National Evaluation: Early Childhood Education Promoting Participation Programme

Early Years Research Centre

Project Leader: Linda Mitchell 

Researchers: Patricia Meagher-Lundberg, Claire Davison, Helena Kara & Telesia Kalavite

Project Dates: 2011-2015

Why was this research undertaken?

The research commissioned by the Ministry of Education was a four-year evaluation of the New Zealand Ministry of Education's Early Childhood Education (ECE) Participation Programme that targeted local areas where there were high numbers of children starting school who had not participated in ECE. The aim of the programme was to increase participation of these low income 'priority' children in 'quality' ECE. The evaluation was summative (determining the value) and formative or developmental (aimed at enhancing progress). The evaluation helped the Ministry understand how well the Participation Programme was working and what could be done to improve it.

What were the main goals of the research?

To explore how the Participation Programme and individual initiatives addressed barriers to participation in early childhood education for target groups and communities. High-level evaluation questions were related to:

  • ECE participation
  • Outcomes for children/tamariki, family/whānau and communities
  • Provision of quality ECE
  • The role of the Ministry of Education

In essence, these aimed to find out about how well and in what ways the Pariticpation Programme contributed to enhancing each of these outcomes and the role played by the MOE in developing and delivering effective participation initiatives.

How was the data captured and analysed?

  • Ministry of Education data on enrolments
  • interviews with Ministry of education staff
  • surveys of Participation Initiative providers
  • interviews with Participation Initiative staff
  • surveys of families engaged in each Initiative
  • interviews with a small number of families

In stage 4, 18 "priority" children were followed in their transition to school. Methods used in this stage were:

  • interviews with ECE and school teachers
  • observations of the child in ECE
  • interviews with families
  • interviews with Participation Initiative staff
  • documentation from the ECE centre.

Key findings from the research

The results show that cost, availability and cultural relevance of ECE services were the main barriers to participation by priority families. In general, the Participation Programme and individual initiatives were succeeding in helping overcome barriers. Through brokering, some initiatives were addressing complex social issues faced by the families be connecting families with health, housing and social agencies and brokering understanding of ECE. The results support the argument that national policy initiatives and local actions helped address inequities in participation in ECE associated and socioeconomic status. In order to have greater impact, several challenges needed to be addressed.

First, the targeting of families was only partially successful within the designated localities: there were a high percentage of families 'exiting' the initiatives for unknown reasons. Nor did the Participation Programme cater for priority families who live outside the designated communities.

Secondly, despite being able to place families successfully in ECE services, providers reported bypassing ECE services that they did not see as culturally responsive or welcoming or that charged high fees. Parents reported these to be barriers that prevented them from participating.

Thirdly, the evaluation demonstrated ways in which cultural responsiveness to Māori and Pasifika families can be enhanced through connections with iwi and cultural organisations, and weaving cultural understandings and local knowledge into the curriculum. Exemplars and professional development are ways that could be used to support cultural responsiveness. Finally, findings from the stage four report on transitions to school showed experiences were variable with some children experiencing a challenging transition.

Who is likely to benefit most from the research?

Early Childhood Teachers

The reports pinpoint barriers to participating in early childhood education experienced by 'priority' families and ways to overcome barriers. Strategies and factors supporting children's transition to school are identified in the Stage 4 report.


The stage 3 report discusses the concept of brokering by coordinators and ECE centres to enable families in disadvantaged circumstances to have coordinated access to education, social and support services.


Evaluation commissioned by the Ministry of Education and findings used to inform policy development.

Government agencies and National early childhood organisations

Project Outputs

Research reports

Journal articles

  • Mitchell, L., & Meagher-Lundberg, P. (2017). Brokering to support participation of disadvantaged families in early childhood education British Educational Research Journal. doi:10.1002/berj.3296
  • Mitchell, L. (2017). Discourses of economic investment and child vulnerability in early childhood education. Waikato Journal of Education, 22(1), 12-24.
  • Mitchell, L. (2014). Parent decision-making about early childhood education: Reducing barriers to participation. Early Childhood Folio, 18(2), 22-27.
  • Mitchell, L. (2012). Participation in early childhood education. Children, Winter(81), 27-29.

Conference papers

  • Mitchell, L., & Arndt, S. (29 July, 2017). Transitions and transience. Paper presented at the Children in the Early Years: Pedagogy, Policy and Community Connectedness Conference, University of Waikato, Hamilton.
  • Mitchell, L. (2015). Engaging priority children in ECE, creating opportunities for families. Keynote presented at the Coming Together for Australia’s Children Conference, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth Hobart, Tasmania.
  • Mitchell, L. (2015, 7 May). Engaging priority families in ECEC. Practice and policy challenges and a vision for what might be. Paper presented at the Early childhood seminar series, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.


Parata, Hekia (14 September 2016). Personal stories show positive impacts of early learning.