Cohort entry in schools: what does this mean for ECE?

4 October 2017

There’s been a bit in the media this week about the introduction of cohort entry in New Zealand primary schools. What is cohort entry? The government has agreed a policy enabling New Zealand primary schools to choose to adopt a system of managing new entrant intakes by choosing a fixed start date at the start of each term.

Traditionally in New Zealand, children can start primary school at any time after they turn five. They must start school by the time they turn six. Some schools have been operating a cohort entry model for some time, but under the old rules they still had to accept a child who was enrolled as a new entrant at any time during the term.

Cohort entry has been proposed as a policy that responds to the opportunity to improve learning outcomes. In reality however, cohort entry is a good idea that responds solely to saving administrative time and money when schools set up new entrants.

The Early Childhood Council believes it makes administrative sense for some schools to introduce cohort entry. The policy, while it may be a good idea as far as administration is concerned, raises a number of concerns and risks, particularly for smaller childcare centres:

  • Cohort entry may not suit all communities
  • There is no guarantee School Board of Trustees will listen to their communities
  • Instead of children leaving early childhood education (ECE) to start school in ones and twos, they will leave in groups of fives and tens
  • If schools consult through Communities of Learning (CoLs), some ECE views will be excluded/missed
  • There is no research on the success of cohort entry versus the current model
  • School class sizes may increase with cohort entry as space concerns become a reality.

There is a requirement that schools consult with their local communities, including early childhood education providers. Although cohort entry may not suit all communities, for example smaller or remote places, and there is not any real requirement that feedback from the community consultation is taken on board by a school.

For early childhood centres, there is a significant risk that smaller centres with smaller rolls could find it harder to manage their own intakes if groups of children turning five, or about to turn five, are leaving at the start of each term.

It’s likely this consultation with early childhood education providers would be funnelled through a Community of Learning (CoLs). The Community of Learning | Kāhui Ako is a group of education and training providers meant to form around children and young people's learning pathways, to work together to help them achieve their full potential. The idea is a learning pathway between age zero to 18. However, early childhood education centres aren’t automatically included in CoLs.

CoLs are relatively new, and it may be some time before they are fully up and running and functioning to their full and intended strength. As always, we encourage early childhood centres to ask to be involved in their local Community of Learning, especially to ensure they are at the key tables where the big education decisions are made, including discussions on the potential impacts of cohort entry in a local community catchment.

So, aside from a potential for consultation on cohort entry being light weight or not true consultation, we also believe the main risk for early childhood education centres is the risk to the viability for some smaller centres. If they are losing a chunk of their children at the start of each school term, it may make it harder to manage the early childhood intake roles, particularly in small or remote areas.

For example a smaller centre, with a roll of 30, could lose five to 10 children each term with the school cohort intake system. If a centre is unable to fill the spaces, that can impact bottom lines because of the away funding is attached to children, and that could ultimately impact teaching positions. We hope it doesn’t come to this if a local school consults with it’s ECE providers effectively, and listens to feedback.

The Early Childhood Council also wonders if enough thought has gone into how learning outcomes for children could be impacted with cohort entry, managing that big transition to school from ECE, and how schools might manage class sizes.

There is no research on the benefits or potential learning challenges that cohort entry brings with it. This was also raised at the time these changes were made in the Education Act. There is no research on whether the old entry intake method or cohort entry makes a difference to the learning outcomes of the child. It is an area where we could use some research.

It will be interesting to watch how schools manage cohort entry and how the transition to school is improved or not through this new administrative entry system. For the early childhood sector, we urge our centre members to participate in their local Communities of Learning and ensure you have a voice at the table, not just on cohort entry but also as the critical education provider for our youngest citizens.

Peter Reynolds

Early Childhood Council Chief Executive Officer