Ensuring quality in early learning

Participation in early learning has reached record highs, at over 96%. The fact that more children than ever are benefiting from this great start is excellent news. With this increased participation, we want to reassure parents that our standards are as high as ever.

How does the Ministry of Education ensure quality in early learning?

Our early learning standards are among the highest in the world. We set the bar high because, like parents, we know children must have safe, nurturing environments to learn and grow.

We ensure early learning services provide high quality education and care. At any one time, 98% of early learning services are meeting or exceeding standards.

Here’s how we do that:

Our rules on quality

Before an early learning service of any kind begins operating it must meet our licensing standards. The licensing standards make clear what is expected on curriculum, health and safety, premises and facilities, and governance, management and administration. An early learning service has to show us over a probationary period of up to 12 months that it is delivering on those standards. A full licence will be issued to the service once this is achieved. Early learning services are inspected by regional public health services to ensure they meet health standards.

Early learning services are regularly checked

The Education Review Office (ERO) independently reviews all early learning services every one to four years to ensure they meet quality standards. We work with ERO to support early learning services to improve the quality of learning. ERO release reports for every early learning service they review and these reports can be found on ERO's website.

Our staff in each of our 10 regions visit early learning services and check they are complying with their licences. Early learning services have to provide us with independently audited accounts annually, and three times a year we assess all early learning services against financial indicators. Where we identify areas of concern, audit investigation teams visit early learning services to investigate further.

We have the power to act if we have concerns

We act immediately if there are any concerns about the safety or wellbeing of children. We have the power to carry out spot-checks at any time if we have concerns – and we do so. If we believe children are at risk in any way, we can shut down an early learning service, either temporarily or permanently.

We can put an early learning service on a provisional licence if it isn’t meeting our standards, and we monitor them closely and set deadlines for improvement. Provisional licences indicate to staff, parents and communities that an early learning service is not meeting our high standards. The provisional licence provides details of the standards that are not being met and a timeline for compliance.

In Centre-based services the licence must be prominently displayed and in Home-based services parents must be advised how to access the licence.

In rare cases where a service does not improve, we cancel their licence and close them down. We have the power to require particular staff to not have access to children if that’s what the circumstances require.

We take action on safeguarding and lifting quality standards

We take all complaints seriously and follow up every complaint from parents, services and members of the public to ensure the wellbeing of children and the quality of early learning.

Every early learning service must have a complaints procedure that parents and whānau know about and can access. You can find out more information about the complaints procedure and how it works on our website.

We provide information about complaints to the public in an annual summary which is also available on our website.

In the last 3 years we cancelled 8 licences for early learning services that hadn’t met our requirements. Each year we put approximately 60 early learning services on provisional licences. At any one time less than 2% of the country’s 4,581 early learning services are on a provisional licence.

When concerns come to our attention that we think other early learning services could learn from, we share this. In some cases an incident or issue may mean we need to review the information we provide to early learning services and parents. This may include reviewing and updating our licensing criteria guidance, website, or publishing articles in the Ministry’s He Pānui Kōhungahunga – the Early Learning Bulletin.

We also work closely with a number of sector organisations and the Early Childhood Advisory Committee (ECAC) to ensure quality learning in New Zealand.

We invest to lift quality and for continuous improvement

We spend nearly $9 million a year on professional development for early learning services through Strengthening Early Learning Opportunities (SELO). The primary purpose of this programme is to improve the quality of teaching practice in early learning services.

The SELO programme involves contracting professional development providers to work with early learning services and their teaching staff to improve their educational practice in order to enhance educational outcomes for young children.

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