Given the recent articles: “Business and Early Childhood Education make uneasy bedfellows” by Peter Lyons and “ECE centres are not nasty corporates” by Peter Reynolds (CEO Early Childhood Council), I want to offer a system perspective on the current state of early childhood provision as evidenced by the work of the Education Review Office (ERO).
ERO drives quality and integrity in the early childhood sector through our reviews of early childhood education providers, which are focused on effectiveness and improvement. Also, through our national evaluation reports on various aspects of sector performance.
These reviews are carried out by experienced education evaluators. ERO evaluators are highly trained in evaluation methods and approaches. They have a deep understanding of the evidence base for high quality practice, as well as the legal context and the varying philosophies within the early childhood education sector.
A recent analysis we provided to the Education and Workforce Select Committee showed the overwhelming majority of ERO review teams in the past year included and/or were managed by evaluators with specialist early childhood education expertise.
In every evaluation we aim to engage in a meaningful review process, and make sound judgements about performance and influence improvement. We focus on the quality and effectiveness of services’ internal systems for quality improvement and on the capacity of the services to promote positive learning outcomes for all children.
ERO has found that the ownership and governance arrangements alluded to in both the cited articles are not the determining factors for quality in early childhood settings. We encounter a continuum of quality across community based, privately owned and corporate early childhood settings. Successful early learning services are committed to continuous and deliberate improvement and use evidence to identify their direction and make decisions. They effectively use evaluation to ensure that what they do makes a positive difference for all children and their families.
Of the 1291 early learning service evaluations undertaken in 2017/18, ERO found that 75% of services were well placed, 4% required further development, and 1% were not well placed.
Only 13% of services fell into our ‘very well placed’ category, which indicates performance at the highest level of quality. This is concerning. It suggests insufficient focus by early learning services on improving the quality of provision beyond meeting the standard of minimum or satisfactory performance expectations. ERO wants to work with the sector to build quality of provision so that all children in Aotearoa/New Zealand participate and learn in the best early learning environment possible.
ERO’s current revision of the quality review framework for early childhood education is a response to the broad changes in the sector, new research insights and the refreshed early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki (2017). When published we intend this framework to become the backbone for evaluating quality and performance in the early learning sector. It will also be the basis for new ways of reporting ERO’s findings to its various audiences. The quality framework will provide a resource for services’ own internal evaluation, and for supporting continuous improvement in the sector.