Building strong foundations – improving early childhood outcomes

“Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela

_adult and child reading 2We all know that if we want to build strong foundations for our children’s ongoing education, learning and development we have to do two things. We need to have whaanau, families and caregivers on board and engaged and we need to join forces with external agencies and organisations, working together, to encourage and motivate children to be successful learners.

That’s why for the past 18 months Ko Awatea, with the support of the Ministry of Education’s Early Learning Taskforce has been working with seven privately owned South Auckland Early Childhood Education (ECE) centres. The aim is to increase enrolments, participation and quality of teaching for children aged 3 to 4 years.

The results have been remarkable, and I’m joined by Monique Davies, Ko Awatea Project Manager and Jilly Tyler Director of the Early Learning Taskforce to tell us more.

The Project team. From Left: Cindy Blackwell (Improvement Advisor) Jilly Tyler and Monique Davies
The Project team. From Left: Cindy Blackwell (Improvement Advisor) Jilly Tyler and Monique Davies

The project began in 2014, when seven privately owned South Auckland Early Childhood Education (ECE) centres agreed to take part in an improvement collaborative, coached by the improvement team in Ko Awatea. As Geraint mentioned above, the group’s work aimed at increasing enrolments, participation and quality of teaching for children aged 3 to 4 years.   These centres were experiencing low enrolment and attendance numbers, which meant that the children in these communities were not participating in early childhood education and not getting the best start on their learning journey.  

The project team trained ECE staff on the Model for Improvement, a methodology used successfully around the world, to help people find quick, innovative, and cost-effective solutions to identified problems.   In a nutshell, early results decide whether actions should be adopted or abandoned. Ideas are tested in a small way and then scaled up rapidly if they get good results.

Who would have thought that treating head lice at ECE centres would see more children regularly attend their local ECE centre? Or that sending texts following up on absenteeism would improve ongoing participation rates?

These are just two simple ideas identified by ECE teams to increase early education enrolments, participation and quality in Weymouth, South Auckland. These and other ideas were tested on a small-scale and adapted or adopted using the Model for Improvement methodology via PDSA (plan, do study and act) cycles.

The centres also thought that expensive marketing was the only way to increase attendance. But instead, they found that simple ideas saw children returning after the holidays. For example texting families on Sunday nights, reminding them to attend the next day, having welcome rules around how families are greeted on arrival or sending parents Christmas cards listing centre activities over January.  

“At the beginning it was all a bit daunting. But the model made us breathe a sigh of relief that we can work on this in small bits and eventually we’ll see change happen in a big way,” says Naomi Diack, one of the leading ECE centre participants.

Since March 2014, enrolments across the seven centres increased from an average of 70 per cent to 99 per cent. One centre doubled its attendance. Seeing the local centres work collaboratively, rather than competitively, to deliver quality ECE to more kids in South Auckland has been a highlight.

Ministry support was crucial in getting the seven ECE centres working together. Previously, they saw each other as competitors. But our information showed the centres, there were more than enough children needing to be enrolled locally for all to share.

Currently, 96.1 per cent of children starting school have been to ECE. We are aiming for 98 per cent in 2016. Getting the sector and communities to make changes together and to partner with others to address children’s health issues, as well as their education needs, is just one of the ways we plan to reach the 98 per cent ECE participation target.

Two further cohorts have since started the same improvement journey, building on the success of the first collaborative. The Ministry team have been so impressed with the results that Ko Awatea has now been awarded the contract to nationalise the work across five regional hubs in New Zealand.

As part of this planned national approach, looking to spread improvement methodology to more ECE centres across the country, the team will also utilise the Improving Together website and eLearning programme that Ko Awatea have recently developed for the NZ Ministries of Health, Social Development and Education and the HQSC, providing these teams with additional support to the training provided by the improvement team.

Well done to everyone involved. It just shows what can be achieved if we work together and not in opposition. This work is also getting international recognition and In February this year, Jilly and Monique presented their work at the 2015 Carnegie Foundation Summit held in San Francisco. They also spoke at the APAC Forum as part of the panel on Collaborate2Accelerate providing helpful tips on running successful Collaboratives on both small and large-scale.

For further information about the project contact Monique Davies at or 021 525156.

Geraint, Monique and Jilly

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Author: Geraint Martin

Geraint Martin was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Counties Manukau DHB in December 2006. It is one of the largest District Health Boards in New Zealand and services a population of half a million. He has significant experience over 30 years in national policy & in managing both primary and secondary care . Previously, he was Director of Health and Social Care Strategy at the Welsh Government .He authored a radical 10 year strategy of reform, including the successful “Saving 1000 lives” Campaign.Until 2004, he was CEO at Kettering General Hospital & had held senior positions in London & Birmingham.He has worked closely with clinicians in improving clinical standards,patient safety,chronic disease management & managing acute care to reduce hospital demand.In NZ, He has promoted clinical quality and leadership as central to improving patientcare. This has led to a significant increases in productivity and access, whilst maintaining financial balance. CMH has completed in 2014 a $500 m capital redevelopment programme, the largest in New Zealand. A central part of this is the establishment of Ko Awatea,the Centre for Innovation and Research which will underpin CMH as one of the the leading health systems in Australasia.In 2008, he chaired the Ministerial Review of Emergency Care in New Zealand, and in 2013 was an member of the Expert Advisory Panel on Health Sector Performance. Geraint has an MSc in Health Policy from Birmingham University .His post-graduate work has focused on health economics and Corporate Strategy . He is adjunct Professor of Healthcare Management at AUT and Victoria University, Wellington Elected in 2006 as a Companion of the Institute of Healthcare Management, previously he was an Associate Fellow at Birmingham University.He is is Chair of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, a member of the Institute of Directors, on the Board of the NZ Institute of Health Management & previously the Board of The NZ Health Quality and Safety Commission.

One thought on “Building strong foundations – improving early childhood outcomes”

  1. Great work- understand the problem and together look for the best solutions! A poster project for the model for improvement.

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