The Ministry of Education has launched a review of the early learning (sic ECE) regulatory system.
Why? There are three reasons.
First, it has found that trusting (all) early childhood services to meet regulations does not work (find more explanation at the end of this article).
Second, it is beginning to put in place parts of the 10 Year Action Plan for ECE.
Third, it says it wants to ensure “that children are at the centre of our system”. But currently it is not clear how it will go about shifting its focus from supporting providers of ECE on the one hand, to acting in the interests of children on the other hand - if it does this at all.
For instance, in the Cabinet Paper material there is no mention of implementing annual licensing checks of services. The is also nothing to address (1) the issue of responsibility to inform parents of risks to children in participation in ECE, and (2) concern that funding is not required to go to the child whose place has been purchased by the ministry,
It’s not stated how the proposed changes will solve the problem of services operating in a much more competitive environment and the trend toward service providers owning multiple services – there’s no mention of reducing maximum licence sizes or closing services in areas where there is an oversupply. Yet the Office of the Minister of Education says the competitive environment can potentially lead providers to making decisions that do not support good outcomes for children.
In 2022 the Ministry intends to engage in a couple of rounds of consultation regulation changes concerning: the percentage 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 a planned approach to the provision of new and existing services.
In 2023 the Ministry intends to do a complete re-write of the regulations and have this completed around by the time of the next general election. This is because there has been an increased number of legal challenges by service providers of Ministry regulatory actions. The regulations need to be both strengthened and made clearer. Regulations for adult-child ratios may be changed along with other requirements as raised in the Action Plan.
It is also an opportunity to align the regulatory system better with the Crown’s responsibilities under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
The Ministry says that rapid business expansion in the sector, and more younger children attending and for longer hours, means that there is a need for more effective ways of dealing with service provider non-compliance and poor performance.
It’s receiving more complaints against services and it is seeing an increase in serious incidents involving children.
The sector is no longer characterised by mainly standalone community-based services, as it was when the current 2008 regulations governing the sector were established. Private, for profit-services have jumped up in number. There is now a highly competitive market as operators seek to maintain or build their market share.