Center on International Education Benchmarking

Supports for Pre-Primary Children and Families

New Zealand makes significant investments in early childhood education and care. The share of GDP devoted to early education and care is twice the OECD average (0.4% vs. 0.2%) and the teacher-student ratios are much lower than the OECD average. In 2002, the first 10-year ECE strategic plan was published, with recommendations to provide a robust infrastructure for delivering high-quality, affordable early childhood education to all children.

Most three- and four-year-olds in New Zealand—97%—receive some form of early childhood education (the OECD average is 71%), usually for 20 to 22 hours a week. For three- and four-year-olds, the first 20 hours a week are fully funded by the government. The program is called 20 ECE Hours and was established in 2007.

There are over 5,000 childcare and pre-school facilities that fall into two main groups:

  • Teacher-led services where 50 percent of the supervising adults must be qualified and registered as ECE teachers. These include kindergartens and education and care services.
  • Parent-led services which include licensed playcenters and playgroups that may or may not be government certified.

The Ministry of Education sets a national curriculum framework for early childhood education, provides teachers with criterion-referenced assessments for learning, ensures standards are maintained in every early childhood center, and assesses teacher quality and fidelity of curriculum implementation in centers through a rating and improvement system. Since 2000, early childhood education teachers have been required to have a three-year Diploma of Teaching.

In the Economist’s 2012 Starting Well study, which ranked the availability, quality, and affordability of preschool for three- to six-year-olds in 45 countries around the world, New Zealand ranked ninth overall. In comparison, the U.S. ranked in the middle of the pack at 24th.

Additionally, New Zealand’s family benefits system is among the most generous in the OECD. The country ranks eighth among 39 countries in the percent of GDP devoted to family benefits, defined as child-related cash transfers, support payments for families with children, income support for single parents, public spending for families with children, and public spending on family services, as well as support provided to families with children through the tax system.

Supports for Disadvantaged Populations

More than a third of New Zealand students are of Maori and Pasifika background, and there remain substantial achievement gaps between those students and those with European or Asian heritage. In the late 1990s, the Ministry of Education began an extensive consultation with Maori about developing a system that would meet these students’ needs and produce educational success. The initial goals were to improve English-language education for Maori, increase Maori involvement in the education authority, and support the growth of Maori-language schools. These goals produced a degree of improvement, and in 2006, the Ministry updated and extended the priorities and initiatives. More recently, the Ministry expanded Maori-medium education, in which some instruction is conducted in the Maori language, and provided resources to strengthen the cultural competence of teachers who teach students who are Maori. The Ministry also in 2013 set out the government’s strategic direction for Pasifika education. It seeks to increase accountability for Pasifika students’ success and make improvements in practice, including a greater focus on the use of achievement information as part of more effective community engagement to address underperformance.

New Zealand uses a decile system to target funding to schools with greater proportions of low-income students. Deciles are a measure of the socio-economic position of a school’s student community relative to other schools throughout the country. For example, decile 1 schools are the 10% of schools with the highest proportion of students from low socio-economic communities, whereas decile 10 schools are the 10% of schools with the lowest proportion of these students. The lower the school’s decile, the more funding it receives.

Deciles are based on five socio-economic indicators for a community:

  • Percentage of households with income in the lowest 20% nationally,
  • Percentage of employed parents in the lowest skill level occupational groups,
  • Household crowding,
  • Percentage of parents with no educational qualifications, and
  • Percentage of parents receiving income support benefits.

Despite this funding system, inequities remain. Because New Zealand allows parents to send children to schools outside their local area, many parents have opted to send their children to more affluent schools, meaning that the number of students in high-decile schools has increased, while the number of students in low-decile schools has decreased. As a result, with fewer students, the lower-decile schools receive less funding, even with the weighting system, and thus are less able than the higher-decile schools to offer a broad range of curricular options and student supports.

Supports for Struggling Students

One of New Zealand’s challenges is closing the equity gap in learning outcomes. The country has a wider gap between the top performing 10 percent and bottom performing 10 percent of students than in most other OECD countries.

New Zealand has made efforts to help struggling students improve. Under the Programmes for Students (PfS), the Ministry provides support for teachers in schools where students perform below or well below national standards in literacy or mathematics. Teachers receive support for short-term interventions to accelerate progress in learning, and then share that learning with colleagues across the school. 

Special Education

All students with special needs have the legal right to both primary and secondary education in New Zealand, and equal access to all educational resources. The New Zealand government considers all developmental or learning disabilities to be special needs, and provides a wide variety of resources tailored to a child’s particular needs. These include special support and therapy, the presence of specially trained staff in schools, specialist equipment, and transportation and modification of existing physical structures to facilitate a child’s inclusion in a school. The Ministry of Education provides resources to schools based on student need; about 4% to 6% of students are identified as moderate to high needs, and 3% are identified as high to very high needs.

For those with the highest level of needs, the government provides direct aid on a per-pupil basis. For those with less significant needs, the Ministry provides specialists and Resource Teachers of Learning and Behavior for learning support, as well as Resource Teachers of Literacy. In addition, the Ministry provides Special Education Grants directly to schools that they can use to cover salaries for teachers aides and equipment. The funding is allocated on a per-student basis, with higher amounts going to Decile 1 schools and lower amounts to schools serving more affluent students.

In 2015, the Ministry held forums to discuss special education practices and policies with 3,650 people, including parents, educators, and service providers. The forums identified six areas that needed improvement: teacher training, parent involvement, access to support, interagency cooperation, transparency, and transitions between school levels. In response, the Ministry developed an action plan to simplify and streamline service delivery. The Ministry piloted the new system in the Waiariki/Bay of Plenty region in the 2017-18 school year.

Source: OECD

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