Commonly parents are told to check the latest Education Review Office (ERO) report on an early childhood service before deciding to use it.
This is good advice and hence if a service gets a positive ERO this is noted on its listing. However, parents are not advised to make their choice or believe that a service is high quality based solely on ERO's recommendation.
Services that have received glowing ERO reports may still have serious incidents of child harm or other problems come to light that the ERO had not found or reported.
Some of the shortcomings of the ERO report are: :
- Scheduled visits can be as far apart as 4 years for early childhood services perceived by evaluators to be doing very well. This is a problem because service practices and performance usually do not remain static over-time, for example there may be changes in staff, management, the financial position of the service, and family demographics. An ERO report on an ECE service can become seriously dated before the next review is done.
- Three to four years between visits by reviewers is a long time and children can be attending during a period of time in which their service is never actually checked on by ERO. Before 2014 the maximum period of time between reviews was 3 years but due to resource issues (staffing and budget) at the ERO office this was changed to 4 years.
- How meticulous a service has been with paperwork and put staff resources into preparing the kind of documented evidence that ERO reviewers have on their checklist determines whether it gets a positive report from ERO or not. This leaves open the possibility of a service that is very good in practice for children on a day-to-day basis receiving a less favourable report than one that 'presents' well to the reviewers in being able to provide the paperwork and talk the talk.
- Evaluators do not need to hold an ECE recognised qualification or have previous experience in the ECE field. The expertise that evaluators are required to have is expertise in evaluation only. They work across ECE, primary and secondary school sectors.
- The Education Review Office gives an ECE service 4-8 weeks notice before a visit so that the service can get ready for the review - e.g. make sure it has sufficient qualified teachers on the day and complete any paperwork that it knows ERO wants it to provide. ERO uses a high trust model and the views of owners and operators/managers are taken and used by ERO to form part of the overall judgements ERO makes about the service.
- ERO is more interested in what the service says about how well it is working with parents than in talking with or incorporating parents and children's views and experiences into the evaluation
- It is not a licensing or regulatory body and it does not hold responsibility for checking that a service meets all legal requirements. ERO's evaluators can decide whether a service has adequate systems for checking its own compliance with regulations and if the evaluators are unsure then ERO may include a stronger focus on compliance when next reviewing the service (although that might be some years away).
- Home-based ECE agencies are reviewed by ERO often without reviewers visiting the actual homes where children are being cared for and educated.
- ERO is a government department and not an independent body.
As a parent or member of the public you can rate and review an early childhood service you have had experience with - to do this go to its listing in the My ECE directory.
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