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Government ECE Taskforce - The Meaning of this for Early Childhood Education (2010/11)

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An Editorial on the Early Childhood Education Taskforce

The setting up of a taskforce on ECE was formally announced by the Education Minister on 7th October 2010. While the brief for the taskforce seems to be wide and the questions it’s consulting on are enormously general in nature, the purpose of the taskforce to keep in mind is that it must consider how to build in greater efficiencies and reduce, or slow down, the speed with which government expenditure on early childhood education has increased in recent years.

For those services, teachers and families not currently worried about funding cutbacks this taskforce is likely to be of little interest to them. But teacher-led services in particular and those with highly qualified staff are likely to be worried they could lose more funding, as anything is possible in the new funding environment. All families and early childhood services however should take an interest for the reason that the government is signalling that it desires to determine for services and families the ‘future state’ of early childhood education and how this might be achieved over only 3 – 5 years (which might mean a lot of change over a short time span).

The taskforce has been given a budget of $150,000.  Some might see this as money well spent if the taskforce makes original and helpful recommendations that are responded to by government and which lead to improvements in ECE. Others might view this as money that could have been better spent in other ways e.g. such as forming a think tank of sector representatives, teacher, and family representatives. 

The setting up of an ECE taskforce  was likely to happen for three reasons.  First, the level of ECE spending is a headache to the present National-led government wanting to exercise restraint in spending and make savings. Second, the Government so far has got away with making spending cuts and changes in the ECE sector but with election year coming up it knows it has to find a way to make further changes more palatable.  And third setting up taskforces is something that this National Government seems to like to do. There’s been for example the 2025 taskforce chaired by Dr Don Brash to provide recommendations to improve productivity and close the income gap withAustralia. Some other taskforces include:  a building and construction sector taskforce, a regulatory responsibility taskforce to improve the quality of law-making, a taskforce on whanau centred initiatives, a crown research institute taskforce, a wool taskforce to restore profitability to the wool sector, a capital market development taskforce, and a taskforce on sexual violence.

The 20 Hours Free ECE policy was first developed to provide access to free ECE for families with 3 and 4 year old children at community-based teacher-led services.  An intensive campaign by the Early Childhood Council and criticism of the free ECE funding level by some providers including the Auckland Kindergarten Association, saw the then Labour Government change its mind to allow services to levy optional charges and non-community owned services to also access the 20 hour funding rates. As well as the offer of cheaper ECE/childcare providing an incentive for parents to leave their child longer in ECE, many early childhood services extended the length of sessions or adjusted minimum hours of required child attendance in order to remain profitable.  A massive increase in child funded hours has been a major factor in the blowout on ECE spending. The National party in opposition promised to extend 20 hours funding to parent-led services, playcentre and also kohanga reo – which it has done. And it has also dropped the word ‘free’ from the 20 Hours Free ECE.  Now it is looking at ways to better control or reduce spending in the teacher-led sector.  This perhaps gives a strong hint as to the government’s possible intention for the ‘future state’ of the shape of early childhood education.

The government appears to want to work as quickly as possible towards slowing down the growth in the volume of child funded hours and reducing other big budget items (e.g. the funding incentive for qualified/registered teacher employment). This could be why membership of the taskforce is weighted toward management/administration expertise within and outside of ECE.  There are no representatives from parent-led groups or for early childhood teachers. Online blogs and media statements suggest many ECE groups had not been informed that the taskforce was being formed.

Should more funding be moved away from teacher-led services, some services will rise to the challenge of less funding and cope well but many services may not. The outcome might be more pressure on the sustainability of teacher-led services who find they need to increase fees and who face declining rolls. We might see more families overtime deciding to reduce their reliance on teacher-led ECE and becoming more involved in a parent-led service, or looking to granny or other parents in their neighbourhood to share childcare.

On the ECE Taskforce the Early Childhood Council has a presence while other groups such as the NZ Childcare Assn, NZ Kindergarten Inc, NZEI, the TKR Trust, the NZ Playcentre Fed, and Montessori Aotearoa NZ, etc, do not.  The terms of reference for taskforce members are that they must each: “… act in the interests of all stakeholders including children and parents, and should not represent any particular organisation or voice.”  This doesn’t seem to be the case. Peter Reynolds who joined the ECC as its new CEO this year and has no prior ECE background to bring to the Taskforce, publicly announced online “I cannot guarantee that the ECC will get its way on all Taskforce matters, but you can guarantee that its voice will be heard loud and clear on all issues of concern to its members".  As an employee of the ECC the CEO must report through to the ECC executive. The ECC has surveyed/polled its members twice and the government’s ECE Taskforce members have met twice so far.  Other early childhood groups and interests not represented on the taskforce may feel it is unfair that the ECC can do this and protest or slam the report of the Taskforce. 

On the other hand, realising that the Minister may choose not to heed whatever the taskforce comes up with in recommendations other interest groups and stakeholders might think what does it really matter whose interests are, or are not, represented on the taskforce.  They might interpret the Minister’s appointment of the Early Childhood Council’s CEO and the General Manager of NZ’s largest Kindergarten Association and the largest ECE service in NZ to the ECE Taskforce as nothing more and nothing less than government’s way of keeping them busy and unable to comment publicly while on the taskforce.

The ECE taskforce’s  recommendations will be given no more serious consideration by the Education Minister than she “would with any expert, independent advice from the education sector”. 

What this means is that the Education Minister may accept or ignore some, or all, of the taskforce’s recommendations.  So there could well still be a place for public opinion and advocacy to influence policy setting decisions.  Professional and expert commentary and analysis might still be sought or listened to by the Minister independent of anything the ECE taskforce puts forward.  

 

ECE Taskforce Membership

Name

Job

ECE Quals

Research  Interests

ECE Service ownership or hands on ECE management experience

Prof Richie Poulton

Director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit at the University of Otago

 

-

Research interests outside of early childhood education but relevant to the science of child development, namely: developmental psychopathology, gene-environment prediction of complex disorders, and psychosocial determinants of chronic physical disease

 

-

Emeritus Professor Anne Smith

Former Director of the Children’s Issues Centre at the University of Otago 

 

-

Substantial lecturing and publications on childcare, ECE policy and on topics such as children’s rights, discipline, and toddler interactions. A top NZ and international ECE academic.

 

-

Assoc Prof Michael Mintrom

Associate professor of Political Studies at the University of Auckland

 

-

Empirical analysis of public policy issues but not including early childhood education.  Has written on school choice and political leadership

 

-

Aroaro Tamati

Licensee Director of a Maori Immersion EC Centre. Reporter, producer and director with TVNZ’s Waka Huia programme.

Yes. Also, M.Ed degree in Early Years.

 

-

YES

Tanya Harvey

General Manager of the Auckland Kindergarten Association.  Head of Kindergarten NZ Ltd. Secretary of the Early Childhood Leadership Group

 

-

 

Has been involved in management in the kindergarten sector for many years.

 

YES

Laurayne Tafa

Principal of Homai School, Manurewa

-

-

-

Peter Reynolds

Chief Executive of E.C.C.

-

New appointment to the employers' lobby group that has a special relationship with National. He holds no formal knowledge, background, or work record in the area of early childhood education.

-

Claire Johnstone

G.M of Business Services for Hutt City Council. Deputy Chair of NZ Artificial Limb Board, Co-chair of Transparency International NZ

 

-

 

-

 

-

Ron Viviani

Sole director of a Pasifika ECE management consultancy company in Auckland

 

-

 

-

 

-


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