2. Early Childhood Education

Why this is a focus area

Strong early learning experiences provide critical foundations for success in later education. While the number of Māori children participating in quality early learning is increasing, Māori children still have lower rates of participation in early learning compared with the national participation rate.

Increasing participation by Māori to the national participation rate, and to the Better Public Services (BPS) goal of 98% in 2016, will increase the number of Māori who receive this foundation for success in later education.

Where we want to go: Ka Hikitia Goals and Actions


  1. All Māori parents and whānau are accessing their choice of high quality early childhood education
  2. All parents and whānau are providing high quality early learning experiences (education and language).


  • In 2016, 98% of Māori children starting school will have participated in quality early childhood education
  • By 2017, 85% of early childhood education services reviewed by ERO will be working to some extent or to a high extent in partnership with Māori whānau.

Prior Participation in ECE

Between December 2015 and December 2016, the proportion of Māori children having participated in early learning before enrolling in school rose 0.7 percentage points to 95.0% (14,816 children).  The increase was larger than the non-Māori increase of 0.2 percentage points to 97.3% in the same time period.

Māori participation in early learning has increased at a faster rate than non-Māori. As a result the participation gap between Māori and non-Māori has narrowed from 6.4 percentage points in 2010 to 2.3 percentage points in 2016 (year ending December).

The target was that 98% of all Māori new school entrants in 2016 have prior participation in early learning. Despite the positive increases we have seen, this target was not met.

Figure 2.1: Percentage of new entrants with prior participation in early childhood education (2010-2016)

Quality ECE

Access to quality early learning can be supported through increasing provision of quality, culturally responsive early learning opportunities.

In 2012, ERO published a report evaluating how early childhood services work in partnership with the whānau of Māori children. The report was based on data gathered from a nationally representative sample of 374 early learning services. It found that, while 78% of the services built positive relationships with whānau only 10% had built effective, culturally responsive partnerships.  An additional 45% were categorised as working to some extent in partnership with whānau Māori.

Ka Hikitia sets the target that, by 2017, 85% of early childhood education services reviewed by ERO will be working to some extent or to a high extent in partnership with Māori whānau. This would be an increase of thirty percentage points over five years from the 55% which met this criteria in 2012.

Partnership with Whānau Māori in Early Childhood Services defines effective partnership as having occurred when early learning educators and whānau have:

  • Developed a shared understanding of how to work together to design a curriculum that is responsive to the needs of Māori children and aspirations of their whānau.
  • Educators consciously plan and use teaching and learning strategies and contexts that are linked to whānau contexts.
  • Worked together to ensure that educators use te reo Māori and practise tikanga appropriately for the diverse needs of Māori in their centre.

Figure 2.2 ERO findings on the extent to which ECE service providers' work in partnership with whānau Māori5

Since 2012, there has not been a follow-up national report on the extent to which ECE providers are working in partnership with whānau, and progress towards the 85% target cannot be assessed at this time.


  1. Education Review Office. (2012). Partnership with Whānau Māori in Early Childhood Services.