ERO’s Quality Indicators
We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate ERO on the publication of its draft “Indicators of quality for early childhood education: what matters most”. These are, in our view, long overdue and well-designed.
We do, however, have one or two observation and suggestions to make.
We remain concerned that the initial focus is on childcare centres without any clear indication of when the sector might see indicators published reflecting the diversity of the ECE sector. We would ask ERO to make a very clear, public statement to highlight when all parts of the ECE sector can expect indicators of quality to be available.
We would also ask ERO to keep in mind the need for consistency across our sector. Too often in the past we have seen initiatives like this from government that further split the ECE sector by creating quite different rules for different ECE service types. Upon reflection, we fail to see any justifiable rationale for these differences and would ask ERO to keep in mind the benefits of taking a consistent approach across the ECE sector.
The indicators themselves use the term “curriculum” in a number of places, eg: 1.3, 4.4, etc. As the ECE sector is subject to the national curriculum framework, Te Whariki, and as ERO has historically pointed out that our sector is – in parts - not particularly adept at curriculum implementation, we are assuming that these references actually point to what is commonly referred to as a centre’s “local curriculum or programme”. We believe that some of the weaknesses previous ERO reports have highlighted can be addressed with clarity of language and intent. As such, we would encourage ERO to use the term “local curriculum” where this is what is meant.
Continuous Quality Improvement
Indicators under section 3 (3.1 to 3.3 inclusive) reflect, in our view, a weakness in ERO’s approach that we have discussed with them previously. It is our contention that a centre cannot reasonably be expected to engage in some form of “internal evaluation” without first designing and implementing a continuous quality improvement system for their centre. This gives subsequent purpose and structure to any periodic internal evaluation, ensures the centre is focussed on continuously reviewing and improving all aspects of their service and has engaged all members of their team in the process.
ERO’s fervent focus on internal evaluation at the expense of a broader continuous improvement approach is likely to produce within some in our sector a belief and set of behaviours that support the view that all they need to do to achieve quality and “pass” an ERO review is to solely focus on the internal evaluation as a proxy for a quality improvement system. In our view, quality improvement is an ongoing journey, while an internal evaluation (as an integral if periodic part of that journey) is merely a bus stop along the way. We invite ERO to reconsider this section of the indicators with a view to providing a clear sense of direction to centres that a continuous commitment and approach to quality improvement, with periodic internal evaluations and periodic independent Quality Evaluations (facilitated by ERO) is the optimum model.
Section 4 of the indicators focusses on collaboration and trust to underpin improvement. While we agree with these sentiments, we would argue that mutual respect should also feature. We would also argue that a robust strategic plan for a centre will include a set of values that describe how a centre desires to be viewed by its parents and wider community and that these values are important in guiding a centre’s improvement activities and collaboration. We would invite ERO to consider making it clear that an explicit connection between the centre’s “philosophy, vision, goals and priorities” and (particularly) the centre’s values as espoused in their strategic plan will influence the nature and shape of subsequent collaborative efforts. This also acknowledges that Te Whariki explicitly expects centres to share and communicate these strategic elements, in a working relationship with parents and communities
Our final observation reflects, with respect, a common issue many of our members have had with their ERO reviews. That is the frequent inconsistency between reviewers. Quality is a subjective measure. ERO’s approach to and definition of quality can only ever reflect government policy of the day and may therefore sometimes exclude broader aspects of quality improvement in an independent commercial enterprise. This is not intended to be a criticism, simply a reality as we see it.
We do, however, remain concerned that consistency between reviewers remains a risk to our membership. I anticipate that ERO will claim to have undertaken significant training for its reviewers on the interpretation of these indicators and their application in the varied ECE settings they encounter. We support ERO in the desire to make this new approach work for all concerned, and we too will be watching the consistency of that approach and the experience of our members closely.