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Government Introduction of Quality Standards through Charters: Reactions and Impact

By Sarah-Eve Farquhar
Paper Presented to the 5th Early Childhood Convention, Dunedin, Sept 1991.

A "Purple People-Eater" or a Quality Assurance Mechanism?  The 1989/90 Early Childhood Centre Charter Requirements

The early childhood centre charter, officially introduced with the publication of the Early Childhood Management Handbook in 1989, was thought to be “the key to improving quality” in services (Meade, 1990, p.7).  The Handbook which was a purple folder containing the charter guidelines came to be informally known as the “Purple People-Eater” (amongst other derogatory names). This paper examines the positives and negatives of its introduction through study of the experiences of different early childhood centres and the perceptions of staff, management, and parents.

The main problems experienced in charter development were:

  1. Learning what the concept of consultation meant, defining who constituted the community and who was important to consult with.
  2. Parents’ perception of their ability or need to be involved.
  3. The urgency of needing to learn and understand the terminology and details in the Handbook, which lead to wasted time in discussions/arguments to clarify.
  4. Considerable work overload in centres to the expense of some things that usually happen in centres, such as parent education programmes and the time that parents and staff/management had to do other out-side-of centre things.
  5. Emotional strain and financial costs which discouraged future willingness to be involved in such a process.
  6. Development of mistrust for government agencies and officials because of conflicting views, changing rules, deadlines, and requirements.
  7. Confusion over requirements due to differences in interpretations received and details not officially finalised.
  8. Perception of charter development in nine out of the ten centres as more of a bureaucratic exercise rather than one to help to improve programme and service quality.

For full benefit to be obtained, centres needed more time, less pressure, more advisory and resource support, and greater freedom to examine and articulate in their charters how they defined quality and aimed to provide it.

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