Of the kids who start at Takanini School each year, only 20 per cent have had early childhood education experience.
That is well short of a Government target to have 98 per cent of new school entrants having experienced early childhood education by 2016.
"They walk in the school, and half the time we don't know they're coming, and they have no idea what [school] is about," said Linda Kelly, principal of the decile 1 school. "They haven't had the experiences. And it takes three years for us to catch that up".
Increasing early childhood participation has proved difficult.
The only local centre asks for a top-up for the 20 hours "free" care offered by the Government. Land is hard to come by and it has taken an 11-year battle to set-up a new centre, which will be free to 20 hours and open next year.
Those sorts of barriers are behind a new pilot programme which is seeing a mobile playgroup driven into communities most in need.
The Play Truck parks around Manurewa and Takanini and is open for free to all parents and children under 5.
The Counties Manukau Kindergarten Association-run scheme is the first of its kind and aims to get kids into attending playcentre, kindy or kohanga reo.
It aims to have 40 children enrolled each year, but after starting in May has already signed up 36.
Association general manager Karen Shields said many of the participating parents had never been to any form of early childhood education themselves.
"You can show them, with the truck, a range of activities and what it would mean for their child."
Colleen Brown, chairwoman of the ECE Taskforce, which supports the programme, said more trucks could eventually be added. The Government gave $60,000 to buy the truck. Its operation is funded by the Counties Manukau Kindergarten Association.