Earlier this week, Education Central looked at the background to early childhood services’ involvement in Communities of Learning (CoL) and spoke to a teacher and principal involved. In this article we speak to New Zealand Kindergarten’s Clare Wells and the Minister of Education about what lies ahead.
ECE involvement in Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako is encouraged by the Ministry of Education but so far paid roles within the groups are offered only to primary and secondary sector representatives.
In Positive pathways: ECE involvement within Communities of Learning, Cashmere High School principal Mark Wilson and Marlborough Kindergarten Association senior teacher Gwenda Jones both indicated that further funding was needed in order to fully support ECE involvement.
“I do think this is something the Ministry of Education needs to look at, because it needs to be equitable for everybody if we are to be a community of learning,” said Jones.
“It’s definitely worth it, but until you get into that situation of understanding the benefits, the financial issue weighs over everything else.”
Teacher union NZ Educational Institute (NZEI) agrees.
“NZEI has always believed that a lack of funding is the main barrier to ECE services getting involved, and would like to see that change to better enable services to participate if they want to,” said NZEI ECE representative Virginia Oakly.
Clare Wells is Chief Executive of New Zealand Kindergartens and she says the organisation sees huge potential in the collaborative work offered by Communities of Learning – work that goes beyond facilitating good transitions to primary school.
“We actively encourage our member associations and kindergartens to be involved in Kāhui Ako. Most kindergartens are fairly close to their local school and a significant number are on or adjacent to school grounds so we’re working in the same communities and alongside the same families,” she says.
“We believe engaging in Kāhui Ako is much more than transitioning children. It’s about what we as kindergarten bring to the table – our curriculum expertise, our established relationships with families, whānau and communities, our teaching practice in what is effectively an innovative learning environment, and our stewardship as associations providing leadership and support across multiple kindergartens.”
Wells says about 9% of licensed early learning services are involved in CoL, but the level and nature of that engagement varies greatly.
“ECE teachers and kaiako in some areas are active members of the CoL supporting across school roles and engaging at a strategic level. In other areas, they have very limited engagement with the CoL,” she says.
And funding is definitely a barrier.
“A key barrier is that no funding is available to release ECE teachers and kaiako to attend meetings during the day. Other barriers relate to schools wanting to ‘get it right’ before inviting ECE into the CoL or as we’ve heard from school leaders, they find it difficult to know ‘which service to ask’ that ‘there are too many ECE’s in our area.
“All of these issues can be overcome. Already, some CoL have found ways around them but more needs to be done. Funding to support release time for teachers and kaiako could be allocated to services as they engage in CoL and we have designed a formula to identify ECE representatives in CoL that we have presented to Ministry regional directors,” says Wells.
She believes the benefits to CoL will be significant.
“We conducted a study recently and school leaders told us the benefits include developing stronger relationships, everyone ‘hearing the same messages’ about issues like oral language, working together to deepen understanding of the curricula, sharing best practice and a commitment to building a whole of community network.
“The benefits ECE leaders identified included deepening knowledge of the New Zealand Curriculum and understanding of Te Whāriki and play based learning, having opportunities to build and grow on existing practices such as transition, making connections and building relationships, gaining a wider perspective of the education sector including a better understanding of the pressures each part of the sector faces, and sharing expertise across the Kāhui Ako.
“The benefits enhance our relationship with children and their families and whānau, strengthen transitions, and build professional knowledge and practice,” she says.
Minister of Education Chris Hipkins has indicated his support for ECE involvement, and acknowledges the concerns about barriers.
“The government absolutely supports greater collaboration between schools and early childhood services,” he says.
“Communities of Learning can be a way to achieve that, but I share the concerns of many educators that the way they are currently operating is too rigidly focussed on management and accountability rather than genuine collaboration.
“I have asked the Ministry of Education to work with schools and the early childhood sector to come up with an approach that promotes collaboration and puts the learning needs of students at the centre of Communities of Learning. ECE leadership roles are likely to be considered as part of that work,” says Hipkins.