What the Early Learning Action Plan means for children, parents, whānau and ECE services

Published on Wednesday, 01 April 2020
Last updated on Sunday, 03 May 2020

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Most New Zealand children attend an early learning service before they head off to big school, and there’s no doubt that this engagement with educators, other children and educational play experiences is highly beneficial for their growth and development. 

Early learning builds children’s physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills at a time when most of their brain development is occurring, so it’s great to see that the Government is committed to delivering high quality early learning over the long-term. 

After conducting what it calls, ‘The most extensive consultation process in the history of early learning in New Zealand’, the Government has released its Early Learning Action Plan 2019-2029, which sets the direction and vision for the next 10 years of early learning.    

Broadly speaking, the action plan aims to:

  • Raise the quality of care, teaching and learning in early learning services
  • Improve equity to ensure all children can access quality early learning and have the support they need
  • Enable choice of service type

This action plan rests on the idea that, ‘Every child is a precious taonga, born with inherent potential for growth and development and with enduring connections to their ancestors and heritage.’

To help youngsters learn and thrive, and improve the early learning system, the action plan sets out five interconnected objectives and 25 actions for the next decade. The actions include: 

  • Improving adult to child ratios
  • Moving towards a fully qualified teacher workforce in teacher-led centres, through incentives and regulation
  • Improving the consistency and levels of teacher salaries and conditions
  • The development of a network management function for Government 

To make this plan a reality, the Government says it will work with the early learning sector, parents and whānau, hapū, iwi, communities and agencies to implement each of the actions with a ‘stepped approach’ over the next 10 years. 

The action plan is dependant on Cabinet agreement to specific actions, regulatory change and future Budget processes, but to give you a sense of where early learning is headed, here is a summary of the Early Learning Action Plan 2019-2029:



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


This objective puts learners, with their whānau, at the centre of education.

To advance this objective, the Government will:

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

For under twos, the ratio will be 1:4 (with an aspiration of 1:3). For 2-year-olds, the ratio will be 1:5 (the current ratio is 1:10). 

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.

Licensing criteria will be reviewed to ensure individual needs are met in a group context.

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

For example, small groups and warm, spacious, natural environments can benefit children.  

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

The Government will consult to find information gaps and ways of presenting  information in more accessible and culturally responsive ways.

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


This goal promises barrier-free access to great education opportunities and outcomes.

The Government will:

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

This ensures disadvantaged children and whānau are getting the support they need. 

Develop advice to facilitate wrap-around 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.

This ties in with the implementation of the Government’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and Learning Support Action Plan.

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


This focus on quality teaching and leadership will benefit children and their whānau.

The Government will:

Incentivise for 100 per cent and regulate for 80 per cent qualified teachers in teacher-led centres, leading to regulation for 100 per cent.

Education Minister, Chris Hipkins says the Government is working towards this action in 2020 and over the next four years.

Raise the levels of home-based educators’ qualifications.

Currently, all educators within quality rate services must hold a Level 3 ECE qualification or credits towards a Level 4.  In the long-term, all home-based educators will need to hold, or be working towards, a Level 4 ECE qualification, or Te Ara Tuarua, or hold a higher ECE or kōhanga reo qualification.

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

Grants and scholarships will support unqualified early learning workers to get Initial Teacher Education qualifications. Government will encourage qualified teachers to return to early learning or come back from overseas.

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

Improve Initial Teacher Education to ensure that teachers are well-qualified to implement the curriculum in collaboration with other professionals.

Develop a sustained and planned approach to professional learning and development.

Develop innovation and research hubs for early learning services.

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

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

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


This objective recognises that early learning is relevant to children’s future work and learning.

The Government will:

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

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

This recognises that children learn in both similar and different ways, and are capable of assessing their progress and setting goals for themselves. 

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

The Education Review Office has updated its indicators for quality for early childhood services, and provides a tool for services to assess their performance and develop a quality improvement plan.

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


This means that New Zealand will offer world-class, inclusive, sustainable and trusted public education.

The Government will:

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

The Government intends to introduce a two-step licensing approach which means that services would have to meet a current or future need, and show that their existing services are of good quality, before submitting their full licensing application. This will help ensure all children have access to early learning services and avoid an over-supply of services in some areas.

Identify options to address supply of early learning services in underserved communities.

The Government may set up state-owned services in places where children experience barriers to access. It could provide funding incentives, call for expressions of interest and approach preferred (high quality) providers to set up services in under-served communities.

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

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

Introduce a consistent and rigorous programme of monitoring and licensing.

The Government will visit services at risk of poor quality to identify support and provide help. There is a proposed strengthening of Government powers around the granting of probationary licenses and licence cancellations. 

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

Service providers will have to publish information about how much subsidy children attract, and report annual income and expenditure to government in specific categories.

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

This is a lot to take in, but it’s heartening to see that the government has consulted with the public and the early learning sector to come up with a positive plan for the next 10 years. 

We look forward to seeing it being rolled out, and whether your child attends a kindergarten, child care centre, kōhanga reo or another early learning service, the Government is taking steps to help all young Kiwis learn and thrive.  

Additional reference

Ministry of Education

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