ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary Education

ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary EducationLead advisor on early childhood care and education 
National membership 

Publisher of the New Zealand-International Research in Early Childhood Journal



Dr Sarah’s view on current issues
in early childhood education

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Dr Sarah Alexander early education expert 2020


Issue No. 2, Oct 2020

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A short bio 

I’ve been in the early childhood sector for a long time and in different roles - accumulating a lot of knowledge, expertise, and insight.  I don’t expect you will always agree with everything I say. But maybe you might like knowing about issues and what my take on these are. 


Children under the age of five have been fainting from hunger at early childhood education centres 

The above heading was the opening statement of a newspaper article. It leads me to wonder what is the role of the early childhood service today? 

Back in the day it was to care for children, including feeding them. I believe this should still be the case. When children are staying for more than a few hours then lunch and snacks should be provided. If children come with lunch-boxes and they have ample food to meet their needs then that's great. But if any child was going hungry, I would feed the child.   

I'm keen to get your views. Is there a place for charities, like KidsCan, to provide lunch for children whilst attending ECE? 

Or, should the duty of care remain squarely with the ECE service?  Send me a quick email with your thoughts if you are happy to share (email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). 


What I'm hearing from early childhood services around the country about child numbers

In home-based, I'm hearing that child numbers and hours are pretty much at normal levels.

Centres located in the same suburb as families live, and especially centres that offer part-time or shorter hours are busy.  Some are even busier than they were pre-lockdown. Parents who have lost their jobs or are working reduced hours are still accessing some ECE. They see value for their child. It's nice for the child to have their own special place to go and keep in touch with friends and community, and it gives parents a bit of a break.  

I'm hearing from some of the more commercially-oriented centres and centres based on children attending longer-days that capacity is down somewhat and its harder to return an adequate profit in the current climate.   

Is discounting a wise strategy to attract new enrolments or poach children off other services?  What about suspending fee charges for additional hours? Consider the following two points. When something is given away or made cheap, invariably users will see it as having less value. If your competitors are discounting too, then it starts to become a race to the bottom in quality and eventually to selling or closure.     

The takeaway message for any service is to be of value to children, parents and families.  I'll look to sharing more about this with you soon.


Someone has complained that the Urgent-Response-Fund is biased 

Someone has publicly grumbled that the Urgent-Response-Fund (URF) - a $50 million pot, is favouring schools and centres should get their fair share of the pot.

A fair share?

Let's put this into perspective. ECE providers continued to be fully funded by the Ministry of Education during lockdown and in the immediate period coming out of lockdown.  Public schools can only ask parents to pay a donation and many have not been able to organise their usual fundraisers this year.  Schools were not eligible to apply for the wage subsidy - but ECE services could apply.  Some ECE services cut their teacher wages to 80%.  

Complaining the URF is biased in favour of schools, comes across as being greedy. The public aren't dumb. They know that much of ECE is not state owned and has become an industry.  Furthermore, it's not compulsory for children to attend.  But school is compulsory from age 6 and children are entitled to a state education.


Mat-times and 'structured' learning and teaching

I’ve been asked for my views on the use of mat-times for structured learning and teaching.

A teacher from Canterbury wrote: 

“We are undertaking a review around the place structured learning, such as mat time, has within our programme. One of the kaiako in my team has found a reading which references your 2003 work, Quality Teaching Early Foundations: Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) and suggests the need for mat times to promote a range of learning outcomes. I was wondering where your views align with this now.”  

In the BES report, group times are mentioned as a strategy to facilitate children’s thinking and support them to become self-regulated learners.

The outcomes can be significant. One NZ researcher for example found that after three months, children who met daily for a small group (mat) time that incorporated metacognitive dialogues with the adult to encourage reflection (following activities related to environmental education over the course of one week), had more detailed recall of environmental learning compared with those children who participated only in the environmental activities but not in the group time.

I like to see educators and teachers using mat-times with small groups for the purpose of encouraging children to talk about their activities, reflect on what they have learnt, and how to use this knowledge further in their play. 

Making time to have reflective dialogue with children about their learning helps to strengthen outcomes. 


Our sector is yet to be supported to be as good as it can be

Did you know that it is illegal for companies to sell toys with small parts that can be a choking hazard for young children?  Companies can receive hefty fines even when the toys are labelled as being unsafe for under-3s.  

But shockingly in licensed early childhood education provision a one-year old can be given boiled lollies, whole grapes, or raw apple slices and there are no consequences for the service. 

Two years ago, I worked on a report on a tragic incident involving a toddler who choked on a piece of apple while having afternoon tea at an early childhood centre. This led to the TVNZ Sunday Documentary on 31 March 2019, "Forbidden Fruit". Reporter: Janet McIntyre. Senior Producer Julia Sartorio.  Watch the documentary and read an update here.

As far back as 2009 the Ministry of Education promised another family whose 14-month-old died after choking on a piece of apple at a centre, that it would change requirements so that apples would have to be grated for young children. Yet, the Ministry of Education still hasn't included in its licensing criteria that children must not be given foods that are known to be high choking danger. 

It could be argued that making a change to the licensing criteria is not something that can be done quickly.  But introducing new licensing criteria can be done by the Ministry of Education without any change in law.  (Heck, it took only a matter of months for regulations to be changed so the 'person responsible' in a centre no longer needs to be ECE trained and so there may be times when a centre doesn't have anyone on the floor with children whose trained and qualified in ECE, and that required government approval and a law change!). 

If you have sensed I am disappointed with the Ministry of Education over its care toward children and continued lack of priority of child safety - you would be right. 


Regulation changes - consultation is about to start for changes intended early next year

The Ministry of Education is proposing to make changes to the regulations that will have implications for all existing services and for providers planning to open new services. The Ministry is looking to implement its first set of proposed changes as early as next year following a brief period of consultation. 

Then a year later in 2022 the Ministry intends to do the next round of changes to the regulations which are likely to concern things such as increasing the proportion of qualified teachers required to be employed in centres, lifting criteria for the standard rate in Home-based-services and increasing the maximum licence to 150 children, and controlling the provision of new and existing services.

Catch up quickly with the news about this and have your say on any of the changes planned for next year, by going to an article here:  Regulation Changes


Hats off to the great employers in ECE!

It’s heartening to see employers encouraging and supporting their qualified and certificated teachers to put forward a claim for equal pay under the new Equal Pay Amendment Act 2020 that is coming into force on 6th November 2020. 

You will be this decade’s ECE heroes! 

I have no doubt that there is an arguable case for teachers in any publicly-funded licensed ECE service to have pay parity with kindergarten colleagues.

If it can be argued that teachers in kindergartens are worth as much as teachers in primary schools, and it certainly has been successfully argued and government offers funding to kindergartens especially to meet the cost of providing pay parity, then the case for all other early childhood teachers and the services they work at seems watertight.

David Haynes is willing to represent any teacher for their individual claim. He intends to work collaboratively with employers to get the government to fund pay parity and is preparing a claim that seeks a minimum of kindergarten teacher pay rates. 

I think the responsibility of government to fund equal pay claims is crystal clear. The service should at least be put on the same higher funding rates as a kindergarten.

In the Ministry of Education’s own words:

The government is the majority buyer (funder) of early learning (sic ECE) provision, which mediates the degree to which services can trigger an increase in (qualified) teacher supply, for example by offering higher salaries.”



Employers please ask your teaching staff if they know to put forward a claim. 

You can find information here: Pay Parity online page.
The form for teachers to complete to appoint David Haynes to represent them is here: contact form

After you receive the claim prepared by David, the next step for you as the employer is to agree that the claim is, in the words of the Act, ‘arguable’. The government will have to come to the negotiating table.


Ending comment

As we head into summer, don't forget that this is the time of year when we've got to be thinking about and practising sun protection.  If you are looking for good info on this in ECE, it's available here.



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