What are the features of a high-quality early childhood education service?

Published on Wednesday, 29 July 2020
Last updated on Monday, 16 November 2020

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Early childhood education (ECE) has so much to offer young children, and although there are different environments and approaches to suit individual families, quality is an important consideration when choosing any ECE service.

That said, ‘quality’ is not a single item to be ticked off the list before enrolment. There are numerous things that determine whether an ECE service is of high quality, so let’s look at nine quality indicators, according to the Education Review Office (ERO).

What does ERO know about quality?

ERO is the government department that’s responsible for evaluating and reporting on early childhood services (and schools) to see how well placed they are to promote positive learning outcomes for children.

ERO reviews services every three years, on average, and releases a publicly accessible report each time, complete with an overall rating, details of the service’s strengths and next steps for development.

Services rated ‘very well placed’ or ‘well placed’ have a strong track record in promoting learning outcomes, compared with those rated ‘requires further development’ or ‘not well placed’, and the upshot of all this is that ERO knows a high quality service when it sees one!

What are the hallmarks of a high quality ECE service?

Instead of having one remarkable attribute, the ERO says that high quality ECE services have nine interrelated features that underpin the quality of education and care they provide:

  1. For starters, high quality ECE services have inspirational, enthusiastic and innovative leaders. Managers, educators, children, parents and whãnau all have opportunities to contribute and learn, and teamwork is promoted.
  2. These services have a clear philosophy statement that expresses the values and beliefs of everyone involved in the service. This philosophy is displayed at the service and regularly reviewed, and it’s also evident in the day-to-day running of the service.
  3. High quality ECE services have a shared vision that complements their philosophy and identifies the service’s purpose and what it’s striving for in terms of children’s learning and development. These services have a vision for quality which allows for self-review and ongoing improvement.
  4. Genuine relationships and interactions happen at high quality ECE services. Educators have a knowledge of children and their families and are truly interested in forming responsive relationships with them. Educators respect each family’s culture, and all parents and whãnau are welcome at the service and consulted in meaningful ways. Quality educators understand children’s interests and strengths and interact with them respectfully. There’s a good balance between planned and unplanned activities to allow educators to respond to children’s ideas, interests and feelings.
  5. Effective teaching and learning are at the heart of high quality ECE services. Educators see children as competent learners and give them opportunities to be independent and persistent. Youngsters are expected to make considered choices and decisions and are encouraged to investigate and problem-solve. Educators listen to their ideas and use modelling and other techniques to engage each child in learning and extend their thinking. There’s an inclusive approach to teaching which takes every child’s strengths, interests, needs and culture into account.When it comes to the physical learning environment, high quality services offer stimulating and inviting areas which give children independent access to a wide variety of resources and equipment. The environment is adapted to children’s interests and abilities, and there are numerous play spaces on offer to support and challenge children.
  6. At high quality ECE services, assessment and planning is used to help children realise their potential. Educators document children’s emerging interests, abilities, needs and views with things like learning narratives and photos. They use their knowledge of each child to promote their learning and development, and also identify further learning opportunities. And in high quality ECE services, children, parents and whãnau are welcome to contribute to learning plans, too.
  7. High quality education and care is delivered with the help of professional learning and support. At high quality ECE services, educators participate in ongoing professional learning to develop their knowledge and practice, and they also keep up-to-date with research. Support is provided by colleagues, and if special expertise is needed, it can be sought from someone outside service. There’s an openness to innovation, and educators are always looking at ways to increase their understanding of high quality teaching and learning.
  8. Self-review is used to make ongoing improvements to policies, procedures, management, teaching practice and all aspects of the service. These reviews consider the views of children, and parents are asked to actively contribute.
  9. High quality ECE services have effective management. There are systems in place to ensure quality education and care is provided now, and in the future, thanks to strategic planning frameworks, self-review and thorough policies and procedures.

All in all, the ERO says that managers and educators in high quality services, ‘Share a commitment to improving learning outcomes for all children. They know what quality practice looks like and focus on continual improvement to achieve their vision.’

What is the best way to find a high quality ECE service?

Factors like location, cost, availability and individual needs will all influence your choice of ECE service, so the best thing is to:

  1. Narrow down your options by researching ECE services in your area, using the CareforKids.co.nz Child Care Search and asking friends or family for recommendations.
  2. Create a needs-based shortlist, thinking about things like opening hours, your budget, your child’s needs and your own preferences.
  3. Visit each short-listed ECE service with your child, looking for signs that it’s a high quality ECE service that’s suited to your family. Our ECE Service Checklist contains lots of questions you can ask to identify the leadership, learning, facilities and everything else on offer at the service.
  4. Check the ERO report for the service you’re considering enrolling your child in.

Everyone has different circumstances, needs and priorities, but you can rest assured that a high quality ECE service will welcome your child and your family in a genuine way. You’ll be impressed by its leadership, in tune with its philosophy and vision, and confident that your child will learn, grow and realise their potential in an enriching environment.

Overall, you’ll get a sense that the ECE service is well placed to promote positive learning outcomes for your child, so make sure you take the time to find the perfect fit.


ERO: High quality education and care – an overview

ERO reviews of early childhood services and kõhanga reo

Recent news

This year, the ERO developed some new indicators of quality for centre-based early childhood services, and later in 2020, they’re rolling out a new approach to evaluating quality in these services. The Akarangi | Quality Evaluation approach will focus on the extent to which services are enabling equitable and excellent outcomes for all children, and you can read more about the changes here.

Further reading

CareforKids.co.nz: How to find the best quality child care tool kit for parents

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