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ECE Sector Satisfaction with Government Policy and Practices - October 2013 Survey

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October 2013
ECE Sector Survey Results on Satisfaction with Government Policy and Practices

The latest feedback from the early childhood education sector should sound warning bells for the Government.

A survey last month of 200 people by the Early Childhood National Network ChildForum asked respondents to rate their satisfaction levels on government policy and practices for funding, increasing participation, and raising quality. Respondents included teachers, ECE service managers and owners, home-based educators, playcentre parents, people involved in teacher training and other professionals working with teachers or young children.

With a general election looming, the results should be of concern to the National Party which looks set to retain control of Parliament after the next vote, with many on the sector’s frontline unhappy at current funding, and the way the Government is working to increase child participation.

 

Background

The National Party’s election policy in 2011 promised to:

  • Actively lift the rate of child participation in ECE
  • Enable rural areas to access ECE more easily and bring back mobile kindergartens and ECE services
  • Maintain 20 hours ECE funding
  • Provide fair and sustainable funding

Prior to this in 2008, National promised to:

  • Reduce the under-twos ratio from the current 1:5 to 1:4
  • Ensure that at least 50% of the staff working with under-2s in centres are qualified
  • Rename the government’s 20 Hours Free ECE to “20 Hours ECE”, retain existing subsidies, and remove the 6 hour day rule so parents can use their 20 hour allocation as they wish

Since being in Government, National has set a public service goal of having 98% of children starting school having participated in quality early childhood education. This goal is set for 2016 and is measured by the number of children reported by their parents and schools to have attended any form of childcare or pre-school situation for any length of time between birth and the date of entry to school. Schools are encouraged to do more to make sure children’s prior ECE attendance is noted.

 

Results

The graph below summarises satisfaction levels in the three key areas highlighted in the survey – funding, participation, and quality. In this section, the results are discussed in more detail, including comments received from respondents.

Oct survey satisfaction levels

Funding

Nearly three quarters of respondents (73%) said they were dissatisfied with the current funding levels and the way funding is assessed. Just under one quarter (21%) said they were satisfied with funding and 5.5% were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

Respondents were concerned that the way funding is applied creates inequality among different service types.

  • Parent-led services are not recognised for the voluntary labour.
  • Playcentres should get better funding, especially for over 2s. It is good Playcentres are not required to have qualified teachers as the parent education system, in my opinion, along with parent relationships with their kids, leads to high quality.
  • The higher funding rates for some service types imply higher quality which is not always the case. It’s time for this antiquated attitude to change.
  • Early childhood education should not be a business but be part of providing free public quality education for all.
  • ECE funding going into profit organisations is "killing" the proud / passionate / community centric / excellent education not-for-profit sector.
  • I believe the highly competitive business nature of ECE is actually leading to less effective use of funding, not more effective.
  • The current funding model is unfair for rural communities where there are small numbers and therefore the bums-on-seat model does not enable the running of a local centre......many costs are fixed and not related to the number of children.

There were also concerns that current funding policy is unfair on families who can least afford to pay or whose children have special needs.

  • We are in an area where we have low income earners/WINZ recipients; and between what WINZ pays and our rates there is too much of a disparity for our families to pay.
  • Vulnerable children who need to attend are disadvantaged by the frequent absence funding rule.
  • Funding for special education support hours/workers is appalling. Nine hours a week for a severely autistic child is not acceptable.
  • The 20 hours funding subsidy should be means-tested.
  • I don't agree with ‘free childcare’ for all parents, particularly if they don't work.
  • Greater funding is needed for children under-3 years as childcare prices are not affordable for parents who have to be at work 14 weeks after giving birth.

Concerns were also raised about the way funding is allocated, and that extra funding designed to increase participation was not necessarily monitored to ensure it was being used to provide quality early childhood education.

  • I would like to see some regulation requiring accountability for how funding is spent by individual service providers.
  • I am disappointed with the level of funding that goes to profit organisations with limited measures for quality.
  • If these are the ‘most important years’, then funding should ensure teachers have specialised knowledge and that children are in high quality environments with low ratios based on CURRENT neuroscience research and developmental theory.
  • Current funding rates are creating a variety of problems from reduced staff morale to difficulties in providing quality service.
  • There needs to be a higher funding increase to make up for higher salaries and costs.
  • The removal of 80 – 100% qualified teacher funding is financially unsustainable for those of us with 100% qualified teaching staff.
  • Why, why, why cut the provisional funding to new teachers - how can we support, guide and promote the teacher’s capacity to the fullest and still provide high standards in the centres?


Participation

Nearly half of respondents felt the Government was failing in its policies to increase participation in ECE, with 49.5% rating extreme to slight dissatisfaction. Only a third said they were satisfied with this area. There was concern that the current push to increase participation was leading to a lowering of quality and that the government’s aims were not being achieved.

  • Government funds went into building a centre locally for the purpose of taking children who were not accessing early childhood education and it is contracted out to a private entity. Now it is full with children who have moved from other centres, so it has not fulfilled the role of increasing participation of a target group of children not participating. Where are the checks?
  • The Government feels that licensing more and more ECE services will increase participation but this incorrect. To increase participation requires an attitude shift in the home (with families seeing that ECE has value for their child) and not opening more ECE services!
  • Threatening people with financial punishment for not sending their child to an ECE centre is against human rights (i.e. the Government making ECE participation a social obligation).
  • I am unsure that diluting current services will provide more quality ECE for our most vulnerable children. In essence moderate to lower quality for everyone?
  • If the Government wants to achieve 100% participation then they should make ECE compulsory and fund it appropriately.
  • Let centres attract pupils by giving centres incentives.
  • Aiding competition between services for children does not ensure quality of care for our most precious resource - our children.

Some respondents felt that the policy of targeting certain areas to raise participation was leading to other services missing out on help.

  • I have seen next to no promotion in this area. There are people in my community not accessing centres and centres with spaces to fill are struggling to survive!
  • Have they forgotten that we have Māori and Pacific Island children in other low decile areas other than up north and in Manukau? Do they not realise that their funding cuts are limiting opportunity for some children in other areas?

Others felt that the Government needed to do more work in other areas.

  • When biculturalism is visible and appropriate to Maori in European-owned centres then child participation will increase.
  • There is still confusion around WINZ support of young mothers and this disadvantages children as we work hard to settle the children in and then nothing is paid and we have to exclude the children again. Poor children.
  • There needs to be an understanding that for a lot of children early education is not accessible due to transport, poverty, parents/whanau with suspended driver’s licences, home detention, etc. The Government needs to look deeper and fund transport. Talk to early educators!
  • Are we targeting groups which are already wary of education in general and find its perceived authority intimidating?
  • There needs to be support for ECE that includes parents’ attendance.
  • We need to be moving beyond ‘participation’ to active engagement.

 

Raising Quality

The survey results also indicated dissatisfaction with the government’s efforts to improve quality standards across ECE with 62% of respondents saying they were disappointed with this area of policy. Only a quarter (26%) said they were happy with what the Government was doing in relation to quality.

Concerns included problems with staff ratios and group/centre sizes, a lack of emphasis on having qualified teachers in teacher-led centres, and too much focus on learning outcomes rather than play and socialisation.

  • Government has lowered all the known indicators for quality. We are falling below other countries now, where once we led the way.
  • Current policy is not focussed on quality but on cost benefit ratios.
  • The quality of ECE for infants and toddlers in NZ is a concern, as identified many times by various groups (e.g. the Commissioner for Children) and yet we see no movement to increase the minimum adult-child ratio. With everything we now know about early brain development and relationship development it defies understanding that the Government has not already made changes in this area.
  • Definitely not improving quality by allowing larger group sizes, promoting less than 100% qualified staff and not funding professional support for provisionally registered teachers.
  • I feel ECE teachers are being looked at condescendingly as no more than babysitters.
  • I'm all for raising the quality of ECE. To do this, teachers need to have quality research-based professional learning and development which is now very hard to access.
  • Centres now even advertise for cheap unqualified teachers and Government makes it uneconomic for private centre owners to ensure best quality by employing qualified teachers.
  • Government focuses too much on a school curriculum and academic learning outcomes for our under sixes and not enough on the importance of outdoor play and social interactions.

 

Conclusion

Current political polls suggest the National Party will be returned to power for a third term after the next general election, meaning it will likely continue with many of its policies and aims for early childhood education such as raising participation levels and targeting funding to specific areas or services.

It is disappointing then, that the levels of satisfaction within the ECE sector with government policy are so low. It is also disappointing that much of the feedback indicated Government has failed to deliver on some of its key election promises (e.g. to lower ratios and maintain funding levels) and is perceived to not always be implementing policy in the most effective ways (e.g. in promoting participation).

The sector feels strongly that high quality standards are important but does not feel that the Government is doing enough to maintain standards or improve quality despite promoting ECE and wanting to raise participation levels.

It is apparent from the survey that quality is an important factor, and that the sector feels parents are more likely to embrace ECE for their baby or young child and want to use an ECE service, thereby increasing participation, if they feel the standards are high.

The results also show that the sector feels funding needs to be monitored and that its impact on quality should be evidenced. Current policy advocates targeted funding towards certain areas of the country and certain groups such as Maori and Pasifika communities, but the Government should take a warning from the survey results that the sector will not be happy if the extra funding does not result in quality standards increasing, or results in other services struggling.

If the Government is committed to increasing participation in ECE over the next three years, it must focus on standards and ensure that funding decisions are always made with quality in mind, not just the number of children in ECE.


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