Equity and Excellence

ERO is focused on equity and excellence in education for all children. Improving outcomes for Māori children is a key priority for the education sector.

This ERO report sets out to highlight effective practice in kōhanga reo, specifically, the support children need to grow and thrive through a quality immersion pathway. The aim is to identify what works well, and how this contributes to whānau aspirations for equity and excellence. It intends to articulate the actions and value for the Māori paradigm, and the connections, relevance and significance of te reo Māori, tikanga Māori, te ao Māori and mātauranga Māori.

Why did we undertake this evaluation?

Te Kōhanga Reo Trust and ERO have a mutually professional and respectful relationship, alongside a shared commitment to equity and excellence. Both parties agree there is value in sharing their collective knowledge and working in a co-constructed manner to evaluate and document what great practice in kōhanga reo looks like. Important to kōhanga reo is the ongoing learning and development of young, well-educated generations, articulate and rich in te reo me ngā tikanga Māori, living as Māori. The impetus for this evaluation is to:

  • understand and define the conditions, characteristics and practices that influence quality outcomes in kōhanga reo
  • develop and refine ERO’s Evaluation Indicators for Kōhanga Reo, and the Kōhanga Reo evaluation methodology
  • support kōhanga reo to enhance their practice and achieve the outcomes they seek for their children
  • assist kōhanga reo and Te Kōhanga Reo Trust in their endeavours to ‘get to great’
  • update our collective knowledge and understanding of effective educational practice in a Māori paradigm
  • influence policy-making decisions by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Te Kōhanga Reo Trust.

Significantly, 2017 recognises and celebrates 35 years since kōhanga reo were initially established, and this evaluation is the first national good practice report produced during this time. Also, with the launch of Te Whāriki a Te Kōhanga Reo in April 2017, this evaluation may have use in supporting its implementation.

Definition of Te Kōhanga Reo

Te kōhanga reo is an early learning setting, based on total immersion in Māori language, practice and values. The overarching focus is to revitalise te reo Māori and the Māori way of life for future generations.

Te kōhanga reo contribute to building learning foundations for children, to develop as speakers of te reo Māori who are confident learners. Research shows that children who participate in education that is influenced by te ao Māori (culture, identity and te reo Māori) are more likely to do well as lifelong learners.

Te kōhanga reo literally means, ‘the language nest’ and symbolises a warm and secure place where the young are nurtured, surrounded by their whānau, their culture and language. (In Best, E. 1975. Te whare kōhanga and its lore. (First published 1929): Wellington, Government Printer. Kōhanga was the name given to the special house where women gave birth to their babies.) The entire whānau from kaumātua to children are an integral part of each kōhanga reo. Kaumātua are the ‘keepers’ of tribal knowledge, the parents and kaiako actively participate alongside children who absorb te reo Māori and tikanga Māori as a process of intergenerational transmission.

The feathers that line the nest symbolise the kaumātua or elders who provide that warmth, security and knowledge to the children and their whānau. (Royal Tangaere, 2012:65)

Te Kōhanga Reo background

The kōhanga reo movement began in 1981 under the Department of Māori Affairs ‘Tū Tangata’ initiative, with its genesis in the hopes of kaumātua of that time, to revitalise and arrest the demise of te reo Māori.

Te Kōhanga Reo Trust is a Charitable Trust to which individual kōhanga reo are affiliated. As the umbrella organisation, Te Kōhanga Reo Trust acts as guardian of the kōhanga reo kaupapa or philosophy. In turn, all kōhanga reo whānau pledge commitment to the kaupapa and abide by the guiding principles of Te Korowai through their tūtohinga, or charter to Te Kōhanga Reo Trust.

Te Korowai establishes guidelines to support whānau in understanding the purpose of the kōhanga reo movement. The philosophy of te kōhanga reo is founded on four pou, or cornerstone statements, in Te Korowai. These four pou are:

  • te reo Māori and tikanga Māori
  • whānau decision making, management, and responsibility for Te Kōhanga Reo
  • accountability
  • health and wellbeing of the children and whānau.

External evaluation and reviews of kōhanga reo

Through its external evaluation and review of individual kōhanga reo throughout Aotearoa, New Zealand, ERO has a unique evidence base of what is happening within this part of the Māori medium education pathway. In particular, ERO’s evaluation reports provide information for kōhanga reo whānau to celebrate their success; and where applicable, attend to matters for improvement.

How did we design this evaluation?

We identified the evaluation sample group

The sample group is made up of 11 kōhanga reo, all of which at that time were on a fouryear review return time. Review return times are an indication of how well kōhanga reo are performing. For example, a one-year return time signals that urgent action and support is needed. Conversely, a four-year return time indicates high performance by kōhanga reo that are outcomes focused and action oriented. As at 31 August 2016, ERO’s records showed a total of 454 kōhanga reo, with the majority on a review return time of three years. The return times for all kōhanga reo are summarised below in Figure 4.

Figure 4: ERO Review Return Times for Kōhanga Reo

A chart of total Kōhanga Reo and return times as at 31 August 2016. There are 454 total. There are 20 One Year Returns, 30 Two Year Returns, 393 Three Year Returns, and 11 Four Year Returns. These are shown in circles with sizes dependent on the number of schools represented

We considered their evaluation history

All kōhanga reo in the sample study group demonstrated a sustained history of quality provision for children, whānau and their communities over a number of years. They showed future-focus, commitment to the kōhanga reo kaupapa, determination for continuous improvement and strong professional capability and practice. The collective stories, insights and ideas provide the basis for this evaluation. It should be noted that all kōhanga reo in the sample study group have one or more kaiako with Whakapakari and/or Early Childhood Education qualifications.

We designed our evaluation approach

ERO’s reviews of kōhanga reo are co-constructed with whānau so that each has an external evaluation that reflects their vision, aspirations and achievements – one size fits one. ERO and the whānau, kaiako and kaiāwhina develop the evaluative question to guide their review.

However, for this national report, ERO framed evaluation questions to examine what is working well for kōhanga reo on a four-year review return time.

ERO’s key evaluation questions for this report seek to answer:

  • How well are children nurtured to have a strong sense of belonging, to be happy and respectful, to be confident and communicative, and to be curious learners?
  • How well do whānau positively influence kōhanga reo operations?

ERO designed its evaluation questions and the investigative approach to resonate with Te Whāriki a Te Kōhanga Reo (Te Whāriki a Te Kōhanga Reo, Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga, Ministry of Education – 2017) and the Evaluation Indicators for Te Kōhanga Reo – Ngā Taumata Whakahirahira, Ngā Ahuatanga (5 Evaluation Indicators for Education Reviews in Kōhanga Reo, Education Review Office – 2005 (revised 2006)) and Te Korowai. The investigative approach, premised on the learning platform, is presented in Figure 5. It considers children’s observable behaviour and uses defined lines of enquiry to determine the practices, processes, actions and beliefs used by the kōhanga reo whānau. Also, the influential role of kōhanga reo whānau, their management capability, practices and use of planning and evaluation to ensure the provision of high quality learning are considered.

Figure 5: ERO investigative approach



  • How well are children supported to develop their knowledge of Māori traditions, beliefs and values? What do children do to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, attitudes, dispositions and competence?
  • How well do kōhanga reo, kaiako, kaiāwhina and whānau contribute to children’s knowledge of Māori traditions, beliefs and values? How do they promote children’s learning experiences in this area?


  • How well do children show their connectedness, belonging, environmental awareness and care? What do children do to demonstrate their connection, belonging, awareness and care?
  • How well do kōhanga reo, kaiako, kaiāwhina and whānau support children to connect, belong and be environmentally caring and aware? What do they do to develop children’s learning experiences in this area?


  • How well are children developing value and respect for themselves, their whānau, hapū, iwi and others? How do children demonstrate value and respect for themselves and others?
  • How well do kōhanga reo, kaiako, kaiāwhina and whānau support children to respect themselves and others? What actions do they take to grow the value and respect children have for themselves and others?


  • How well are children exploring and expressing te reo Māori? What do children do to show their discovery and expression of te reo Māori?
  • How well do kōhanga reo, kaiako, kaiāwhina and whānau contribute to children’s exploration and expression of te reo Māori? How do they encourage te reo Māori experiences of children?


  • How well are children developing their knowledge of the natural and physical worlds? What do children do to show their knowledge of the natural and physical worlds?
  • How well do kōhanga reo, kaiako, kaiāwhina and whānau develop children’s knowledge of the natural and physical worlds? What do they do to foster children’s knowledge and learning experiences in this area?


  • How well do whānau use planning and evaluation to support the provision of high quality learning? What do they do to ensure e™ective planning and evaluation occurs?
  • How well do kōhanga reo, kaiako, kaiāwhina and whānau contribute to planning and evaluation? What roles and responsibilities do whānau, kaumātua, kaiako and kaiāwhina take as they plan and evaluate?
  • How does whānau commitment support them to achieve quality outcomes for their children?