parents of Māori children. These parents were also more likely to rate having an educational focus as important, along with the expectation that the service would meet their child’s cultural needs.

The second report focused on the processes and outcomes of the Promoting Early Childhood Education Participation Project. [6] Known as PPP, this project was set up to lift the participation of targeted communities (in particular Māori and Pacific) in quality early childhood services. It found that having access to early childhood education that supported Māori cultural practices and language was an important factor for Māori families. The report noted that where services were not responsive to whānau needs, early childhood educators might benefit from support in working with Māori families.

The findings of two Teaching and Learning Research Initiative (TLRI) research projects carried out by Jenny Ritchie and Cheryl Rau - Whakawhanaungatanga- partnerships in bicultural development in early childhood care and education (2006) and Te Puawaitanga: Partnerships with tamariki and whānau in bicultural earlychildhood care and education (2008) are relevant to this evaluation.

The first research project [7] aimed to:

  • articulate how education settings other than kōhanga reo encouraged Māori whānau to participate in the service; and
  • identify how educators were implementing their understanding of the Tiriti-based commitments in the bicultural early childhood curriculum by delivering Tiriti-based programmes.

Ritchie and Rau’s research emphasised the importance of greeting whānau through inclusive welcoming rituals. It noted that many Māori parents might be unable to articulate their expectations in their child’s early childhood service. The research identified several ways that services could strengthen te reo Māori and tikanga. These included educators being fluent in te reo; a match between the values of Māori homes and the early childhood services; parents feeling welcome to participate and increase their own fluency alongside their children; a sense of whanaungatanga and enactment of values such as rituals of welcome and farewell, sharing of kai, and inclusiveness. The research concluded that “our journey becomes one of self change as we seek to learn from Māori whānau what is important to them, and respond accordingly.”

The second research project[8] aimed to:

  • document the narratives of a diverse group of children and families as they engaged with early childhood services committed to honouring the bicultural intent of Te Whāriki;
  • work collaboratively with colleagues and alongside children and whānau to co-theorise bicultural pathways that were empowering for all participants in the service; and
  • give voice to the perspectives of children, parents and caregivers on their experiences of bicultural early childhood education.

This second research project highlighted educators’ deepened understanding and empathy when they made time to sit and talk with parents and whānau of children in their service. It concluded: “through their involvement in this study, educator co-researchers experienced their complicity as teachers responsible for the worlds they create within their early childhood centres, involving tamariki and whānau as co-constructors in a process in realising the vision of Ka Hikitia: Managing for Success: Māori Education Strategy 2008-2012, for ‘early childhood services to promote and reinforce Māori cultural distinctiveness’ (Ministry of Education, 2007, p.31.”

This evaluation incorporates aspects of these two research projects. ERO was particularly interested in what services were doing to find out about whānau aspirations and expectations, and how services were assisting Māori children to become competent and confident learners.

Participation in early childhood education

Māori children’s participation in early childhood services is changing. Data from the Ministry of Education [9] show that the percentage of Māori children enrolled in education and care and home-based services has increased while the percentage enrolled in kōhanga reo and to a lesser extent in Playcentre and kindergarten has decreased. Table 1 sets out the percentage of Māori children enrolled at early childhood services as at 1 July 2009 compared with enrolments in 2001.

Table 1: Percentages of Maori Children enrolled in Early Childhood Services

Type of service

% of Māori children enrolled in 2009

% of Māori children enrolled in 2001







Education and Care



Home-based network



Kōhanga reo



See Appendix 3 for information about the percentage of Māori children enrolled in each service type in this evaluation.