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Objective 1. Children and whānau experience environments which promote their wellbeing and support identity, language and culture

1.1          Improve the ratios of adults to children under the age of 3 years in teacher-led centre-based early learning services

High adult:child ratios enable adults to interact responsively with infants and toddlers. New Zealand’s minimum adult:child ratios for children under 3 years old compare unfavourably with evidence-based recommendations and with ratios in similar OECD countries.

The following new adult:child ratios for early learning centres will be introduced over the life of this plan. A ratio of 1:3 for under 2 year-olds will remain an aspiration in the longer term.

Current ratios



New ratios




Under 2 years

2 years old

Since there are interdependencies between improving adult:child ratios and improving the proportion of qualified teachers in some service types (action 3.1), and attracting and retaining qualified teachers (actions 3.3 and 3.4), the following staged approach will be taken:

  • In the medium term, teacher-led centre-based services with adult:child ratios of 1:4 for under 2 year-olds and/or 1:5 for 2 year-olds will attract a higher funding rate. (Note: this action applies to centre-based services only and does not apply to hospital-based or home-based services.) 
  • In the medium and longer term, adult:child ratios of 1:4 for under 2 year-olds and then 1:5 for 2 year-olds will become requirements for teacher-led centre-based services. Once in place, higher funding rates will reflect the increased costs to services of these regulated ratios. 

The Ministry will support services with advice about how to implement new ratios and age bands.

1.2          Require teachers to be organised among groups of children in ways that support secure and consistent care, language learning pathways, and positive transitions for children and whānau

Research tells us that children need secure, consistent and responsive relationships with adults.

The Ministry intends to review the licensing criteria to require service providers to develop policies about how teachers’ responsibilities for children are organised to meet individual needs within a group context. These policies would show how the distribution of adults in services supports secure and consistent care and positive transitions for children.

(Note: It is recognised that hospital-based services operate differently from other early learning services and this difference will require consideration and specific provision during the review of the licensing criteria.)

1.3          Develop advice about group size, centre design and wider environmental factors, and how to improve quality standards in these areas

Small group sizes are linked to better quality early learning experiences, particularly for younger children and those living in high risk situations. Also, environments that are warm, spacious and allow children to experience nature are important for children’s wellbeing and learning.

It is proposed to develop advice about the relationships between group size and wider environmental factors, and how to improve quality standards in these areas. The Ministry will consult with the sector if any regulatory changes are advised, including about operational and financial implications.

1.4          Support parents and whānau to navigate their choices of education and language learning pathways through better access to information

The Ministry will talk with parents, whānau and communities to identify information gaps and ways to present information in more accessible and culturally responsive ways. This action will focus on making sure that all parents have the information and support they need to choose an early learning service for their child and navigate the system.

Information from the network profiles (action 5.1) and the provision of wrap-around social services (actions 2.1 and 2.2) will also help parents to navigate education pathways. Parents who prefer an in-person or phone option will continue to be able to contact the Ministry’s regional offices for information.

Objective 2. All children are able to participate in early learning and have the support they need to learn and thrive

This plan is supported by the Learning Support Action Plan 2019-2025 (LSAP). The LSAP sets out actions that will lead to more systematic approaches to identifying children’s learning support needs, including exploring with the Ministry of Health universal health checks for 3 year-old children. It also includes actions to strengthen early intervention so that waiting lists are reduced and families and whānau are able to access support in a timely manner.

The Government’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy will enable a cross-agency response to help realise ‘equity from the start’ and the Ministry will work with the sector and other agencies to deliver on this strategy.

2.1          Review equity and targeted funding to ensure that they best support children to benefit from access to high quality early learning experiences

The Government currently provides equity funding and targeted funding for disadvantage to support children to attend high quality services and to gain learning support when needed. The Ministry will review these to ensure that they best support children to benefit from access to high quality early learning experiences and align with relevant actions in the LSAP.

2.2          Develop advice to facilitate wrap-around health and social services to support children and their whānau to engage in early learning and ensure that it is clear who holds key responsibility for coordinating learning support in each early learning service

The Ministry will support policies and initiatives arising from the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and contribute to cross-agency responses that address health, social support gaps, and issues that impact on children’s early learning.

Some early learning services are already facilitating wrap-around support from a range of other services, for example, visits from public health nurses and speech language therapists.

The Ministry will encourage sharing examples of good practice across services, agencies and communities, including at the regional level. In addition, the Ministry will work with the sector to make sure that people are identified who have key responsibilities for coordinating learning support within each early learning service.

The Ministry will also work on ways to increase workforce knowledge and expertise in early identification and response to learning support needs as part of implementing the LSAP

Objective 3. Teaching staff and leaders are well qualified, diverse, culturally competent and valued

3.1          Incentivise for 100 percent and regulate for 80 percent qualified teachers in teacher-led centres, leading to regulation for 100 percent

Teacher qualifications make an important contribution to quality practices, for example, by enabling higher quality interactions with children.

The Government will increase the proportion of qualified teachers in teacher-led, centre-based early learning services.

(Note: This action applies to centre-based services only and not to hospital-based or home-based services.)

 This change would be implemented in stages, starting with funding incentives for 100 percent qualified.

The Ministry will work with the sector to understand teacher supply and demand and how to encourage uptake of initial teacher education (ITE) to increase the proportion of qualified teachers. Steps to support this will include:

  • In the short term, the introduction of a higher funding rate for teacher-led, centre-based early learning services that have 100 percent qualified teachers. 
  • In the medium-term, regulation change to require 80 percent of teaching staff in all teacher-led services to be qualified teachers and, where children are grouped in separate spaces, at least one qualified teacher will be located with each group. 

As funding incentives and regulatory changes are implemented, specific attention will be given to the impacts on language pathways, including the ability of services to retain competent language speakers within their wider workforce.

The education workforce strategy (EWS) will include a focus on growing the diversity of cultures and genders and on reducing barriers to people with disabilities entering the teaching workforce.

3.2          Raise the levels of home-based educators’ qualifications

From 2019, cost adjustments to the funding rates for home-based early learning services will only be directed towards quality funding rates. All educators within quality rate services must hold a Level 3 ECE qualification or credits towards the Level 4 ECE qualification.

Eventually, all home-based educators will need to hold, or be in training towards, a Level 4 ECE qualification, or Te Ara Tuarua, or hold a higher ECE or kōhanga reo qualification.

Educators who already hold a Level 3 ECE qualification will be recognised as being equivalent to the Level 4 ECE qualification.

3.3          Develop an early learning teacher supply strategy that aligns with the wider education workforce strategy

As part of its workforce strategy, there will be support for qualified teachers to return to early learning teaching, growing the supply of locally qualified early learning teachers, and encouraging New Zealand qualified early learning teachers who are overseas to return home.

In the medium to long term, a range of scholarships and grants will support the unqualified early learning workforce to gain ITE qualifications and targeted support will attract Māori and Pacific enrolments.

Improved pay and conditions (action 3.4) and better adult:child ratios (action 1.1) will also help to attract and retain teachers.

3.4          Implement a mechanism that improves the levels and consistency of teachers’ salaries and conditions across the early learning sector

The Ministry will develop a mechanism that promotes more consistent and improved teacher salaries and conditions in the early learning sector. This is likely to require changes to the early learning funding system and will involve a staged implementation that ensures the approach is sustainable.

3.5          Improve initial teacher education (ITE) to ensure that teachers are well-qualified to implement the curriculum in collaboration with other professionals

The Teaching Council of Aotearoa (Teaching Council) has reviewed the provision of ITE and developed new requirements which represent a shift in its expectations. These changes will help to make sure that there are flexible training pathways and that ITE graduates are ready to teach and continue their progress to full certification.

ITE providers are also required to develop ITE programmes through authentic partnerships with their communities, including iwi and schools.

The Ministry, ERO and the Teaching Council will work together to develop a set of key measures towards meeting this action, and to evaluate progress over the life of the plan.

3.6          Develop a sustained and planned approach to professional learning and development (PLD)

PLD helps to maintain and strengthen practice that contributes to children’s learning and wellbeing. The Ministry will introduce a planned and coherent national programme of PLD to support the design and implementation of local curriculum within the framework of Te Whāriki. All PLD will include a focus on identity, language and culture, and the inclusion of children with disabilities or additional learning needs.

A national programme of PLD will also be designed to grow the leadership capability of teachers, kaiako and educators in leadership roles.

3.7          Develop innovation and research hubs for early learning services

The Ministry will contract the development of innovation and research hubs that enable early learning teachers and services to access expertise, partners and resources. These hubs will be accessible online to mitigate barriers to participation, and will be designed to promote cross-service and cross-sector collaboration.

It is anticipated that teacher, community, early learning service and government priorities will inform research questions or innovations. The Ministry will identify and assess options for the development of these hubs after the Tomorrow’s Schools Review and other current education reforms are finalised.

3.8          Support early learning services to participate as equitable partners in cross-service and cross-sector collaboration

Collaboration is important in sharing good practice, and early learning services collaborating with schools and kura support positive transitions for children. The Ministry will continue to support cross-sector collaboration through initiatives such as Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako, and explore further options to share learning between services and to create collaborative networks.

Other actions in this plan that support collaboration include creating innovation and research hubs (action 3.7) and providing governance support to small groups of services (action 5.4).

3.9          Support the workforce to integrate te reo Māori into all early learning services

Te Whāriki sets out expectations that all early learning services integrate te reo and tikanga Māori in their curriculum and enable Māori to enjoy educational success as Māori.

To help support and strengthen Māori-medium services, and expand the use of te reo Māori across all early learning services, the Ministry will review current PLD delivery (action 3.6) to ensure a strong focus on partnership with mana whenua in the design of local PLD initiatives. PLD will also be supported by implementation of Te Ahu o te Reo Māori – a PLD initiative which aims to grow and strengthen the use of te reo Māori into education settings.

New requirements designed by the Teaching Council will also help integrate te reo Māori into all early learning services. For example, students in English-medium ITE programmes will be assessed on their competency in te reo Māori. 

Objective 4. Children develop capabilities that are valued by their whānau and community and support them to be competent and confident learners

4.1          Gazette the curriculum framework, Te Whāriki, to support engagement with the principles, strands, goals and learning outcomes when designing local curricula

Te Whāriki is made up of principles, strands, goals and learning outcomes. Each of these four parts of Te Whāriki  plays a different role in effective curriculum implementation. In high quality early learning services, teachers and educators engage with the whole framework when implementing a local curriculum that reflects the learning that is valued by their children, whānau and community.

The legal framework currently comprises:

  • the principles – empowerment | whakamana, holistic development | kotahitanga, family and community | whānau tangata, and relationships | ngā hononga, and 
  • the strands – wellbeing | mana atua, belonging | mana whenua, contribution | mana tangata, communication | mana reo, exploration | mana aotūroa. 

In 2020, it is intended that the goals and learning outcomes of Te Whāriki will also be gazetted as part of this curriculum framework. Inclusion of all four parts of Te Whāriki within the legal framework will help clarify its status and its role in supporting curriculum design.

4.2          Co-construct a range of valid, reliable, culturally and linguistically appropriate tools to support formative assessment and teaching practice

Children progress in both similar and divergent ways, developing their own learning trajectories. They also have increasing capacity to assess their own progress and set goals for themselves. Teachers and educators attend to progress in order to identify ways to deepen or strengthen children’s learning. Teachers also monitor their own practice and seek to improve it.

In the short to medium term, the Ministry will collaborate with early learning researchers and practitioners to develop tools and formative assessment practices within the framework of Te Whāriki, drawing on national and international research evidence. To ensure valid, reliable, culturally and linguistically appropriate practices, these researchers and practitioners will have expertise in formative assessment, including in kaupapa Māori and Pacific contexts.

4.3          Support services to undertake robust internal evaluation that strengthens implementation of Te Whāriki and ensures ongoing improvement

ERO has updated its indicators of quality for early childhood services as part of a wider programme of methodology review and development. The indicators are central to both external and internal evaluation that focuses on quality improvement. They provide a tool for services to evaluate their own performance and develop a quality improvement plan that supports ongoing improvement. 

Objective 5. Early learning services are part of a planned and coherent education ecosystem that is supported, accountable and sustainable

5.1          Introduce a managed network approach to ensure high quality, diverse and sustainable early learning provision

The Ministry licences, monitors, funds and supports early learning services but does not actively engage in network planning. More active management of the network will help to ensure all children have access to quality early learning settings and prevent unintended consequences of over-supply.

The Ministry will take a staged approach to developing a network function. Network profiles will be developed to help providers make decisions about opening new services. The Ministry will also look at regulatory and legislative changes to enable more active management of the network so that parents can access a service that meets their needs.

The Ministry intends to introduce a two-step licensing approach:

  • Step 1 would require service providers to indicate their intention to establish or expand a service (before acquiring land or building). To be approved, services would need to meet an existing or future need, and providers would need to demonstrate that their existing services are of good quality. 
  • Step 2 would be the full licensing application to ensure the service meets the regulated standards and other requirements for licensing.

5.2          Identify options to address supply of early learning services in under-served communities

As an extension of the network management function, the Ministry will investigate options to ensure children in under-served communities have access to quality early learning services that support their identity, language and culture. Setting up state-owned services, as proposed in the draft plan, will be looked at in this context for communities where children experience barriers in accessing services which are responsive to their needs. Other options will include funding incentives, approaching preferred (high quality) providers, and calling for expressions of interest.

5.3          Set aside space for early learning services alongside school sites, where possible

The provision of early learning services on school land enhances connections between early learning children and their whānau, communities, schools and kura. Where possible, the Ministry will enable land on school sites to be used for the provision of early learning services. The Ministry will supply the land and charge a ground lease. Early learning services will own the building and be responsible for all building elements, including insurance and maintenance. There is potential in the longer term to look at legislation that allows schools to operate early learning services.

5.4          Strengthen governance and management support for Pacific language and other community early learning services

Governance and management capability is fundamental to sustainable, high quality early learning provision. Community-based services, which have arisen to reflect specific community, language and cultural aspirations, may not have access to the governance and management expertise required to run services.

Without providing specific supports, we face the risk that community-run services may not be sustainable, removing an option that is valued by parents.

To better support community-based services, the Ministry will identify, repackage and promote existing information, training, and governance and management advice available to organisations such as early learning centres.

The Ministry will also explore options for new models of governance and management in the context of network planning. Part of this will involve assessing options to encourage consolidation, as well as increased sharing of leadership and management supports and functions (eg, relief teacher pools, administration).

Specific attention will be given to supporting the sustainability of Pacific early learning services which support parents’ and communities’ language and cultural aspirations.

5.5          Introduce a consistent and rigorous programme of monitoring and licensing

The Ministry licences early learning services and has legal powers to enforce regulations and progress regulatory interventions, including complaint and incident investigations. Both the Ministry and ERO are involved in monitoring early learning services.

ERO is implementing a risk-based approach that identifies services needing greater attention. The Ministry will develop a programme of targeted visits for services at risk of poor quality in order to identify needed support and broker remedial action.

It is proposed to review regulations to strengthen the Ministry’s ability to take account of an early learning service’s licensing history when deciding to grant a probationary licence, and to cancel the licence of any service that is repeatedly put on a provisional licence. It is also proposed that, where a regulatory response is applied, services will need to inform families of the reasons for the sanction and the steps being taken to address issues.

5.6          Improve transparency of funding for parents, teaching staff and government

Funding rules and conditions will require services to publish information about the amount of government subsidy children attract. This information will help improve accountability for funding by making sure that parents are well informed about how government supports children’s participation.

Service providers will also be required to report annually to government on income and expenditure by licence in specified categories. This will support greater transparency on the cost drivers of early learning. It will also help the Ministry to identify services at risk.

5.7          Co-design an appropriate funding model with Playcentre Aotearoa New Zealand

Playcentre is a uniquely New Zealand model of early learning service that views parents as the first and best educators of their children. The Ministry is currently co-designing a funding model with Playcentre Aotearoa New Zealand and considering qualification requirements to align with the organisation’s preferred operating model.