Latest Social Report 2016 | Previous reports | Contact us

Knowledge and Skills:

Participation in early childhood education


The number of enrolments of children aged 3 and 4 years in early childhood centres or home-based education programmes as a proportion of all 3 and 4 year olds.
The measure includes all forms of organised and sustained centre and home-based programmes designed to foster learning and emotional and social development in children. The measure overestimates participation because children enrolled in more than one early childhood centre will be double-counted. Information from an alternative measure which avoids double counting, the proportion of Year 1 students who participated in early childhood education, is also included.


Evidence from New Zealand and international research shows that the early childhood years are vital to a child’s development and future ability to learn.41 Quality early childhood programmes prepare young children socially, physically and academically for entry into primary education and can help narrow the achievement gap between children from low-income families and those from more advantaged families.

Current level and trends

As at 1 July 2006, the "apparent" early childhood education participation rate was 97 percent for 3 year olds and 103 percent for 4 year olds, confirming that some children attend more than one service. These figures represent a substantial increase from 43 percent and 73 percent respectively in 1986. Much of the growth in participation in early childhood education occurred in the five years between 1986 and 1991, with slower growth in subsequent years.

Figure K1.1 Early childhood education apparent participation rate, 3 and 4 year olds, 1986–2006

Figure K1.1 Early childhood education apparent participation rate, 3 and 4 year olds, 1986–2006

Sources: Ministry of Education; Ministry of Social Development
Note: These figures overestimate the true participation rate. Rates in excess of 100 percent are possible because children can be enrolled
in more than one service.

Sex differences

Participation in early childhood education does not appear to vary by sex: boys make up just over half (51 percent) of all enrolments, the same proportion as in the population at that age.

Participation by type of service     

In 2006, childcare centres (42 percent) and kindergartens (39 percent) had the largest number of enrolments of 3 and 4 year olds in early childhood education. Much smaller numbers of children were enrolled in playcentres (6 percent) and köhanga reo (4 percent).

Prior participation by Year 1 students   

The percentage of new school entrants who have participated in early childhood education services has increased over the last seven years, from 91 percent in July 2000 to 95 percent in July 2006.

Ethnic differences

New Zealand European children are the most likely to have attended an early childhood education service before entering primary school: 98 percent compared with 90 percent of Māori and 84 percent of Pacific Year 1 students in 2006. From 2000–2004, the prior participation rate for both Māori and Pacific new entrants increased faster than the rate for New Zealand European new entrants, narrowing the difference between these groups. However, between 2004 and 2006, the prior participation rate for Māori new entrants levelled off, and there was a slight decline in the rate for Pacific new entrants.

Table K1.1 Early childhood education attendance (%) by Year 1 students, by ethnic group, as at 1 July 2000–2006

  European Māori Pacific peoples
Asian Other Total
2000 95.4 84.8 76.1 89.2 83.0 91.0
2001 96.0 85.3 76.3 89.8 84.1 91.3
2002 96.6 86.5 79.4 92.1 86.6 92.3
2003 97.4 88.4 83.4 92.4 88.9 93.6
2004 97.6 89.3 84.7 94.1 89.4 94.1
2005 97.7 89.9 84.5 95.1 89.9 94.3
2006 98.0 89.9 84.2 96.0 91.7 94.5

Source: Ministry of Education
Note: These figures exclude cases for which attendance was unknown

Socio-economic differences   

Year 1 children in low decile schools (those that draw their students from communities with the highest degree of socio-economic disadvantage) are much less likely to have attended an early childhood education service than children in high decile schools. In 2006, only 83 percent of new entrants in decile 1 schools had previously attended early childhood education services, compared with 97 percent in decile 6 schools and 99 percent in decile 10 schools.

Regional differences      

In 2006, prior participation in early childhood education by Year 1 students was highest in the Canterbury and Otago regions (both 98 percent), and lowest in Northland (89 percent), Auckland and Gisborne (both 92 percent).