Findings from the Early Childhood Education Census 2019

Published on Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Last updated on Monday, 10 February 2020

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Each year, the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Census provides new data around the operation of licensed ECE services in this country. 

The Ministry of Education has now released its ECE Census for 2019, and here are the key findings around attendance, service numbers, occupancy rates, adult to child ratios, teaching staff, language immersion and waiting times:

The 2019 ECE Census shows that the majority of young children attend ECE.

During the census week (June 24 to 30), 63.9 per cent of New Zealand children aged zero to four went to a licensed ECE service. 

Although attendances dropped a little, from 200,588 attendances in 2018 to 198,923 in 2019, there was a 0.4 per cent rise in the number of children attending education and care services (with 68 per cent of ECE Census week attendances happening at this type of service).

Age also affected rates of attendance. Under ones were less likely to attend ECE, but 95 per cent of four-year-olds were enrolled in a service (presumably because of the government’s 20 Hours ECE subsidy for preschoolers).  

Young Kiwis were more likely to be enrolled in an education and care service than another type of licensed ECE service.  

Education and care services accounted for 58 per cent of all services operating last year. 

In comparison, 14 per cent of ECE services were kindergartens, 10 per cent were home-based services and another 10 per cent were kōhanga reo, with these percentages not changing much over the last couple of years. 

Most regions in the North and South Island saw an increase in the number of licensed ECE services.

Year-on-year, the total number of licensed ECE services rose by 1.9 per cent, with 4,568 services operating in 2018 and 4,653 in 2019. The number of education and care services went up by three per cent. 

The largest increases were seen in the Auckland, Waikato, Marlborough and Otago regions. Northland and Nelson did not see any change in the number of services between 2018 and 2019. While, the Gisborne, Tasman and West Coast regions saw the biggest decreases in the number of ECE services. 

Although the number of ECE services increased by almost two per cent, occupancy rates have been dropping year-on-year.

In 2019, the average occupancy rate for kindergartens was 82.3 per cent and 78.8 per cent for education and care services. This means that, on average, these services had around 20 per cent of their licensed places still available. 

Meanwhile, playcentres were operating with under half of their licensed child places being filled. Their average occupancy rate, during the 2019 ECE Census week, was 48 per cent. 

Adult to child ratios were slightly lower in 2019 than in 2018. 

The Ministry of Education says, ‘There was a national average of 5.6 children per adult during each service’s busiest time in the 2019 ECE Census week’ – down from 5.7 in 2018 – but this average varied according to the age of the children being cared for. 

In line with regulatory requirements, adult to child ratios were higher for ECE services that only cared for children aged two and over (with an average of 6.8 children per grown-up) and lower for services looking after children aged two and under (with an average of 2.9 children per adult). 

ECE services that cared for under-twos and over twos had an average of 4.9 children per adult. 

The number of teaching staff at ECE services increased, while the proportion of qualified to not-qualified staff went down very slightly.

Teaching staff numbers depended on the type of service. Although there was a three per cent increase in the number of teaching staff at education and care services (to keep pace with the greater number of education and care services), teaching staff numbers decreased a little in kindergartens (down five per cent) and home-based services (down one per cent). 

The number of qualified teaching staff at licensed ECE services continued to increase, from 21,467 in 2018 to 21,767 in 2019. 

There was a continuing focus on different languages in ECE services. 

Teacher-led services delivered at least some of their programmes in 77 different languages in 2019. 

There were 444 whanau-led Te Kōhanga Reo services counted in New Zealand last year, and they made up the majority of non-English immersion early learning services. The Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Hawke’s Bay regions have the most Kōhanga Reo services. 

ECE waiting times vary between regions.

Although many ECE services had places available, waiting times in 2019 remained an issue for some families. 

While many children had no wait before their education and care service, kindergarten or playcentre could take them in, other children had to wait up to a month, up to six months or over six months before they could start. 

For instance, in the Auckland region, 4,077 children experienced no waiting time, 608 waited up to a month, 998 waited one to six months, and 475 waited for their child care place for more than half a year. 

To see the different wait times between regions, and find more information about new ECE services, closed ECE services and occupancy rates, click here

The positive news coming out of this Census is that there are more ECE services to choose from this year, more qualified teaching staff and your child may benefit from a lower adult to child ratio. Depending on where you live and what type of care you choose, you might also find that there’s a place available for your child now, without having to go on a waiting list.

That said, the cost of child care is high in New Zealand, some families are waiting months for placements and, despite these pressures, it’s important that you find a quality ECE service that suits your family circumstances and your child’s age and disposition. 

To help you do this, offers a free Child Care Guide, plus lots of online resources to help you choose between different types of care, find a quality service in your area and embark on an enriching child care journey with your little one. Good luck!


Ministry of Education
Education Counts

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