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The State of the Early Childcare and Education Sector in 2012 and Outlook for 2013

© ChildForum

pdfclick here for a copy of the full report  

The full report (see the link to this above) also provides additional comments from respondents on various matters plus appendices showing further data.

 

Executive Summary

This is the third annual survey conducted by the ChildForum Early Childhood Network looking at what is happening in the early childcare and education sector and the issues arising. Each year brings new challenges and so it is important for those determining the policy priorities to know what is on the minds of those on the sector’s frontline and how the sector is changing.

Around 2,000 ECE services were represented by the people surveyed.  According to respondents some things are going well.  Services are working hard to continue to run well, provide the best they can for children, and achieve a steady income.  For teacher-led services in particular staff supply is reported to have improved and employers are enjoying more choice of candidates while staff turnover is slowing as staff are more likely to stay put in their positions in the absence of more attractive job offers.  

There is strong concern about what is happening in the sector generally, and how this in turn is affecting services, parents, children, and staff. The survey results reveal a strong desire for a policy and funding approach more attuned to children’s needs and to sector improvement and less controlled by the Government’s political goals. As one respondent said: “Controlling the cost of ECE and meeting its target for child participation of 98% seem to be the policy drivers for ECE and not quality or children.”

During the 2012 year, government funding levels worsened according to 70% of respondents, affordability for families declined (55%), it was more difficult to maintain full rolls and regular child attendance (51%), adult/teacher morale and work satisfaction was lower (38%) and there was a deterioration in the ability of services to give children a high standard of education (39%) and care (35%).

The outlook for 2013 according to 80% of respondents is negative with the situation expected to worsen more than it will improve.  It was a common view among respondents that little if anything would improve during 2013. The challenges of the past year were expected to continue. Respondents from private/commercial services were slightly more confident of improvement than community-based not-for-profit services.

This feedback does not paint a good picture of government management and leadership of the early childhood education and care sector. It raises a big question: if the New Zealand Government wants every, or nearly every, child to attend early childhood education, what will it do to a) make sure every family can afford it and, b) that the standards of care and education are such that any risks to the child of participation are mitigated? 

The Government could improve the situation, according to respondents, if it were to: 

  • Take steps to provide certainty and consistency in funding and ECE policy;
  • Reduce the current five children to one adult ratio for children under the age of two years;
  • Regulate and fund for 100% qualified registered teachers in teacher-led services;
  • Require the Ministry of Education to be tougher on services in breach of regulation and criteria;
  • Limit class sizes in early childhood centres (the number of children per group with the same teacher/s);
  • Do more to prevent child abuse and keep children safe at home and in the community;
  • View parents and parenting as central to children’s learning, care, and wellbeing and not as secondary to the role of the early childhood education service in children’s development; and
  • Ensure a place is available for every child and access is not restricted to any child/family due to cost.

Addressing funding problems for early childhood services seems to be critical, along with changing funding rules such as around 20-Hour funding to make ECE affordable for every family and/or basing fees and other charges on family income.

As well as giving services greater certainty in what funding they will get from year to year, respondents also felt that parental choice in early childhood education should be supported and standards and quality needed to be improved.  There was also a strong desire for the Government to address diversity issues by valuing children’s participation in Kōhanga Reo and funding Nga Kōhanga Reo equitably, and by putting gender diversity in early childhood teaching and childcare on the policy agenda.

This year’s survey also asked for feedback on whether child attendance in early childhood education ought to be made compulsory and if a financial penalty should be applied to parents who do not put their child into ECE. While those working in ECE, in general, believed that ECE can be good for children the majority did not want ECE to be made compulsory and they did not want families to be financially penalised for not using ECE. Their comments highlight potential pitfalls in the government’s current idea to require people receiving a benefit to put their three and four-year-old children into an ECE service for a minimum of 15 hours a week.  The feedback received also shows that requiring a group of parents to use ECE in this way is expected to create a number of difficulties and make the job of teachers and ECE service providers a lot harder.

Before presenting an overview of the survey and its findings in full, let us look briefly at the importance of ECE and the financial and policy context. 

 

Section 1: Background

1.1.  The Importance of ECE

Early childhood education has a long history of political interest overriding the interest of children. The importance of non-parental care for children too young to go to school was first recognised by the feminist movement in NZ, which strived for the provision of more nurseries and crèches to allow women to engage in paid and more meaningful labour. As provision for children’s care outside-of-the-home grew and regulations were brought in for the licensing of nurseries and crèches there emerged many vocal and politically astute people from within the early childhood sector who wanted childcare to be recognised as more than babysitting and who sought better pay, conditions and recognition of the status of early childhood work.

Over several decades many things happened such as the development of a union for childcare workers, childcare being brought together with kindergarten under a single administration of the Department of Education, the development of a written curriculum, and the Government setting a target of 100% qualified/registered teachers in teacher-led services. The Kōhanga Reo movement was formed in the early 1980s and was publicly supported as a way for children to learn to speak te reo Māori and experience Māori values and culture within a whanau environment.  It was also brought under the Department of Education from the Department of Māori Affairs and expected to fit into the early childhood education system and be like mainstream early childhood education services.

In 2008 when the National Party came into power it needed to cut public spending in the wake of an economic crisis. During its pre-election campaign, National suggested it was not the government’s place to dictate whether children should be in early childhood education because while early childhood education was good, children would also benefit from parental engagement. The National Party also wanted to see that “care” remained as a purpose and function of early childhood services within early childhood “education”. 

After reviewing public spending, it was found that the early childhood education budget appeared to have no limit and seemed to be blowing out thanks to a higher than expected uptake of the 20-Hours Free ECE funding scheme and a push by teacher-led services for 100% qualified staff in order to receive more funding. While money could not easily be cut from the ECE budget, the Government did choose not to fund most of its previously stated policies such as improving the adult-child ratio for under-2s.  Instead, it tried to control spending and focus on increasing participation in ECE in a bid to look pro-active. Today, the National Government promotes early childhood education as a silver bullet for raising children’s achievement and appears to promote ECE as better than parental engagement and a child staying at home - something it had previously criticised the Labour Party for doing when it was in government.

The political view is that children who attend ECE have advantages academically over those who do not and those who are exposed to more ECE are advantaged over those who receive less. For example during 2012, the Government and Ministry of Education took out large adverts in The Press newspaper, which among other things told readers that: 

Regular participation in quality early childhood education significantly increases a child’s chance of future educational success, particularly for children from vulnerable families.  Attending ECE services helps prepare children for when they start school and helps create a sense of belonging for families moving to new areas within the city or surrounding districts, and families new to greater Christchurch. 

Recently the Minister for Education Hekia Parata told Pacific families at the start of a series of government funded workshops aimed at getting more Pacific families to use ECE: “We want to make sure that all Pacific families know that having our kids attend ECE improves future educational outcomes. To put it simply, if your child goes to ECE, they will do better at school” (Parata, 2013).

However, there is little research evidence to confirm participation in ECE is essential for every child’s achievement (for references and details of studies go to www.childforum.com/research).  Empirical research shows that participation in ECE has both risks and benefits for children and these risks and benefits differ for different ages of children, socio-economic groups, and depend on the quality of the home-learning environment. Well-designed home-visiting programmes, such as Early Start, perhaps have more potential to reduce rates of child abuse, improve health care, and improve parenting – all of which are related to better life outcomes for children (Fergusson, Boden & Horwood, 2012).  

Overseas longitudinal research studies have pointed to better academic achievement and other outcomes such as lower rates of juvenile delinquency for children from deprived home backgrounds who are exposed to an ECE intervention that is highly funded, with high staff-child ratios and high levels of staff training, and which provide additional social services to support parents and families (e.g. the Abecedarian project). Similar intervention centres have not been replicated in New Zealand as part of the regular ECE system offered to children and families.  

There is no New Zealand empirical evidence showing that every child who attends an ECE service is more successful academically than children who do not.  Some years ago, the authors of a large-scale New Zealand study that compared children who did not attend ECE to those who did concluded that any gains from ECE attendance were not significant enough to “aggressively promote the view that early education of the type provided to this cohort makes an important contribution to subsequent academic achievement” (Fergusson, Horwood, & Lynsky, 1994, p. 115). 

Evidence from other research points to parents with high-risk backgrounds or who have less resources being more likely to access lower-quality ECE options – thereby limiting any potential benefits of using ECE for children (Smith, et al., 2000). In UK research, children who were later followed up at school age were found to have lost any gains made from early childhood centre attendance if the school they went on to was of low quality (Sylva, et al., 2004). 

The experience of attending a group early childhood programme can benefit children as can many other experiences. A report from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Child Study published over 30 years ago explains a simple questionnaire developed to measure children’s experiences and activities since these are widely believed to contribute to and reflect the cognitive development of children (Silva, 1980). Some of the 30 experiences listed in the Experiences Scale included:  a bus ride, been on a horse, visited a museum, and been to a sports event. Listed activities included: played in huts, swum or paddled in a pool, played with a pet, climbed trees or fences, and picked or planted flowers. The report points out that where children live in New Zealand can impact on the experiences available to them for example if there is a beach nearby or not, and also that families of different cultures can provide and value different experiences, such as Māori children may experience living on a marae and puha gathering expeditions. This raises a question about what life experiences children might not be having, or be limited in having, due to attending an ECE service particularly if this is for more than a few days a week.

Research does not dispute the importance of ECE for families who for a range of reasons seek support with childcare, social networking, and their child's learning. The conventional view in ECE in New Zealand has been that children belong to families and because children have a range of needs and different rates of growth and development, an academic/school-based approach to teaching is not appropriate.

One problem then with any promotion of ECE as a silver bullet to combat educational under-achievement and raise children’s success levels is that parents may expect to see more formal-style teaching taking place. They could also come to believe that what they do as parents in supporting their children’s learning is less consequential, and they will not be aware of potential risks for children in using ECE, such as to children’s health and anxiety levels. It could also put unrealistic expectations on teachers and service providers to show specifically what a child has learnt as a result of attendance.   

 

1.2.  An Overview of the Financial Context

Government spending on early childhood education in the 2012 fiscal year was $1,561,567,000 (excl. GST) (Total Vote Education, Vote ERO and Vote MSD). This was more than the $1,517,575,000 spent in 2011.

However, the per-child average funding amount decreased in 2012 - the first time in at least 10 years.  For every hour a child was funded to be in ECE it cost the government $9.62 in 2012 compared to $9.66 in 2011. In 2012, for a child attending 1,000 hours the per-child average funding was $9,618 (excl. GST). 

In addition, the Government spent $1.355 billion as Core Crown Education expenses associated with early childhood education in the 2012 fiscal year.

Out of the Education Budget, for each hour that a child attended on average, ECE services were paid the following amounts (GST exclusive):

  • Playcentre $4.64 (was $4.52 in 2011)
  • Kōhanga Reo $5.83 (was $5.70 in 2011)
  • Home-based (at the parents or educator’s home):  $5.80 (was $5.74 in 2011)
  • Childcare centre: $8.48 (was $8.42 in 2011)
  • Kindergarten: $9.04 (was $9.11 in 2011)

As well as receiving money from the Government, ECE services also receive money from other sources such as donations and community grants, parent fees and other charges. Parent fees range from $0 to about $1 per hour for Playcentre, $0 to around $5 to $5.50 per hour for kindergarten, $3 to about $7.50 per hour for home-based with some educators or nannies charging more per hour, and from about $3 to around $8 per hour for childcare centres.

A Ministry of Education survey of parent charges in ECE services in 2011 showed that private/commercial home-based service charges were on average 14% higher than those of community-based services, while the charges of private/commercial childcare centres were around 20% higher than those of community not-for-profit childcare centres.

There are also costs to parents for transport, any required clothing, food (if this needs to be supplied), and outings (if an ECE service takes children on outings and charges parents for these). There is no estimate of the cost of such miscellaneous expenditure items available. 

There is no recent calculation of the health costs of child participation in ECE. Researcher Mike Bedford claimed in 1998 at ChildForum's ‘Future for Children’ national forum that early childhood services are high-risk environments for Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Rotavirus, and Norovirus. Outbreaks are very common, affecting children, parents, siblings, and teachers but most go unreported. He estimated the cost of early childhood centre attributable, non-vaccine preventable communicable diseases in New Zealand was between $20 million and $50 million per year.

Precise figures are not immediately at hand on the injury costs of children attending ECE, but this is mentioned here as injuries can and do occur in ECE services and it is another factor to consider when looking at how much ECE costs the government and families. The Accident Compensation Corporation website shows that in the 2011/12 year the total cost of injuries for children aged 0 – 4 years in schools and service locations was $5,913,823. The figure may be higher if it does not include home-based ECE services. 

 

1.3. The Policy Context for Young Children’s Care, Protection and Education 

1.3.1. Statistical profile

As at the last week of June 2012, there were 4,263 licensed early childhood education services and 896 playgroups with 196,535 children enrolled (this includes 8,417 infants under 1-year and 25,069 of toddlers under 2-years).  

A total of 21,455 adults worked at the teacher-led services namely childcare centres (casual and regular services), kindergartens, home-based ECE, hospital-based services, and the Correspondence School). The number of female teachers greatly outnumbered the number of male teachers (21,017 women to 438 men or 98% women).

Enrolment growth fell to 1.3% in 2012 after peaking at 4.4% in 2010. The Ministry of Education predicts that the number of children aged under-5 years is likely to remain flat or decrease over the next few years.

The duration, or average length of time a child spends in ECE, continues to increase by 2-3% each year, with the average now being 21.1 hours of ECE per child. Forty percent of children attended for 20 hours or more a week in 2012.

Between 2011 and 2012 childcare centre enrolments increased by 3.4% and home-based by 2.5% while kindergarten enrolments fell by 2%, Playcentre by 5% and Kōhanga Reo by 3%.

Prior to July 2011, the maximum legal licence size, which also defined the maximum class size in a centre, was 50 children.  Since then services have had the option of applying to the Ministry of Education to extend their numbers beyond 50 children and new services opening have not been limited to the 50 maximum.  As at 1 February 2013, the average licence size in childcare centres was 42.8 children, 403 childcare centres were licensed to have over 50 children attending at any one time, and of these 45 centres were licensed for over 100 children. Some childcare centres were licensed to have as many as 35 babies within groups of 80 or more children. There were also two kindergartens with 60 or more children including children under 2-years. 

Growth in the percentage of qualified staff in teacher-led services appears to have levelled off with a slight increase from 69% in 2011 to 71% in 2012.

Public policy has a strong focus on increasing the number of services and child places in low participation areas but the number of new services opening in Decile 1 to 3 areas in 2012 was lower at 33 new services compared to the 45 that opened in 2011. The number of services opening in Decile 8 – 10 areas was higher with 66 new services in 2012 compared to 63 in 2011.  Of the 152 new services that opened in 2012, 36 were community-based and 116 were private/commercial operations. 

1.3.2.  Vulnerable children

The government has promoted discussion on ‘vulnerable children’ and how it and others may do better for vulnerable children. In the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children (2012) ‘vulnerability’ is explained to be something that is difficult to describe and measure but at any point in time approximately 15 per cent of children (163,000) aged under-18 can be considered vulnerable. Two main factors are identified as contributing to ‘vulnerability’ and these are poverty (estimated to affect around 20% of children) and disability and/or significant health problems (approximately 10% of children under 15 years).

1.3.3.  Child abuse

Child abuse cases remain high in New Zealand. Of the reports made to CYF in 2009/2010, 19,698 concerned children under the age of 5 years and were considered to require further action. Information obtained by the NZ Herald newspaper in July 2012 under the Official Information Act showed there had been 71 cases of hospital-recorded suspected abuse cases involving children younger than four-years-old in 2011/2012, with 36 of these cases being babies under 12 months. These figures did not include ‘short stays’ in emergency departments.

1.3.4.  Government intention to make people on benefits use ECE

In 2005 cartoonist Tom Scott drew a caricature of Helen Clark holding a sign that read, “Stay at Home Mums Put Your Children into Childcare” and Don Brash with a sign that said “Solo Mums Adopt Out Your Children”.  Both Helen Clarke and Don Brash were depicted as facing a public burning if their ideas were anything more than a suggestion.  Today’s politicians are not saying that solo mums or stay at home mums must pass their children over to others to care for. Instead all beneficiaries with young children are the political target.

In 2012, the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill had its first and then its second reading in the House.  It includes a provision to make it a ‘social obligation’ for people on benefits (jobseeker support, sole parent support, a supported living payment, or an emergency benefit) with children age 3-years and older and not in school to ensure their child attends an early childhood service for a minimum of 15 hours a week.  The reasons given include that it will help parents to be available for paid work, support the government’s Better Public Services target of 98% of children in ECE by 2016, and raise children’s chances of good academic achievement at school.  There is also some suggestion within the Bill that by making parents put their child into ECE it will improve their standard of living – to “break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage”.  The closest parallel to this perhaps is the policy Australia had to westernise Aboriginal children to improve their standard of living by taking them from their families.

The Government does not have exact data on the number of children of people on benefits already participating in some form of ECE, and although it is believed many already attend ECE the Amendment Bill will change this from being a choice to being an obligation to society.  The Amendment Bill allows sanctions to be applied to these parents who do not have their child in ECE for a minimum of 15 hours weekly (note that the Select Committee subsequently recommended that 15 hours be aspirational and that the minimum should be regulated).

There is no mention in the Amendment Bill of exceptions to the rule for children who are disabled, ill, emotionally not able to cope with lots of other people, or who cannot have their needs adequately met in an ECE service environment.  Nor is there mention of what steps parents can take if they don’t have transport, if there are no affordable and convenient services available to them and what recourse they have if their child is injured or harmed as a consequence of compliance with the social obligation. Reducing benefit payments by 50% until compliance takes place is effectively a fine.  It also effectively makes ECE compulsory for children aged three-years and over and not in school, whose parents or caregiver receive a benefit. 

1.3.5.  Collection and use of information on families from other departments

Without public consultation the Ministry of Education looks likely to collect, keep, and use, details on infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers who are not enrolled in ECE. This will be for the purpose of encouraging and getting families to place their child in ECE and maintain regular attendance. Under the Education Amendment Bill 2012, the Secretary for Education will be able to assign a national student number (NSN) to any child less than six-years-old, who is not currently in ECE and who is considered will benefit from being placed in ECE.

At present, the Ministry intervenes to promote ECE participation through a package of initiatives costing around $24 million between 2012 and 2013. One of the initiatives, for example, involved paying contracted providers $4,000 for every child whose parents they convinced to use ECE.

A Regulatory Impact Statement prepared by the Ministry of Education gives some insight into how the proposal has potential to affect any NZ child under the age of 6 years and their family should it go ahead.  The proposed first step is information sharing between the Education Ministry and MSD to assign student numbers (NSN) to children of beneficiaries.  This in itself does not provide the numbers of children needed to reach the government’s 98% participation in ECE target thus further information sharing with other government departments is suggested. 

1.3.6.  Quality control

When the word ‘quality’ is used in conjunction with the words ‘early childhood education’ this commonly refers to what is done to mitigate the potentially harmful effects of a child being in an early childhood programme (e.g. the presence of  trained staff, high adult to child ratios, small class/group sizes,  professional development, etc.).  It can also refer to standards at one service being better than another, i.e. ‘higher’ quality.

The approach to early childhood service quality control in New Zealand is a gentle one. Although the taxpayer, through the Government and Ministry of Education pay an hourly amount for the care of each child in ECE, individual ECE service providers are held responsible for the health and safety of children in their care.  A person who makes a complaint to the Ministry of Education or ERO is usually referred back to the ECE service’s complaints procedure to follow its process. If a complainant is able to provide evidence that a service is not in compliance with regulations the Ministry of Education may change the service's license status to provisional and give the service time, possibly up to 3 months, to meet legal requirements. Professional development and information may be provided by the Ministry. A licence may only be suspended if there is proof that children have been harmed (and that it could happen again) or that they could be harmed by someone at the service. This may not be considered necessary if the person or persons who may be putting children at risk leaves or is told to leave the service. There is no system for issuing fines.  It is rare for the Ministry to close an early childhood service once it is operating. However, if a person makes a false declaration in a licensing application they may be liable for a fine up to $500. Once issued a full licence by the Ministry of Education a service is licensed for its lifetime, regardless of any changes of ownership.

The Education Review Office (ERO) is the government department charged with evaluating and reporting on the care and education children receive in early childhood services. It inspects a service on average every three years, and may carry out additional reviews if there are concerns. Inspection consists of:

  • Looking at documentation and discussing the learning environment provided for children,  leadership and management, and self-review processes;
  • Collecting information on a national education focus (topic) – topics are decided between ERO, and the Minister for Education, Ministry of Education and other government agencies as appropriate; and
  • Reviewing the service’s own reporting of its compliance with regulations and requirements (note that compliance is not a major focus of reviews unless it appears to ERO that there are significant levels of risk to children’s safety and wellbeing).

The results of a survey by ERO in 2011 indicated that 62% of respondents from the ECE sector and 78% of parent respondents wanted ERO to visit services unannounced so ERO would see how services normally operated and services would not have time to make improvements for the day that a visit occurred. The vast majority of respondents wanted the review period to not be extended beyond three years.  However, from May 2013 ERO plans to extend the return time to four years for services judged to be “very well placed to promote positive learning outcomes for children”.  Early childhood services continue to be informed in advance of an ERO review visit and given time to prepare for it.

 

Section 2.  About the Annual Survey

2.1.     Data Collection and Ethical Procedures

The survey was conducted at the end of 2012. Invitations to participate were sent to 100 randomly selected early childhood services throughout NZ and the survey was publicised in ChildForum’s weekly e-newsletter and Facebook page. No rewards or incentives to participate in the survey were offered and there was no compulsion for people and services to respond. 

Respondents were asked at the end of the survey if they wished to be informed of the results. Most respondents indicated an interest in being informed of the results and included their names and email addresses on the survey form. To uphold anonymity all contact details were removed and saved to a separate and confidential mailing list file to be deleted after informing respondents of the results. 

Care has been taken in reporting the results to not include names and statements that could directly lead to the identification of a respondent or individual service or cause harm to the respondent, service or other person or organisation referred to in responses.

2.2.     Number of Respondents

There were 365 responses to the survey comprising 300 from people replying on behalf of their ECE service or services and 65 from individuals involved in ECE (e.g., Playcentre and home-based educators, early childhood centre workers and teacher educators).  When 300 replies from ECE service representatives were received, the survey was closed as this was a sufficient response rate and the survey deadline did not need to be extended.

2.3.     Services Represented

The 300 respondents from ECE services represented around 2,000 licensed services between them (ranging from 1 to more than 200 licensed ECE services per respondent). The figure of 2,000 is an estimate only because while one-third of respondents stated that they represented an early childhood service or group of services they did not provide an actual number for the number of services they represented. The remaining two-thirds of respondents had 1,267 ECE services between them and possibly more because a few of these respondents provided loose numbers such as “over 100 nationwide” (counted conservatively here as 101) and “more than 200” (counted as 201).

Of the 300 people replying to the survey on behalf of their early childhood service or group of services, 11% were involved in home-based ECE and 89% in centre-based ECE.  A few respondents indicated involvement with both home and centre-based ECE and these people’s responses were classified as belonging to the type of service they indicated most involvement with for the purpose of data analysis.

Similar percentages of people indicated they represented either community-based or privately owned services (49% and 46% respectively – with the remaining not stating what the ownership basis of their service was). 

Enrolment of children for 15 hours or less a week was available at the home-based and centre-based ECE services of 30% of the ECE service representatives.

Children under the age of 2 years were accepted at the home-based and centre-based ECE services of 32% of the ECE service representatives.

Just over half (51%) represented a centre or centres licensed for 50 or fewer children at a time and 14% catered for more than 50 children at any time.  

2.4.     Respondent Work Roles 

Table 1 below shows the roles held by the respondents. Of the total sample, around 40% were supervisors or managers responsible for the day-to-day management of an early childhood service or group of services. A further 23% were owners of an early childhood service (or group of services) and 19% were teachers. Owners who indicated they were also involved in the day-to-day management of a service or services were classified as owners for the purpose of data analysis. Members of community-based service committees also replied to the survey, along with parents involved in running parent-led services, service administrators, unqualified teachers and teachers-in-training, and a small number of people working in the ECE area in Tertiary Education or in teacher support and consultancy roles.

TABLE 1. Survey participants by role and ECE service representation

ROLES

ECE SERVICE
REPRESENTATIVES

TOTAL SAMPLE

Number

Percentage

Number

Percentage

Manager/Supervisor/Director (employed)

143

47.7

148

40.5

Owner, Part-owner or Shareholder in ECE Service(s)

82

27.3

83

22.7

Qualified Teacher

38

12.7

70

19.2

Committee Member or ECE Service Board Member

16

5.3

19

5.2

Parent-Led Service(s) Parent/caregiver

13

4.3

19

5.2

Administrator (non-teaching role)

7

2.3

8

2.2

Unqualified Teacher or Teacher in Training (including Home-based Educator)

1

0.3

7

1.9

Tertiary Educator, Professional Development Provider, or Consultant

-

-

11

3.0

Total

300

100

365

100

 

Section 3. Results and Analysis

3.1.     Key Issues Facing the ECE Sector 

Respondents were asked to indicate if they thought key issues identified in the 2011 survey results had ‘got better’, were "no different’, or had got 'worse'.  Most respondents believed the situation around many of the key issues had got worse during 2012. The main areas were affordability for families, government funding levels, and the ability of ECE services to maintain full rolls and regular child attendance.

Around half of all respondents believed educator morale and work satisfaction, ECE services having the ability to give children a high standard of care, and having the ability to give a high standard of education were no different from a year ago and one-third believed these things had got worse.

Table 2 shows no noteworthy statistical differences between the responses of ECE service representatives and the total response group.  The data were also analysed according to various group characteristics (such as service size, ownership, and respondent roles) and this data is reported in Appendix 1.

TABLE 2. Key issues facing the sector and how these have changed over the past year

ISSUES

% TOTAL RESPONSES
(N = 365)

% ECE SERVICE
RESPONSES (N = 300)

Better

Same

Worse

Better

Same

Worse

The financial affordability of ECE for families

5.5

39.7

54.8

6.0

40.7

53.3

Government funding levels

2.8

26.8

70.4

2.7

27.3

70.0

Maintaining full rolls and child attendance

12.8

36.4

50.8

14.0

35.8

50.2

Adult/teacher morale and work satisfaction

11.7

50.7

37.6

13.9

53.7

32.4

Services having the ability to give children what they see as a high standard of care

10.0

55.0

35.0

11.1

57.1

31.8

Services having the ability to give children what they see as a high standard of education

11.0

50.3

38.7

12.4

51.0

36.6

 

3.2.     What is Going Well and Badly in Early Childhood Services

Respondents were asked an open question: “How are things in your early childhood centre or home-based service or services at the moment? (Please comment on (a) what is going well and (b) what is not going well)”.

Table 3 below shows that 60% of all respondents provided a reason why things were going well and 58% why things were not going well in their service.  Respondents replying to the survey on behalf of ECE services were slightly more likely to identify something that was positive than those replying as individuals. 

Private and commercially-operated ECE service respondents were more likely to report on something that was going well and less likely to perceive the situation as negative compared to community ECE service representatives.

TABLE 3: Respondents who commented on something that was going well and not going well

% OF TOTAL RESPONSES
(N = 365)

% OF ECE SERVICE RESPONSES
(N = 300)

% COMMUNITY
SERVICE RESPONSES
(N = 148)

% PRIVATE  SERVICE
RESPONSES
(N = 138)

Things are going well because of …

60.4

62.3%

59.3

66.2

Things are not going well because of …

58.3

56.3%

58.6

53.1

The number of respondents who thought things were going well is similar to the 2011 survey result of 59%.  However, the percentage of those reporting that things were going badly has risen to 58% in this survey compared to 41% in 2011.

Below are the main areas in which respondents felt things were going well, along with a selection of comments from respondents to illustrate the views expressed.

 

3.2.1.  What is going well within services

1. The adults are working hard to ensure the service runs well:

  • We have an enthusiastic group of teachers working well together.
  • We are a close-knit team.
  • We put children first.
  • There are high levels of commitment (time/skills/training levels) from most parents at our Playcentre.
  • We are a team that has been together for many years and the community see us as family.
  • We have banded together more since the earthquakes and terminal illnesses.
  • We drive the service ourselves.
  • We value our staff, are proactive with professional development and are supportive with our families.

2. Services are managing to achieve a steady income:

  • We increased our licence number to take in more children to help with the shortfall in government funding.
  • Attendance seems more stable.
  • We have a good word of mouth referral system for new enrolments.
  • Our numbers have been maintained to ensure our service stays open - but it is hard because half of our street is red zoned (following earthquake damage).
  • We have a strong fundraising framework in place and parents contribute to the running of the centre significantly.
  • Parents are now mostly all paying the optional charges.
  • We have made major financial adjustments and this has allowed our centre to stay open - if not we would be closed by now.
  • Things are going well because of the huge amounts of unpaid hours for overtime/extra time done. This is just to keep things working.
  • We have very firm policies and practices around the utilisation of government funding to ensure priority is given to spending which improves the quality and accessibility of our services.  Thus, providing benefit for all our stakeholders, ahead of personal gain for the owners.
  • We have made a commitment to work to support the community as a genuine non-profit organisation, so all funding received goes back into the centre while we are supported financially and in other ways by the parent church.

3. Rolls are being maintained and new opportunities are arising:

  • The home-based sector is the fastest growing sector.
  • There is an influx of new families into our area.
  • We are the only drop-off centre in the local community.
  • We are well situated for parents as part of a school rather than being a corporate owner.
  • We are affiliated to a workplace which means parents are generally in full employment which means we keep a full roll.
  • Parents choosing to stay home with their child like our sessional kindergarten as a form of education for their child.
  • We are a new centre that has only been opened 18 months and so everyone wants to enrol in a new facility.
  • We have an extension to our service waiting to be licensed.
  • We have established our own playgroup venue.
  • We have introduced our own 20-Hours Free ECE scheme for 2 year-olds.

4. Filling staff vacancies has become easier and there is less staff churn:

  • Staff supply has improved dramatically which has resulted in higher calibre candidates being available – the best in 10 years!
  • There is a choice of high quality educators to pick from.
  • We have stable staffing now as no one can leave their jobs due to lack of jobs available at other centres.

 

3.2.2.  Other things going well

A small number of respondents mentioned their service was going well due to the provision of adult learning opportunities and commitment to participation in these, for example:

  • Management hosts in-centre PD to ensure that external PD sessions are understood clearly and teachers know how to implement and incorporate their learning into their daily practices.
  • Parents engage in the adult education that is available.

In addition, a few respondents referred to children doing well:

  • The children are thriving.
  • Everyone is happy and the children are having more one-on-one care and bonding together.

One respondent replied that being able to keep their ECE service open, even in a temporary location after being relocated twice due to damage sustained from the Canterbury earthquakes was something positive.   

 

3.2.3.  What is not going well within services

1. Financial conditions are impacting negatively on the adults and children:

  • Due to the need to maximise government funding our service is starting new children on days even we do not have a full teaching team and we have to rely on relievers to settle the new children in.
  • We have higher roll numbers with no extra teacher staffing.
  • We have had to increase our centre ratio from 1-4 to 1-5 for infants due to the decrease in funding, which has impacted on the teachers’ stress levels and feelings of having to compromise with the quality of care and education they provide on a day-to-day basis.
  • Increasing the proxy for class size over 50 children makes the teachers' job stressful with work overload.
  • Getting the workers enough time to get their paperwork done is an issue.
  • We are spending too much time chasing grants and other funding. We are stressed.
  • My teachers are exhausted from working with more children per teacher, no professional development except within staff meetings, having to make do and mend, and having to work with unqualified relievers to save money.

2.  Fees and charges are too high for some families:

  • ECE is too costly for under-3s. Parents send their babies and toddlers for one day maximum - unless they are studying and receive Work and Income support.
  • Parents with children with disabilities cannot afford to send their child to Kindy even though they qualify for respite care disability allowance because they cannot afford to pay the optional charges.
  • We have the neediest of our families unable to pay and dropping out of the service.  These are the families the Government says it wishes to target.
  • We have had to introduce optional charges for 20-Hours ECE which is a major financial stress for parents and it has meant that we have lost our lowest income earners. Although it was optional these parents couldn't cope with the shame of saying no.
  • It is difficult for families to afford to pay so we now have a large list of debtors.

3. There are problems in maintaining roll numbers and attendance rates:

  • We have a lack of under-2s.
  • There are problems around children’s attendance - attendance can be radical depending on recent earthquake shakes and aftershocks.
  • We just need more children to attend, we have had a fantastic ERO review, we have happy parents and happy children, but we haven't seen the enrolments we need.
  • We are finding it hard to fill our rolls at present for the first time in years.
  • Our Kindy sessions are not filling up. Parents enrol and come for 2 weeks and then don’t show again.
  • The number of children under-3 we are accepting into kindergarten is on the rise due to fewer older children enrolling and the need to fill the places.
  • Our Playcentre roll is dropping because of the financial burden on parents and the perception that returning to work is more important than spending time with your children and participating in their early childhood experience.
  • Parents want our kindergarten hours, but are forced into childcare centres because of work commitments.
  • Normally we would have full rolls and huge waiting lists but with many new centres opening within our area this has not been the case this year.
  • There are too many centres, especially bigger ones, opening and it is affecting our small centre.

4.  It is becoming harder to meet staff employment and operational costs, and/or make a profit for the owners:

  • It is harder to balance books when teachers’ wages increase as they move through increments but there is no increase in government funding. 
  • We have little money for playground, or building development and professional development.
  • The Ministry is not offering much in the way of free professional development needed by staff.  There is also no financial support available for registering teachers.
  • Our debt is huge for us as the owners of our 'for-profit' centres! Between paying teachers and lots of improvements needed to maintain quality we find it a real challenge.
  • The rolls are not filling therefore we are not making a realistic profit given the investment in property and effort to maintain service and staffing levels we have made.

5. Government is failing in key areas to manage ECE provision and quality for children well: 

  • The number of services / licensed spaces available in a small town is not regulated by the Government and consequently we have facilities all struggling to maintain a viable roll. This is inefficient use of tax payer money by way of Bulk Funding as the money becomes entirely directed at wages with nothing left for investment in future children by way of purchasing resources. BAD ECONOMICS!! And on top of that you have kindergartens turning into full day centres.
  • We still have a high number of unqualified staff and there is no incentive for us to increase qualified staff numbers.
  • Children are spending too many hours in care, and it is tiring and stressful for all.
  • We need more teachers to accommodate the language barriers in our area.
  • More balance in staffing is required, i.e. more males.

 

3.2.4.  Other things not going well within services

A small number of respondents mentioned problems to do with internal management as to why not all was going well at their service: 

  • Sometimes things are not going well due to differences in staff and management beliefs, values and perceptions of what is good practice and how to do it. But most importantly, it does not go well when teachers and management have different agendas or motives.
  • There is limited time for discussing important issues as a group. Communication between management and teachers continues to be lacking.

 

3.3.     The Outlook for 2013

Optimism in the sector was found to be low in the 2011 survey, and this latest survey shows optimism continues to remain low going into 2013. Eighty percent of respondents’ comments concerned something they perceived would be worsening in 2013 compared to 42% of respondents who perceived something was likely to improve. Community-based ECE service respondents were slightly less likely to think that the direction of any changes would be favourable compared to private and commercial ECE service representatives.

The negative outlook appears to be largely associated with concerns about money and what is seen to be harmful government influence on budgets, staffing decisions, enrolments and so on.  It was a common view that nothing much would improve during 2013. In the words of one centre owner who wrote in reply to the question of “what do you see as possibly improving?”: “Really!! Is there a light?”

TABLE 4: Percentage of respondents who believed something would likely worsen and/or improve

% OF TOTAL RESPONSES
(N = 365)

% OF ECE SERVICE RESPONSES
(N = 300)

% COMMUNITY
SERVICE RESPONSES
(N = 148)

% PRIVATE  & COMMERCIAL
SERVICE RESPONSES
(N = 138)

Things will worsen in the next 12 months

80.4

79.6

80.0

78.5

Things will improve in the next 12 months

42.6

42.6

40.0

44.6

 

3.3.1. What is likely to worsen

Respondents’ concerns were mostly related to money worries and suggested that government is viewed as a main influence on or controller of the ability of ECE services to achieve what they want to achieve, whatever that may be.

Below is a selection of comments highlighting the most frequently mentioned areas that respondents thought could worsen.

1. The ability of services to plan financially: 

  • Increased costs for us in Home-based ECE in relation to reporting compliance/electronic information systems.
  • The unknown of the Home-based ECE sector review and how it will affect our funding.
  • I worry that the Government won't increase subsidies again in the 2013 Budget which will put the centre further behind.
  • Government deciding that ECE could bear more cost cutting.
  • Moving funding around the sector to the detriment of the community-based centres.
  • The viability of smaller privately owned centres as they don't have other centre incomes to offset their losses.
  • Government getting more restrictive on use of optional charges, then we will have to opt out of the 20-Hour ECE scheme.
  • Resources are very limited and support only seems to be given to new centres - those that have been established for many years don't seem to be able to get the support that a new centre receives. 

2. The ability of services to meet staffing costs:

  • Our ability to employ qualified, registered staff.
  • We cannot afford to increase our teachers' salaries so we find it difficult to replace teachers who leave with qualified and registered teachers.
  • Essentially funding is frozen but as we are on the Consenting Parties Award we have a commitment to give pay increases.  It is becoming extremely difficult to meet this commitment without handing too much of the cost on to families.
  • Our rolls are dropping and the committee is looking at redundancies as we have too many staff.
  • Loss of staff due to inability to increase wages.

3.  Standards and the ability of services to maintain quality levels:

  • No increase in Ministry funding when costs are increasing makes it more difficult to offer the same quality of service.
  • Quality due to worse ratios for children and qualified staff leaving.
  • Having to increase our child to adult ratios from what we see as the ideal to that of the Ministry of Education’s minimum.
  • More stress on staff due to a greater work load, more sick leave being taken and inconsistency of care and education for children.
  • We will continue to be forced to work to capacity with child numbers and therefore it will be quite stressful and compromising.
  • Fewer teachers employed at our service and harder management.
  • The proliferation of "child farms” by licensing services for 150 children with a requirement for only 50% of teachers to be qualified.
  • Lack of support for the need for smaller sessional non-profit and private centres.
  • Less quality in our centre which is focused on profit instead of children’s education and care.
  • Our ability to sustain our robust and innovative professional learning programme for all our 30 teachers (most are now fully registered), is becoming more challenging.

4. Loss of revenue and increased competition between services:

  • In our district there needs to be a limit on the number of ECE centres allowed to open, we have eight in one area and only three are full.
  • Centres closing due to too many service providers.
  • Shortage of children due to five new centres opening 'in my area' since I bought my business seven years ago.
  • Falling roll, due to large for-profit centres opening in the area.
  • Funding and a saturated local area which has a new 100 child place centre opening next year.
  • Decisions to increase 'free' hours by local kindergarten service to under 3's affecting our home-based rolls.
  • Competition for small business getting really hard with large corporations under cutting smaller centres driving the price of ECE down which is better for parents but difficult for us to maintain.
  • Few parents are able to contribute fees now I don't see this improving in the future. Running costs will continue to increase.
  • We will have to increase our hourly fee to keep the 20 hours completely free and we are considering dropping the free morning and afternoon tea, as these costs can no longer be absorbed in business costs.
  • In 12 months we will be a 100% trained team of teachers which we cannot afford and the centre will need to make up the difference somewhere. Our budgets have already been slashed.
  • Trouble applying for grants to update very ageing equipment, providing new equipment and fundraising for outdoor environment.

5. The affordability of ECE for families:

  • Children missing out on ECE because we will have to charge parents higher fees.
  • I have given discounts for struggling families who were considering taking their children out as they couldn't afford the fees but they really wanted to stay as they wanted ECE. I see this as getting worse in the next 12 months and in turn this reflects on our budget.
  • Parent’s choices will be based more on cost rather than what is best for their children.
  • Many of our families are moving overseas to look for better life - it's hard to fill up the spaces in the centre.
  • Rolls in the under 2-years area of our service have dropped significantly. 
  • More parents will find themselves out of work and not able to afford childcare.

6. The negative impact of social issues and problems:

  • I guess it will be the children's behaviour because we will be receiving more children from vulnerable homes.
  • We will be dealing with a harder client group with some issues arising from ECE being compulsory for beneficiaries’ children to participate in.
  • Parents, especially those on a benefit, believing that their child can only get a good education if enrolled in ECE.
  • More pressure on parents of pre-schoolers to return to work, meaning less ability for parents to participate in Playcentre, or embrace their role of parents as first teachers.
  • With the government going to make it compulsory for children of beneficiaries to attend ECE the retention of these children will become a priority especially regarding transportation and the transiency of these families.

 

3.3.2.  Other things likely to worsen

Pressure on language nest centres could worsen as more parents want a place for their child but demand would not be able to be met according to one respondent:

  • We have a lot of children on the waiting list, wanting a language nest centre, and we can't cater for them because of the roll constantly being full.

A small number of respondents thought that regulations and official requirements would become more burdensome while a few respondents believed capacity to cater for children with special needs would continue to worsen:

  • Making all home-based educators have at least level 3 qualifications and other threats to Home-Based ECE services will probably see many great businesses close.
  • More and more ridiculous regulations taking up more time and putting more pressure on educators and service providers.
  • Our staff are finding the required focus on Māori and Pacific children difficult when few of these children attend our centre and we are a multicultural school.
  • Inclusion of children with special needs is an on-going dilemma for us.

 

3.3.3.  What is likely to improve

Below is a list of the main areas respondents (42%) hoped would improve over the coming year along with selected comments to illustrate their views.

Most of the comments on what was likely to improve were focused on what Government could do rather than on improvements that services might make internally. There seems to be hope or an expectation among some of the respondents that Government might give some kind of economic stimulus to the sector and that it might refocus on standards of care and education. 

It should be noted that what some respondents viewed as negative (e.g. falling rolls) may also be viewed as positive by others - for example a private centre manager expressed that an over-supply of ECE places in his/her geographical area would possibly help to lower the wage expectations of job candidates as centres would be employing fewer staff and there would be fewer jobs available.

1. Financial stimulus from the Government:

  • The money of the 20-hours ECE funding will increase.
  • Higher funding for 2 to 3 year-olds.
  • Improved funding and support for qualified teachers. 
  • Funding for transporting children so we would have more children enrolled.
  • Government recognising the need for and funding 100% qualified teachers in ECE.
  • Government offering more affordable or free professional development to teachers.

2.  A focus on quality and collaboration between services:

  • Children deemed priority by Government are now the focus and hopefully the system can meet their need so that they are getting the quality ECE that they deserve and which fits their circumstances.
  • Possible changes to requirements in training for Educators making it compulsory for Home-based educators to have Level 4 training to raise quality for children.
  • The introduction of more Playcentres around NZ as a key player in improving and enhancing the lives of families from all different backgrounds, and encouraging the family dynamic in society as a whole.
  • Community and not-for-profit (private) centres hopefully will get together to decide strategies for staying open.
  • There will be more encouragement/incentive for collaboration between ECE services and other organisations providing early childhood services to families.
  • ECE people will stand up and say we do not want to lose quality, we will educate the MPS on what ‘quality ECE’ looks like and they will listen!?

3.  Opportunity to attract new client groups:

  • Our roll numbers will increase due to the push for high needs families to have ECE.
  • More Māori and Pacific Island children accessing ECE services.
  • Maybe more children whose parents are on a benefit filtering through to our service.
  • Could possibly build another arm to the services we have already to cater for families in low participation Ministry of Education targeted areas.

4. Worker performance and management:

  • Within the centre, a strong creative team will help keep morale up and work towards creating quality learning and care.
  • Local competition has meant teachers are aspiring to improve their own professional practice.
  • Our teacher quality as we continue to invest in professional development.
  • Staff having more rigorous training on recognising and responding to child abuse in ECE services.
  • Our team’s quality of planning will improve.

 

3.3.4.  Other things likely to improve

A few respondents anticipated that their service’s income would stabilise or be healthier than at present:

  • Our 2 year-olds will turn three and we will get higher funding for them from the government.
  • Our income will be stabilising as roll numbers match teacher hours.

A small number of respondents looked forward to their service’s building improvements and upgrades:

  • The centre’s indoor and outdoor environment is being upgraded and we are looking at upgrading our resources as well.
  • We hope to have an area for teachers to do their non-contact work and have meetings. 
  • The opening of our extension and increasing our capacity for children by a third.
  • A return to our premises after earthquake repairs.

Getting time for a breather and a happier focus was mentioned by some respondents whose services had gone through ERO reviews and relicensing and by respondents whose services in Canterbury were affected by earthquake damage and stress:

  • We will have been checked by ERO and our relicensing will have been done by then. Gives us a breather for a bit!!
  • We have finished relicensing, so the burden of work on our families should now decrease.
  • Morale for parents and teachers will lift as Christchurch starts to rebuild.

 

3.4.     What the Government Most Needs to Do for Children 

In the 2011 survey respondents were asked, “if there was one thing Government could do for young children (birth to 6 years) right now what would you like it to do?  Respondents then wanted the Government to:

  1. Make sure a place is available at an ECE service for every child, regardless of family income.
  2. Ensure parents and parenting is valued as central to children’s early education, care, and wellbeing.
  3. Do more to prevent child abuse and keep children safe.

In this survey, we asked respondents if any of the wishes above were still important and to rate how important each was. We also added two issues that came to prominence during 2012 and surveyed respondents on these. The first issue concerned Ngā Kōhanga Reo taking the Government to the Waitangi Tribunal over unfair funding and treatment. The second issue was identified from the results of a national survey showing strong support by the ECE sector for gender diversity in the early childhood workforce.

Table 5 shows how respondents rated the importance of each of the five issues as actions for the Government to take.  Ratings were also analysed according to various group characteristics (such as service size, ownership, and respondent roles) and this data is reported in Appendix 2.

 TABLE 5.  What all 365 respondents wanted the government to do for children

% RATED AS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT

% RATED AS IMPORTANT

% RATED AS SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT

% RATED AS NOT IMPORTANT

AVERAGE RATING *

Do more to prevent child abuse and keep children safe at home and in the community

79.8

16.0

3.0

1.1

1.25

View parents and parenting as central to children’s early education, care, & wellbeing

70.6

25.0

4.4

0.0

1.34

Ensure a place in an ECE service is available for every child and access is not restricted due to cost

69.3

24.4

6.4

0.0

1.37

Recognise Te Kōhanga Reo as a valid option for children’s learning and ensure children are not disadvantaged by ECE funding rates and policies

36.3

39.4

18.6

5.6

1.94

Set goals and strategies for bringing men into early childhood teaching

32.0

46.0

18.1

3.9

1.94

* The rating system was “1” Extremely Important to “4” Not Important.  Thus, the lower the average rating, the more important respondents rated an item as being.

Most respondents indicated it was ‘extremely important’ or ‘important’ for the Government to act on each of the five issues. Doing more to prevent child abuse and to keep children safe was rated as either important or extremely important by as many as 96% of respondents.  Clearly, respondents thought Government was not doing enough in this area or not making enough of a difference with what it was doing.

Nearly all respondents wanted the Government to view parents and parenting as important in children’s early education and care along with making sure every child had access to a place in an ECE service their family could afford. This might seem contradictory but the finding suggests that respondents felt parents should be given a real choice as to how and by whom their child is cared for and educated before starting school and that cost should not be the deciding factor in the decision. The finding also suggests that the majority of respondents would like to see Government allowing ECE services to have more of a partnership with parents in difference to the role of parents in their children’s care and education being viewed as being of secondary importance by policy-makers.

Two equity and diversity issues were rated as important or extremely important by over 70% of the respondents – for Māori children not be disadvantaged by government’s ECE policy and funding if attending a Kōhanga Reo instead of a mainstream ECE service, and for the Government to see that children have access to male (as well as female) teachers. This finding could be described as surprising given that cultural and gender bias would be expected in responses from respondents who were mainly from mainstream early childhood services and not from Te Kōhanga  Reo and who were also probably  nearly all (although the respondents gender was not asked) women. The respondents wanted the Government to recognise the importance of addressing gender diversity and cultural equity issues. 

Analysis of respondents’ comments concerning each of the five issues is reported below along with examples of what respondents said in relation to each issue.

 

3.4.1.  Provide children with greater protection from abuse

The reasons given by respondents as to why Government must act more to keep children safe from abuse in homes and in the community included:

  • Just look at NZ statistics - someone has to do something.
  • This is an issue that needs to be addressed right here right now! This needs to stop and it starts with education!

Recommendations as to what the Government could (or should) do included: 

  • Refocus attention on addressing poverty rather than keeping a register which is reactive not proactive.
  • Support stressed families with no-cost drop-in childcare.
  • Financially support parents who sit in the poverty bracket.
  • Provide money for parenting skills education through all communities.
    • Set up practical programmes where parents learn how to care for their children and be parents, basics like cooking healthy meals, general hygiene (etc.).  Some parents today haven’t learnt basic skills from their parents. We need to stop the cycle and teach them how to parent without belittling them.
    • Parents and whanau continue to need help with understanding "normal" child behaviour and strategies to support children in positive ways.  Early childhood educators can play a key part in supporting parents.
  • Lift education and address poverty for Māori women, so Māori women’s self-esteem will lift and they won’t  accept the violent men that some of them take up with who then go on to abuse their children.
  • Support programmes that are preventive and realistic to today's society and grass root communities. Whanau Ora as a preventive programme maybe?
  • Ramp up training for judges and law enforcement to understand the dynamics of abuse. Empower child advocates in court. Review name suppression rules. Use meaningful sentencing.
  • Look at privacy issues around families in need of support.
  • Separating children from their parents for the purpose of early childhood education seems to be creating a loss of attachment which may influence outcomes in terms of abuse.
    • Having whanau staying at the ECE service role models strategies for parents to use outside of the centre. Being involved acknowledges the capability of parents as "teachers" of their child
  • Early childhood teachers need to be trained to see the signs and symptoms of child abuse as currently there is very little training. I find the understanding so basic in this country with little support for teachers.
    • I find it hard to assess situations - talking to the parents may make the situation worse - talking to outside agencies is difficult if you are not sure exactly what the situation is - the children tell stories at mat time about what happens at home but confirming what they say is true is difficult.
    • New Work and Income policies will mean more attendance by lower income children in ECE and we will have to be the eyes and ears to help those who are more at risk.
  • Start educating in early childhood education and school to teach children to understand their feelings and emotions and how to react appropriately and to understand other children's feelings and emotions and respond appropriately. This will ensure that they grow up with the ability to respond appropriately to events and relationships in their lives.

In addition, respondents raised concerns about how reports of abuse are responded to by agencies and indicated that Government should see that this is improved, for example:  

  • A government department needs to be available when notified of these children. I have had one service tell me there was a 6 week 'wait' until a person could 'assess' this family - too late the 'child and family' moved from our centre and moved to another town.
  • The services you report to need to be held responsible and accountable for notifications and not sweep them under the carpet or refer to back to the notifier to check it is abuse/neglect.  Past experience leaves our centre in doubt that CYFS are professional and accountable for their own policies and procedures.

The reasons why some respondents did not rate the Government doing more to prevent child abuse as a priority included: 

  • We are already doing a damn good job with this area already.
  • Authorities cannot be behind every child in NZ.
  • Is it the Government’s responsibility to keep children safe or is it the parent’s responsibility? If government policy was to prosecute all people who contributed to abuse either through not speaking out or not advocating for children then change could happen.
  • The real effort lies rather with local intervention and recognition of particular families/communities where the problem exists.
  • It is time that parents, extended family and communities took personal responsibility for ensuring the safety of children.

 

3.4.2.  Recognise and support parents as carers and educators of their children

Nearly all respondents viewed it ‘extremely important’ or ‘important’ that the Government not continue its current policy path of viewing children’s early childhood education and care as something that only takes place in an ECE service.  Comments included:  

  • Policy and funding is forcing the separation of children from parents, and it’s very concerning.
  • Early education starts in the home and the importance placed on it is pivotal.
  • Happy families are the foundation for life and learning and will prevent much of the child abuse so rampant in our society.
  • This is especially important for children who are at high risk and have experienced trauma. The current system is not supporting their needs; therefore change in society is not occurring.
  • The role of the parent is fundamental for the health, wellbeing and education of the child. This must be recognised in public policy. Parents should be supported to be the primary carer and educator of their children in the early years.
  • Some parents are very good and see to all their children’s educational needs but parenting seems to be given little value.
  • Parents are the key to relationships between children and ECE teachers. 

Many strategies were recommended by respondents including: 

  • Longer paid parental leave provisions, better funded parenting courses, and in turn more commitment to involvement in at risk families and lower child abuse cases.
  • Support families more financially to allow at least one parent to be at home with their children.
  • Recognise the parent's right to educate at home. Not all parents want to place their child in an ECE service.
  • Help should be available to educate parents about how to best to educate their child at home.
  • Have parenting courses available across all communities and socio economic conditions.
  • Direct early childhood education resources to ensuring people have the skills to be good parents and poor parents are identified and helped as soon as possible.
  • Create a portfolio for the ‘Ministry of Children’ to ensure our tamariki are considered in all changes to legislation.
  • Utilise fully excellent current services such as Playcentre and Plunket which are unique to NZ and well established.
  • Government needs to do something for our unemployed males.

Respondents who believed that it was ‘not important’ or only of ‘somewhat importance’ for the Government to treat parents and parenting as central to children’s early education, care, and wellbeing gave reasons such as: 

  • It depends on parents, their socio-economic background etc.
  • Some parents have no education and drive to success.  Children in care may pick up life skills from their teacher such as how to talk about problems and how not to hit when angry.
  • I think the Government already focuses on and values parents in ECE.

 

3.4.3.  Ensure ECE is affordable and accessible for all families 

According to the respondents it is ‘important’ or ‘extremely important’ for the Government to ensure ECE is available and financially accessible to all families for reasons such as: 

  • Any mention of cost and some of our families will be absent for a while and others leave.  Cost remains a barrier for participation for some families.
  • Access to ECE plays an important role in helping develop children's basic and essential skills for their life and future learning.
  • ECE centres can help build a strong community, give children sense of belonging and wellbeing that is not limited to academic learning, but works to support it.

Specific recommendations for Government were also put forward by respondents in their comments, including:

  • Culturally appropriate opportunities for ECE need to be available.
  • Go back to funding the child rather than the place - funding should be equitable for children and not for the cost of the service as it sets up perverse incentives for operators based on inputs rather than outputs.
  • Centres should not be given government funding unless they show how they put children first and profit last.
  • Cost is one of many factors parents take into account, but free hours for over-threes comes with a lot of conditions in some services that restrict parents’ access.
  • No child should be disadvantaged because of $$, however, if parents are not working or in training then they should be made responsible to attend ECE with their child.
  • Access can be restricted to low income families and in rural areas because of the cost of travel.
  • This should include funding for children's transport and lunch too.
  • It is not just cost. We offer a free service to families. The problem is inflexible legislation e.g. the frequent absence rule limits access for some of the most in-need children in NZ.
  • The Government needs to remember that ECE services in low income areas cannot charge the some fees as centres in higher income areas.
  • Since 20-Hours Free ECE funding began, the inequity for parents of under-3s has been hard on families and hard for management/teachers to explain to them.
  • The Government should provide free ECE for 0-3 year olds as well and uncap the current six hour day limit.
  • The 20-hours funding is available even for those families who do not need financial support. Support should instead be made available to those who really need it!

The reasons given by respondents who rated it ‘not important’ or only ‘somewhat important’ for the Government to ensure an ECE place is available for every child and access is not restricted due to cost included:  

  • It depends on the age of the child.
  • Parents need to prioritise.
  • Personally, I have never had any issues finding available childcare, and kindy is free for my son (although I know that this is not the case in all cities). Between the 20 Hours ECE and the WINZ subsidy, I feel that 'cost restriction' isn't too much of an issue at the moment.
  • There should be some centres available for free but when it comes to small private centres there may well be some restrictions due to the cost of keeping small centres running.
  • This could put unfair financial demands on some ECE providers.
  • Cost is an important factor but it has to be remembered that a lot of owners carry significant debt to own a Centre, and are operating as a business - it must be commercially viable.

 

3.4.4.  Provide equitable funding for kōhanga reo and recognise its educational value

Recognition of the value of learning for children in Kōhanga Reo and equitable funding for kōhanga was considered to be ‘extremely important’ or ‘important’ for reasons such as: 

  • Not enough Māori teachers makes it unrealistic for (mainstream) centres to give deep levels of education to Māori children when we know language and tikanga are key to their learning.
  • Kōhanga Reo has their own philosophy in which they work under. They should not be disadvantaged because of cultural beliefs/values as children's education is just as important to them as to any other service.
  • Children must have the opportunity to learn within their culture.
  • Acknowledge Kōhanga as part of Māori self-determination.
  • Parents should have choice. This choice is removed to an extent if these centres are not adequately funded.
  • All funding should be equitable - and Kōhanga Reo holds mana whenua and achieves the unique standards (whakapakiri) required to give the tamariki a great start in life, their birth right. 

In regard to specific strategies, it was suggested that: 

  • Government needs to avoid a 'one-size-fits' all approach. Some lateral thinking is needed to ensure that Kōhanga Reo can continue to be unique.
    • Hard decisions need to be made in the sector to ensure teaching te reo Māori is not a tokenistic exercise as it is now.
  • Funding rates and the rules around funding need to be reviewed.
    • I feel this is an amazing service but in my area it isn't utilised as much because parents work and can't afford to have services shut because of tangi, (etc). 

Personal biases toward their own service were expressed by respondents in some comments, for example:   

  • Support for Playcentre is important too.
  • As long as Kōhanga are meeting the same licensing requirements as us.
  • Yes they should be supported, but their kaiako must have the same qualifications as we do in teacher-led centres.
  • We think the language is very important for children in Kōhanga Reo but maybe we (in the mainstream services) need the availability of support language teachers/ aides.

Respondents who were against or who believed it was only ‘somewhat important’ for children that Kōhanga Reo is treated and funded equitably provided reasons such as: 

  • It is more important to me that all children have access to trained teachers.
  • Māori get the same funding and WINZ entitlement as all New Zealanders!!
  • Cater for the majority rather than a cultural minority until these services lift their quality.
  • All children should be treated equally; there should be no distinction between ethnicities.

 

3.4.5.  Improve gender diversity in the early childhood workforce

Increasing male representation in early childhood teaching was rated as an ‘extremely important’ or ‘important’ for children for reasons such as: 

  • An experience of diversity is essential for all children.
  • It is time the male witch hunt was brought to an end and men can feel safe to enter the profession.
  • We need more positive male role models for children, to be seen as people who can care for children.
  • We had a male teacher for 4 years - he left to do a business degree - we miss his perspective and male presence in the centre (especially regarding 4 year old boys).
  • We have two Playcentre dads and they both bring a different aspect to what us mums bring.
  • Men can change nappies and feed children - fathers do it every day for their children. So what is different from working in this field?  Moreover, many children are growing up in single parent families and having access to male teachers will help these children.  It's opportunities for growth for children and men and not for restrictions.

Recommendations as to how Government could act to bring more men into young children’s early education and care in services included:  

  • Government should be accountable for providing evidence of the encouragement of male teachers into the profession.
  • Stimulate a mind shift in thinking about male ECE teachers in society.
  • Make it safe for men to enter teaching – e.g. set-up mentoring and provide confidential support services.
  • Set a government target of two male teachers in every ECE centre – to normalise the presence of men.
  • Allow services to take on male teachers who are not qualified.  Surely senior registered teachers can supervise and mentor them.

 The reasons why a minority of respondents did not rate getting more men into ECE to be a government priority included:  

  • It is more important to retain qualified teachers - of any gender.
  • The risks to children of having men outweigh any benefits.
  • It’s something men need to decide themselves if it’s worth doing because they put themselves at risk because of stereotypes and prejudices (a male teacher I worked with was accused of abuse when nothing had happened).
  • What skills do men bring, fun, risk, excitement into learning, can women up skill to do this?
  • It is more important for children to have male teachers from primary school onwards.
  • I consider it parents, family and whanau responsibility to provide positive male role models for children and not the responsibility of the ECE service.

 

3.5.     What the Government Most Needs to Do for the ECE Sector

In the 2011 survey, we asked respondents “If there was one thing Government could do for early childhood education right now what would you like it to do?  Their answers to this open question revealed three main wishes for how the Government may best assist the ECE sector.  Respondents wanted the Government to:

  1. Restore previous funding for, and the target of, 100% qualified registered teachers in teacher-led ECE services.
  2. Focus ECE government policy not on saving costs or benefiting ECE providers but on ensuring the best standards for children (e.g. group size and ratios) alongside bringing in more regular inspection.
  3. Provide certainty and consistency in funding and support for all ECE service types, thereby taking stress off the sector and retaining choices for parents.

These were used as a basis for more specific questions in the latest survey. In addition, the 2012 survey asked respondents whether it was important for the Government to fund a public/community ECE system fully to ensure all children had access to free ECE. This is something that had been lobbied for by some in the ECE sector in the past and it was included in the survey to ascertain if it was still important today.   

The priorities for Government given the highest ratings by respondents were to:

  • Work toward creating political stability in funding and policy for the ECE sector (89% respondents).
  • Bring down ratios for under-2s children - currently at 1 adult to every 5 under-2s (84.5% respondents).
  • Restore the target and funding for 100% qualified and registered teachers (82% respondents).

Also highly important but rated on average as slightly less urgent was for the Government to:

  • Get the Ministry to be tougher on services in breach of regulation or criteria (80% respondents).
  • Bring in regulation to limit class sizes in early childhood centres (76% respondents).

Rated also as important for the Government to put in place was:

  • A universal (free) system of ECE through public/community provision (67% respondents).
  • More regular inspection of ECE services (54% respondents).

 

TABLE 6.  What all respondents wanted government to do for the ECE sector

AVERAGE RATING *

% RATED AS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT

% RATED AS IMPORTANT

% RATED AS SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT

% RATED AS NOT IMPORTANT

Certainty and consistency in funding and ECE policy

1.49

63.9

25.5

8.6

2.0

Lower the child to adult ratio for under-2s

1.60

61.6

22.9

9.9

5.6

100% qualified registered teachers in teacher-led ECE services

1.62

63.2

18.7

10.9

7.2

Ministry to be tougher on services in breach of regulation or criteria

1.83

40.1

40.1

16.7

3.1

Limit class size in ECE centres (group size)

1.87

43.2

32.9

17.3

6.7

Free public-community ECE system

2.01

44.1

23.3

19.9

12.7

More regular inspection of ECE services by ERO or the Ministry of Education

2.44

17.7

36.6

29.6

16.1

* The rating system was “1” Extremely Important to “4” Not Important.  Thus, the lower the average rating, the more important respondents rated an item as being.

The data on what respondents wanted the government to do most were also analysed according to various group characteristics (such as service size, ownership, and respondent roles) and this data is reported in Appendix 3.

The following sub-sections report analysis of respondent’s comments on government priorities for the sector and include a selection of the comments received.

 

3.5.1.  Provide certainty and consistency in funding and government policy

The top priority for the Government is to give the sector financial and policy peace of mind or security, according to 89% of respondents who rated this as ‘important’ or ‘extremely important’.  Respondents’ comments suggest the sector wants to trust Government to keep its word on policy promises and intentions:

  • The 'ten-year strategic plan for ECE' at least gave us a common direction with clear expectations. We worked hard to achieve the goals only to have it all change by a new Government, particularly in relation to supporting, training, and employing qualified staff and then having funding removed.
  • We need the funding to go back to centres who have worked hard to get up over 90%+ of trained and qualified teachers.
  • We are sick of the goal posts always being moved for political reasons.  This is not always to improve the practices and quality for children.

Respondents wanted the Government to put children first and ahead of money and politics:

  • Yes and for an agreement to be formed that children "are our future" and every policy and decision made should be first measured against the impact on children.
  • Early childhood care and education should NOT be a political tool.
  • Go hard to lobby this at the footsteps of parliament.

Respondents commented that achieving stability and consistency in policy and funding services would help them to engage in medium to long-term financial planning more confidently:

  • Yes! It is very difficult to do forward planning and budgeting when you don’t know which political party is going to be in power and what their ECE objectives are going to be.
  • This is something that is very essential for continuity for families, centres, and teachers. We find ourselves holding our breath each time there is a Budget or change in Government.
  • Owners need to plan and while corporates may have the resources to weather political change, small owners often cannot. 
  • For costing purposes to give more certainty for ECE service developers and operators when opening new centres.
  • It would offer security that would support the high investment cost of developing and maintaining services.

Respondents who did not rate this as important or of low importance mostly viewed this as too difficult to be achieved:

  • Co-operation of parties would be beneficial but certainty/consistency of funding is impossible to predict in the present global climate and naive and selfish of early childhood to believe otherwise.
  • Not feasible - it is politics. Every party has different priorities in its term - as long as there is certain stability around funding rates then centres should be prepared for regular policy changes depending on who is in Government. Labour would spend a lot more, National recognises the dollar has to be spread a number of ways.

 

3.5.2.  Decrease the number of children per adult for children under two years

Reducing the ratio of children aged under 2-years to adults was rated as an ‘extremely important’ or ‘important’ action for the Government to take by 84.5% of respondents.   Respondents’ comments showed concern for the well-being of infants and toddlers in ECE services along with concern for the wellbeing of those who work with them.  It is a top priority for the Government to address for reasons such as:

  • What parent would be expected to care for five children under the age of two without assistance?
  • In ECE there is an expectation you can care for five babies simultaneously – there is not even a pram or buggy suitable for five babies.
  • Parents who have multiple births are afforded home help for a period of time, however, the current ratio upholds the belief that teachers are more capable of nurturing your child.
  • Definitely; attachment theories are stretched when ratios of 1:5 apply – our babies need quality care.
  • The little ones benefit hugely from the dedicated attention of adults.
  • We run at even better ratios than the minimum of 1:5 and I still think 1:4 is too high. Needs can't be met as quickly and it is necessary to meet needs quickly for infant and toddler mental health and development. If a 1:4 ratio is a requirement for Home-Based ECE why is it not a requirement across the whole of the ECE sector?
  • One adult to two children around the age of two months, for example, is unrealistic when there are other older children to supervise. I believe that high ratios for under-2s compromise their safety and quality of care.
  • I have seen a lot of teachers become very stressed and overwhelmed especially if you have infants in your care and they particularly need one-on- one attention and then trying to also make sure that the other children who are a little older are not disadvantaged.

Among the respondents who did not rate changing the current minimum staffing requirement for children under-2 years as an important priority for the Government this was for reasons such as:

  • A good centre should be doing this anyway without having it enforced in regulation. We have a ratio of 1:3 for our babies (up to 15 months), then 1:4 from 15 months to 2 years.
  • I will probably be the odd one out here, but I see lower ratios as somewhat problematic with teachers idle and/or overly engaged with infants and toddlers. Idle minds can become interfering.
  • Don’t increase ratios in large centres as many children are sleeping or playing happily.

 

3.5.3.  Regulate for and fund 100% qualified teachers in teacher-led services

Reasons given by respondents as to why the Government must act to restore the target and fund for 100% qualified and registered teachers in teacher-led ECE services included:

  • Yes - this should not even be a question - but a child's right!
  • It is a necessity if the Government expects high quality education for our children.
  • No other education sector is required to use untrained teachers, but our current funding system encourages the use of untrained teachers.  ECE should be valued.
  • The message that is being sent to families is “your children need qualified doctors and nurses to care for them but not the people that impact on their lifelong learning.”
  • Stop creating a 2-tier system in the ECE sector with kindergarten (sessional) being 100% qualified teachers and other ECE services not required to have 100%.
  • The Government owes centres who at high cost to themselves have worked for a number of years to ensure they were in the position to meet government’s original target of 100%.
  • It is extremely difficult to have a centre commitment to 100% qualified teachers when this is not acknowledged and reflected in funding. If we want to maintain and grow teachers and quality environments for children and their families the investment needs to be made.
  • The reduction of registered teachers dumbs down ECE and contributes to a low morale in the sector.
  • While the theory may be that parents cover these costs and the 80-100% qualified teachers funding band, this is not the case in a centre where low fees is a priority and essential for families.
  • We are at our 80% funding level but still have 3 teachers to get to full registration - 2 years ago I had one teacher going through her 2 year advice and guidance programme and was able to send her to workshops and conferences to consolidate and extend her knowledge. I am not able to afford to do that with the teachers going through the process now. The Government argues that the 80% funding allows centres to pay for this themselves, which is true when you are not subsidising families in the community who cannot afford childcare.

Actions recommended to the Government to take included:

  • Realistically, 80% and above is an achievable goal.
  • The Government should now regulate the 80% target by 2012 it had set.
  • There should be a funding band for 100% registered teachers.
  • Centres that achieved the 100% set goal should not continue to be penalised.
  • If we want quality education, ECE services should be well served with qualified and registered teachers. However, if the target remains at 80% as it is, the remaining 20% should be different professionals who also have huge contribution to early learning - e.g., social workers, counsellors, child psychologists, Plunket nurses, heritage language experts/linguistics etc., creating a wraparound learning for a child.
  • The 100% target of teachers in ratio could include up to 20% of teachers-in-training.

The reasons why some respondents did not rate as important, or as being of little importance, the restoration of the target and funding for 100% qualified teachers included:

  • Non-qualified staff offer many skills and are often very cheerful people.
  • Absolutely not - practical experience should be valued over paper qualifications.
  • Often there were unqualified relievers who were actually a lot better at the job than some people with qualifications. Also experience can often count for a lot more than 3 years of theory/essay writing/reading.
  • Very important to have at least 80% qualified teachers but it is more important to ensure the quality of teaching from the teachers and the quality of the training for teachers.
  • I would struggle to maintain 100% qualified all the time.
  • Parents are the best teachers for their children.
  • I am concerned that it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain an ECE qualification as Diploma programmes are becoming replaced by degree - and that we may be losing potentially great teachers (ESL, Māori & Pasifika, less academically inclined), by restricting entry into the profession based on qualifications.
  • The previous 100% funding bracket created a shortage of qualified staff as well as inflating staff wages to a point where those in the lower funding bracket were unable to attract staff due to the employing power of the corporate centres.

 

3.5.4.  Improve quality control – be tougher on services in breach of regulation

Around 80% of all respondents viewed it as ‘extremely important’ or ‘important’ for the sector that the Government get the Ministry of Education to be tougher on services not in compliance with legal requirements.  Their comments included: 

  • Being tougher with poor centres will flow on to higher expectations across all centres.
  • We need to present a professional front to families and some ECE services are letting us down.
  • There needs to be more of a process to support the reporting and follow-up of issues raised with the Ministry and ERO.  I have phoned the Ministry with a complaint before about a centre and I was brushed off.
  • The Ministry of Education is not consistent in the advice or information provided and therefore I can only assume there are many services out there underperforming and not meeting the minimum requirements.
  • The system should be fair for all.  If services get away with non-compliance for whatever reason it is not fair.
  • Someone needs to stand up and ensure minimum standards - and the regulations are just minimum provisions.
  • Just because a service is licensed shouldn’t mean that they can then become slack. Let’s face it there are some cowboys out there.
  • Services need to be accountable especially when using government funds.

Within the comments, many strategies were recommended including: 

  • There should be monitoring systems in place.
  • A more firm approach would give confidence in the standards of care. Centres should be closed immediately to protect children.
  • Operators should not be able to get new licences when they have a history of poor quality in their existing centres.
  • Three strikes and you are out needs to come into play.
  • The Ministry should be required to deal more severely with breaches like hitting a child or financial misappropriation.

A few comments were made in respect of the Ministry needing to take into account the ECE provider’s perspective before assuming that a provider is at fault:

  • What can appear to breach a regulation may well be explained by the provider.
  • Getting tougher must be tempered with not just an 'on the spot' assumption about breaches.
  • Some of the breaches these days are due to lack of funding to pay for adequate staffing.
  • Most centres only breach regulations or criteria because managers and staff lack appropriate training and resources.

The reasons given by respondents for not rating getting tougher on services in breach of legal requirements as important reflected concerns such as:

  • Some regulations do not fit with Playcentres and these cause unnecessary stress to a Playcentre to the detriment of families.
  • The interpretation of the regulations and criteria are very broad and mean different things to individual officials – so what might be a breach to one might not be to another.
  • I think support is more important than punitive measures.

 

3.5.5.  Regulate maximum class sizes in ECE

As many as 76% of respondents rated it ‘extremely important’ or ‘important’ for the Government to bring in regulation to limit class sizes (also known as ‘group size’).  The reasons given for this being a priority included:

  • Families cannot feel a sense of belonging when they attend centres with large group size where they are just a number.
  • In my experience larger group sizes tend to decrease the amount of interaction teachers can have with children, leading to more disruption and tension.  Smaller group sizes and lower adult-child ratios make a significantly more positive and pleasant environment for children.
  • Children really need to experience small and home-like environment where they can get proper care and attention.
  • It is not good for children to be coping with too many other children around them all of the time.
  • Very important!  I've visited centres with 20 under-2 children in the room and it was horrible, so noisy and busy, and this honestly shouldn’t be allowed to be accepted as quality ECE.
  • We are registered for up to 30 children and I find that this is challenging at times. I have worked in places with less and more and find that the smaller group sizes are optimum for children and teachers.
  • The impact of large class sizes is so well recognised for older children but babies and pre-schoolers are meant to be able to cope with enormous group sizes.  The smaller the child the more intimate the group needs to be. Yet we have the opposite loadings with preschools having licences for 150 pre-schoolers or 75 under 2s and even if they break them into small rooms there are still preschools with up to 50 over 2s in a room and 25 under 2s. This is so wrong on so many levels.
  • For children’s safety we don’t want to run a centre that is running to the limit of its resources and capacity.
  • Big centres are too noisy for little children.
  • Centre owners should be made accountable when they try and cram children in for funding purposes.
  • Those of us who are aware of the importance of this are doing it now but regulation changes would need to be signalled well ahead as there is a considerable financial involvement.
  • Bulk early childhood education through big centres bring good money to owners but it’s not good for the financial sustainability of small private centres.

The reasons given by respondents rating the introduction of class size limits as not an important priority included:

  • The market will regulate this.
  • I think ECE centres are able to manage their own class sizes within.
  • Usually I would agree, however, our group size is reduced throughout the day due to having lots of rooms/spaces within the centre.
  • If high teacher ratios are available the number of children should not matter.
  • Large centres offer more variety from more teachers.
  • What we have is okay, I would hate to see segregation of children into groups.

 

3.5.6.  Provide a free public-community ECE system

Overall 67% of respondents wanted a free public-community ECE system and rated this as ‘extremely important’ or ‘important’.  Not surprisingly, the majority of respondents from community-based ECE services considered this to be a priority (84%).  Of note are the 48.5% of respondents from private and commercial services who rated this to be priority for Government  – they viewed this as important to ensure access to ECE for children in hard-to-reach areas and children whose families could not afford to pay fees.  They did not view a free public ECE system as being a threat to their own private/commercial service or to the private sector as there would be parents who would still choose to go private.

The reasons for wanting a free public ECE system included:

  • Free ECE for families is happening now with 20-Hours ECE right? Yeah right!
  • PLEASE!!! Why should the poor miss out.
  • All children have the right to a State provided free education to a high standard in NZ. Why not the same for ECE?
  • This would be awesome. Whanau and families would be more supported through full access to ECE that is in their community.
  • This would encourage parents to be involved and not worry about the cost of staying when they want to stay with their child at the centre.
  • There are plenty of centres in our community, but I imagine in some areas this would be the most practical idea.
  • Why are private childcare services not treated in the same way as private schools. The Government should NOT be involved in the funding of private childcare centres.
  • I agree with this if private providers were also fully funded - to provide alternative philosophies for instance.
  • As a not-for-profit organisation with the community as the centre piece to our set up it is essential to support these organisations. I don't believe that anyone should be profiting from the care and education of our smallest tamariki.
  • Wouldn't this be utopia - for a community owned centre such as ours.
  • That would be awesome. We struggle to pay our dedicated teachers at the rate privately owned centres do.
  • Fully agree and would be willing to be part of this process if the future dictates.

Some respondents suggested utilising kindergartens and Playcentres or providing ECE services in schools as logical ways for developing a free public ECE system:

  • This would be a regeneration of the old kindergarten association model providing free access to any child.
  • Investing in existing kindergartens would be an obvious choice.
  • Playcentres should be asked to do this. They do it well already and build strong communities while they do it.
  • ECE services should be attached to schools and managed by the school as a community service.  Therefore ECE services are more likely to be viewed as education centres and have the same community feeling as schools currently do rather than being corporate money making machines.

Respondents also indicated some conditions they would like to see on a public ECE system, such as: 

  • What is meant by ECE? ECE to me is sessional for 3 hours a day or a couple of days a week. Anything longer is day-care.
  • Also give more support to organisations such as REAP.
  • But don’t forget to also support the parents at home in parenting and education.

A few alternative funding priorities were suggested such as:

  • Probably unaffordable for the country. There should instead be more incentives for parents to stay home with their under 3's.
  • The spirit of the 20-Hours funding scheme should be upheld.  The Government should make sure that there are no extra charges and that children are not discriminated against - why should centres be allowed to insist that a child take the full 20 hours or longer when the parent doesn't want them to attend that much - especially when they are younger?

The reasons given by respondents who did not consider instituting a public ECE system to be an important priority for government included:

  • I am not certain that community-based ECE will provide a quality service.
  • Private ECE providers need to be funded too.
  • Not all for-profit centres are money makers as some reinvest in the children.
  • There are some grey areas for example church-run centres are community-based but can be operated to make a profit? Are all big corporations which are privately owned only out for profit?
  • I believe the private system works better as it is my experience private systems can do more with a lot less.
  • Obviously this would be the ideal for parents but not financially possible for the Government
  • No - there is no such thing as free education. People need to understand that it is a privilege and not a right. Families need to work for something in order for it to have value.
  • People do not value things that come too easy.
  • It’s a free market. Pay for what you want.

 

3.5.7.  Improve quality control – increase ECE service inspections

More regular inspection of ECE services was rated as ‘extremely important’ or ‘important’ by 54% of respondents for reasons such as:

  • To ensure services are meeting their requirements within legislation.
  • More regular visits would be motivational and encourage centres in their quality.
  • Services should be visited regularly to support them to continue to lift quality and sustain quality.
  • Struggling services would benefit from more contact through more visits.
  • For us personally, the Education Review Office will be seeing us for three hours on the day they visit us. I don't know how they can get a sound view of our kindergarten in that time.
  • The Ministry and ERO should just arrive and with only one day's notice of arrival - what you see is what you get. Who speaks for children if centres are able to prepare and move staff and equipment and ensure policy and procedures are all in order prior to the arrival of government representatives?
  • ERO checks the home-based agency but doesn’t visit each of the homes where the children are.  ECE should not be a baby-sitting service. 
  • I see too many services running below what would seem to be reasonable standards.

The result of a seeming lack of sufficient inspection at present is reflected in these two comments:

  • Government should be taken to task on the number of low quality centres.
  • It is clearly the parents' responsibility to check on the ECE service provider they are using by attending sessions themselves and make sure services come up to their specific expectations.

Recommendations as to what the Government could or should do included:

  • Tell ERO that more regular inspection is more important than the new self-review criteria it is now focusing on. The basic level of care, education and the experiences children have right now in centres is important.
  • Spot checks with no warning should be administered to all services.
  • ERO should not carry out reviews during school holidays as they do not get the true picture in ECE when the number of children attending is down.
  • As long as they actually take action post inspections rather than re-checking for compliance and then re-checking a few months later and then again.
  • ERO needs to be given more teeth, to actually do something about the substandard centres, and not just simply visit them.
  • The Ministry needs to be given powers to be stricter when services are running badly.
  • ERO should be accountable for ensuring that it observes teachers working with children and talk to parents about their understanding and evaluation of the service.
  • ERO’s snap shots examining paper work don't give a true picture. Long visits with observations are needed.

Another action – that of the Government commissioning an independent review of ERO’s capacity and effectiveness to inspect and review ECE services and its relationship with the ECE sector - is suggested by the comments this question generated on ERO itself.  Here is a sample of the comments:

  • ERO staff need to show an interest in, and understand, each centre’s philosophy and view that centre as such. Staff should not make comments about 'when they worked in Kindy ...’. It is very frustrating.
  • Its written reviews are irrelevant at times to what is actually happening in a service.
  • ERO should inspect services with open and unbiased eyes instead of following the current political agenda/focus.
  • More important is professional development for the expectations of the ERO reviewers.

Respondents who gave a rating of ‘not important’ or of only ‘somewhat importance’ gave reasons such as:

  • ERO already inspects often enough.
  • When an inspection is due the focus goes in any case on paperwork instead of children.
  • The new emphasis on self-review and the initiative to increase visits to four years for centres with quality self-review practices is great.
  • Only centres that are not meeting requirements should be visited more regularly.
  • I am looking at this from our perspective where we are working really hard to be the very best we can be. Any extra ERO visits would make no difference whatsoever.
  • Unless centre owners and managers are self-motivated, more frequent visits will not support improvement.

 

3.6.     Punishing Parents for Not Using an Early Childcare and Education Service

The idea of introducing financial penalties for parents who do not use an ECE service received little support from respondents.  Seventy per cent of survey respondents answered an unequivocal “No” to the question of “should the State fine or financially penalise a parent who does not regularly send their 3 year- old to ECE/childcare?”

The data were cut in different ways to see if the majority of respondents in any particular group or type of service supported the idea more than others but little difference in opinion between groups was found (see Table 7). Those most against the idea were home-based ECE service respondents, ECE service committee members, qualified teachers, and large ECE organisations with multiple services.

TABLE 7. Percentages of respondents who Replied ‘yes’, ‘maybe’ and ‘no’ to the State penalising parents financially for Not regularly sending their 3 year-old to an ECE/childcare service

YES

MAYBE

NO

Total of All Responses (N = 365)

5.8%

24.7%

69.6%

ECE Service Representatives (N = 300)

5.7%

26.3%

68.0%

Community-Based Service Representatives (N = 148)

4.7%

25.0%

70.3%

Private and Commercial ECE Service Representatives (N = 138)

5.8%

29.7%

64.5%

Small Centres - 50 or fewer children (N = 152)

5.3%

24.3%

70.4%

Large Centres - more than 50 children (N = 41)

2.4%

31.7%

65.9%

Organisations with 10 or more home and/or centre licences (N = 19)

5.3%

21.3%

73.7%

Centre-based Service (N = 267)

5.6%

27.7%

66.7%

Home-based Service (N = 33)

6.1%

15.2%

78.8%

Has Child Places for 15 hours or Less a Week (N = 89)

4.5%

29.2%

66.3%

Enrols Children Under 2 years (N = 95)

4.2%

30.5%

65.3%

Parent or Caregiver with a  Parent-Led Service/s (N = 19)

5.3%

26.3%

68.4%

Owner or Part-Owner in an ECE Service/s (N = 83)

6.0%

30.1%

63.9%

Management Committee Member (N = 19)

10.5%

10.5%

78.9%

Service Manager,  Supervisor or Director (N = 148)

5.4%

27.0%

67.6%

Qualified Teacher (N = 70)

5.7%

20.0%

74.3%

 

3.6.1.  Reasons for wanting children’s attendance at ECE to be enforced

The main reasons given by the 5.8% of all respondents who agreed that the State should financially penalise parents who did not send their child to an ECE service were as follows.

1. Parents damaged children’s future if they did not place their child in ECE: 

  • It is extremely important for children to get some form of early childhood education.  I feel this is an area that would greatly improve children’s academic outcomes as they progress through school.
  • This is the important time of preparing the child before moving into a mainstream education system.

2. Parents were not demonstrating responsibility as parents and respecting children’s rights if they did not place their child in ECE:

  • Every child has a right to attend an ECE service.
  • It's the child's future they are messing with, not their own!
  • ECE improves outcomes for children, so most responsible parents will already be using ECE services by three years and it is the children of other parents that are being disadvantaged.

3. The risk of child abuse is higher when children do not attend ECE: 

  • If a child attends regularly then this would maybe help reduce the child abuse problem we are seeing at the present time.

4. Parents who receive government money should be accountable for how they bring up their child:

  • Parents who receive funding for bringing up their child should have some accountability for funding they are getting from Govt.

5. Parents will be better educated as parents and informed about ECE if they are made to use an ECE service: 

  • I think this a great idea especially for beneficiaries as this can benefit both the children and their parents through giving the child a great start to education. It could also support the parents and provide information to them about other services they can access and teach the parents about ECE.

 

3.6.2.  Respondents’ reasons for rating this idea as a ‘maybe’

Some respondents were not sure if this was a good idea or a bad idea, or they wanted conditions placed on it. Below is a list of the main reasons with selected comments from respondents to illustrate. 

1. The idea is liked but not making it legal or punishing families financially:

  • I don't like the idea of more regulations but for the child it would be good.          
  • Preschool teachers will become the eyes and ears looking out for at-risk children, however financial penalties inevitably affect the children's welfare and living standard.
  • We are a democratic society.  Why not make ECE very attractive to families instead of penalising if they don’t use it and encouraging fear.   
  • What about rewarding parents for having their child regularly attend ECE, i.e. petrol vouchers or the like?
  • Parents whose children attend should get a bonus – a positive reward being a better behaviour modifier than punishment.     

2.  Any gains could be outweighed by the cost of monitoring and additional stress on parents if arrangements are difficult for them and their child:              

  • Finances are tight for everyone, how would this work in favour of the child? At the end of the day it would add undue stress on the parent.      
  • It depends as in some areas there are not enough choices of ECE services and the choices might not suit the family parenting style or culture.           
  • Hard call - there will be a number of factors like no vehicle and freedom of choice taken away from parents in terms of services available to them.  The Ministry would have to make sure there are adequate services to take on more children and the services are providing high quality.       
  • Not all ECE centres are good so forcing parents to use one may have harmful consequences.

3.  It would be good for some children but not for others:

  • It would not suit all children, especially ones with special needs or whose health or psychological well-being could be put at risk by being in noisy and crowded environments with lots of other children, and easy spread of diseases, etc.
  • Only make families use ECE if the child is at-risk or the main caregiver is unfit to give adequate care and education.
  • If the child is getting what they need from the home, such as social skills and language skills, then NO.  But not all children in New Zealand are getting this support from their home life.
  • It depends on whether it is a parent’s conscious choice not to use ECE rather than the parent just not making the effort to make sure their child has a stimulating environment.   
  • If not attending, then can parents show their children are being educated "as well and as regularly" as if they were attending a licensed centre (as used to be the benchmark for home schooling)?

4. It is a good idea to require of some parents but not of others:

  • If they are dependent on the State for financial support to care for children, then there should be some "deliverables".  The State is paying for parents to do a job - care for their children - so they should be measured.  Must attend Well-Child checks, must enrol in ECE for 10 hours per week, must attend parenting classes, etc.     
  • It depends on individual circumstances.  If they can't afford food or transport then there is no point taking money away from them.            
  • I think people on benefits should send their children to ECE and could be penalised as this tends to be a group that would benefit more from it. But I’m not sure a blanket approach is the right way to do it, maybe it should be on a case-by-case basis.        
  • I am not in favour of State control and social engineering, however, I have spent an entire career promoting the benefits of early childhood education for children and families and appreciate that some children live in chaotic and dangerous homes. If we are serious about equality and preventing abuse there is maybe a case for the State to override parents and insist on their child attending. But I do not see this as a carte blanche across all parenting environments prior to primary school.  

5.  It is a good idea if a broad definition of ECE is taken that includes parents as educators:           

  • All 3 year-olds must have some kind of ECE, but it needs to be very broadly defined as all families have different needs.  Language nests, home-schooling and all kinds of playgroups and licensed centres should count. But to allow families to do nothing with their three-year olds puts them too far behind when they start school.         
  • Depending on what they have in place at home - if they are already in a parenting programme like HIPPY, or if they are taking care of their children's needs at home well then why should they have to send them somewhere?
  • We don’t have the right to fine a family who doesn’t use childcare as we have to remember that our country has people from many different cultures.  Families differ in how they want to raise their child because of their values and beliefs.  I think as long as parents show they are giving their child an opportunity to learn to their optimum limit then this will fine.      

     

3.6.3.  Reasons for not supporting the enforcement of attendance at an ECE service

How children are taught and cared for when they are very young and before they start school is the choice of parents and not one for the State to make according to the comments of the majority of respondents who were against the idea of the Government financially penalising families who did not use ECE. This and other reasons given by the 70% of respondents who gave a definite ‘no’ to the idea are outlined below with quotes to illustrate.

1.  The use of an ECE service is a parent’s choice:

  • ECE is not a compulsory sector and it is simply wrong and probably illegal to punish parents if they don’t place their child in it.            
  • Parents should make this choice. While research suggests that children do well when they attend ECE centres, there is no research (that I am aware of) on all of those children who do well enjoying time at home with their parent(s).  For those parents on a benefit this could be seen as one of the (few) good things about being unemployed – they will be able to spend more time with their children. 
  • Parents need to take responsibility for their children!  The State interferes too much as it is.
  • It is a parent's right to decide where to place their child – staying within the family may suit some children and parents best.    
  • There are many caring and responsible families who choose to educate their children at home and it is important they are able to do this.
  • Who says childcare is any better than what a parent could provide? Will the next step be banning parenting – and instead placing children in ECE from birth?
  • Involvement in education should not be a punitive reaction it should always be based on positive outcomes for people to be involved.                 

2.  Requiring families to use ECE regularly could make it harder for ECE services to have a supportive role and partnership with families:

  • Don’t take a punitive approach.  In ECE we value respectful practice, care and relationships with our families.    
  • Often children are absent for reasons such as tangi and other family expectations.  Centres are already penalised financially if a child is absent for more than 3 weeks.
  • No one should feel forced as then they will not value ECE and their child being in ECE.   

3. A much more positive difference for children could be made through parenting and family support:

  • Why not recognise parents as suitable educators of their own children?  It is ridiculous that any parent who cares for another parent’s child in a centre or through an in-home education agency is accepted to be a capable and trustworthy educator but not when it comes to their own child.               
  • Parents are totally capable of providing early learning opportunities at home. Parents have a greater ability to provide care and warm nurturing relationships than an ECE service with high numbers of children to adults.
  • Less than 20 years ago fewer children attended ECE and we've turned out ok – the focus should be on children’s early learning experiences and not on being present at an ECE service.
  • Many children have grown up as competent and productive citizens who have never attended ECE. Research doesn't support that ECE is always the answer - the answer lies in the quality of interactions and response between children and caregivers whether parents or teachers.    
  • Some parents have alternative arrangements which provide just as much care and education as ECE - e.g. grandparents who take these children to activities such as library story times, music classes and much more. We should not underestimate parents and whanau as educators. New entrant teachers’ expectations for children starting school are mostly basic skills such as sitting and listening so children who do not attend ECE centres are not being left out when they get to school.

4.  Attending ECE might not be right all of the time for some children and families:

  • In our area the ECE places with spaces have vacancies for a reason.  A parent should not be forced to put their child in unless they are 100% satisfied with the place on offer.             
  • Understanding of health issues for children and family expectations such as Grandma needing to spend time with the child would help.     
  • Families can face many issues and there may be no ECE services with spaces that are right for their needs, e.g. disabled child.  
  • As a Pacific Islander, we were always taught by our elders at home and I believe parents should have the option of their children being at home.    
  • Some people don't want their children to go somewhere where they are not able to keep an eye on them and make sure that they don't get hurt. My husband was one of these people and it has taken him 2½ years to finally let our child come to the centre I work in - so everyone has their own opinion.  

5. Children in a range of different circumstances will not necessarily be advantaged by attending ECE if made to do so:

  • There is no empirical research saying that children who come from warm loving stimulating homes are worse off because they did not attend ECE.            
  • Three-year olds are still young, too young to be in education institutions, they need their parents.
  • Some children don't cope with being separated from their families at this age.  
  • The State should only intervene in cases of neglect or abuse when kids truly are vulnerable - and then children should be removed rather than the policy being for these parents to use ECE as a means of reducing this vulnerability.     
  • As a mother there were many times when my own children did not attend kindy. The reasons ranged from illness (small children can often be unwell), wanting to stay with Mum and go shopping, visiting friends or whatever, to hanging out in Pops garden – these were all wonderful learning environments.  We need to support parents to be the best that they can be and value the input families offer. We can ill-afford the mind-set that ECE facilities only can provide valuable experiences for children.  
  • A parent’s participation in their child’s life is more important than attending an ECE service.

6.  It may make little difference to parents’ uptake of ECE:

  • If it is for financial reasons why a parent does not use ECE (i.e. travel, etc.) then fining is not going to make them take their children.
  • Some parents already can't afford to send their child. There is no free ECE anymore so why fine them for avoiding another debt?  
  • Rural families find it extremely difficult to attend any service regularly. They should not be penalised.

7. There are other and better approaches Government could take to meet its target of 98% child participation in ECE:

  • If people are worried about the wellbeing of children they need to do something then and there, and not add to the parent’s stress of getting a child to a centre or fear being penalised.  If anything, invest in Plunket and offer quality help and support in the home from day one. 
  • Make ECE accessible to families that find it difficult to get there.               
  • Providing jobs and adequate housing and income levels would support families to enrol children in ECE.                               
  • Government should be advertising the benefits of early education rather than penalising parents who choose to keep their children at home.     
  • Putting more time and money into educating parents as to what ECE services offer would see an increase in participation.
  • Services such as Plunket who are in contact with parents can advise parents on options.  Make these visits more often and the flow on effect will be that parents will learn about and be encouraged to use ECE through Plunket.               
  • The State should reward a parent who sends their child to ECE.
  • Participation in ECE is an unrealistic expectation for some parents in some circumstances and not all services offer quality for children.  It’s better for children to focus instead on parent education and support.  
  • I don't think it is necessary for a 3-year-old to attend ECE.  I think it is important for a 4-year-old, in order to help prepare them for them for the social aspects of schooling (e.g. being used to being a large group of children, being used to being away from mum/dad, etc.).          
  • Often children do not attend because of health concerns, tangi, or the car is broken down. Assistance for the centre to cover extended absences and add a requirement for the centre to be regularly following up with the family might work.         
  • There are many children who are three, four, and five who are accessing ECE without their data being collected, for example the children of parents who are caring for other people’s children in home-based education.  There is nowhere for this information to be collected/validated so these children are not included in any statistical data.

 

3.7.     Compulsory ECE and Parent Choice

A question on whether parents should be allowed to choose not to place their child into ECE generated a lot of comment, and some of this was quite strong or heated especially among those who argued that parents had a right to make choices for their child’s care and early learning.

Table 8 below shows that while nearly all respondents considered it was important for parents to have choice and control over their child’s early learning and care when their child was under 3-years of age, more respondents agreed that for children over-3, parents could be told to use ECE.  ECE was believed by many of these respondents to be important because it provided socialisation for children and prepared children for school.

Asking respondents whether certain groups, such as people who received a government benefit or who were Māori, should have a choice and not be made to use ECE for a child of any age (0 – 5 years) also generated a lot of comment.  Up to 30% of respondents argued that it was biased to single out any group of parents or indicated that they could not state ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to parents retaining choice. The government’s present view that the children of beneficiaries should made to attend ECE was supported by 17% of respondents.

TABLE 8.  The level of support for parents with children of different ages and from different ethnic, income and single-parent groups, to be  allowed to choose not to place their child into ECE

% TOTAL RESPONSES
(N = 365)

% ECE SERVICE
REPRESENTATIVES (N = 300)

Yes

Maybe

No

Yes

Maybe

No

Children under 12 months

93.7

4.4

1.9

93.7

4.3

2.0

Children 1- 2 years

88.8

8.2

3.0

88.3

8.3

3.3

Children 3 - 5 years

52.6

30.1

17.3

51.0

30.7

18.3

Children (any age) of beneficiary families

52.6

30.3

17.1

51.3

31.2

17.4

Children (any age) of Māori families

60.9

25.3

13.8

59.2

26.4

14.4

Children (any age) of Pacific families

60.4

26.1

13.5

58.9

27.1

14.0

Children (any age) of single-parent families

59.3

27.5

13.2

57.5

29.4

13.0

Children (any age) of low-income families

59.8

26.0

14.1

57.9

27.9

14.1

Respondents’ views were also analysed according to various group characteristics (such as service size, ownership, and respondent roles) and this data is reported in Appendix 4.

3.7.1.  Reasons to preserve ECE as a choice for families

Depending upon factors of child age, family ethnicity, income, beneficiary and single-parent status as many as 94% and as few as 53% of respondents viewed participation in ECE as a choice that parents and not the State should make for children. The main explanations given by respondents as to why they wanted children’s attendance at an ECE service to remain optional are outlined below.

1. Parents have a right to choose when and whether to use ECE and not aid the Government to meet its target of 98% of children in ECE:

  • To take away parent choice is totalitarianism. Provide parents with information on ECE and leave them to decide how best to raise their own children.
  • Any parent should be allowed to choose what they think is best for their child.  We should never forget this.  Financial status does not mean they are better or worse at parenting.
  • Every parent has the right to make decisions for their own child, while I encourage early childhood education parents still need to make that choice themselves.
  • Whanau should not have to explain why they will or won’t put their children into ECE. It is their choice. We need to show the benefits of ECE in a positive light and not bully parents into making decisions for their children.  No matter who you are or where you come from all parents want the best for their children and we all need to work together to enable the best outcomes for all tamariki.

2. No parent should be stigmatised:

  • I agree that these children can be disadvantaged but this stigmatises parents who may be doing a great job.
  • Being poor, Māori, Pacific Islander or a single parent doesn’t mean they are bad parents.
  • The most important thing is to support whanau/families to understanding their child's development and what is appropriate parenting.  I also manage the PAFT programme in our area which influences my thinking. There are "good" parents and "bad" parents in all of these groups so don't use a family's ethnicity, social or financial circumstances to make policy.  Rather give them support. 

3. Pedagogical and organisational conflict for early childhood services would be created by compelling any group of parents to use ECE:

  • We teach independence to children in our centres and then take away their choices when they are adults?  It hardly adds up!
  • Making parents send their children to a childcare/education facility is contradicting the premise that parents are the child’s first teachers and we as teachers need to work with the parents/whanau.
  • The capacity of centres to provide for those compelled to attend who don’t want to attend would be a problem.
  • I do not believe that children are not learning at home with parents.
  • ECE in NZ is based on choice: choice about whether or not to take part in ECE, choice about what sort of ECE, choice about what hours they are involved.
  • How dare the government think it can make this kind of decision and that teachers can parent better than mums and dads. At most, we are a contact for at-risk families.

4. There is a risk that children might be put into an environment that is worse for them or will not make a positive difference:

  • ECE is not going to be able to solve the issues. Many of the poorer families also live near poorly performing and less well-resourced centres and these will not benefit the children, and may make things worse.
  • Good learning at home is much more preferable to bad day-care.
  • I understand some groups of children are failing at school and not attending ECE is believed to be a cause of this.  However, I still believe it is parents’ choice and question whether attending just any ECE centre, no matter what the quality of the ECE is, will improve outcomes for children.
  • The added stress and costs of getting a child to an ECE centre is not the answer for at-risk families.
  • All children need to spend more time with their parents, we as teachers cannot provide the same bond for children.
  • Children can still be abused if they are attending an ECE service full time. In fact it makes their parents less attached to them, increasing the risk of resentment they may feel towards their children and their children toward them.
  • Different children/families value and need different things and ECE's don't provide for this, especially love and knowing what's best for a child.

5. Education is better than regulation:

  • Parents need to take responsibility for their children’s development - educate parents first.
  • Parents need to be more educated about the importance of getting ECE for their children so they can make better choices for children and their future.

6. Increasing the accessibility and attractiveness of ECE is better than regulation:

  • I am sure if parents in low income families could access FREE childcare that would improve their situation then they would. You can't legislate to make poor people spend more money when they are already struggling to put food on the table. Make ECE affordable and attractive and they will bring their children
  • Everybody's situation, values and beliefs are different. I think it's more the government systems that need to be making services available that suit individual needs (rates, hours, philosophy, etc.).
  • When a parent sees the value of the service they will make use of it. The service must bend to suit the parent and then the parent will be willing to send their child.

7. Only when problems in parenting are apparent should there be intervention to require parents to use ECE or parent support systems:

  • I have ticked yes to parents having the responsibility as most parents make very good decisions for their child. I think we should monitor if parents are not doing their parenting "job" well, and the at-risk families should have their responsibilities taken from them.
  • Parents should be first teachers of their children and we need support systems that allow parents to be empowered to do this.  Only those who are incapable of this should be made to put their child into care.

3.7.2.  Reasons to make attendance at ECE compulsory for children  

The comments supplied by the up to 17% of respondents who wanted ECE to be compulsory for children of one or more age-groups or from one or more groups of families explained their reasons. These reasons are outlined below along with a selection of direct quotations.

1. Families should be told what to do, as they are not capable of making the right choice:

  • Māori, Pacific, Single parent or low income families do not always make the right choices about their children's education, so they should have no choice.
  • Opportunities need to be available to children of lesser financial means unfortunately often this means parents need a legislative inducement before they act as they often do not see the value or benefit of early childhood education.

2. Beneficiaries are less likely to be safe or good parents:

  • When claiming a benefit from the tax payer they should have to comply. Most child abuse cases are from children of beneficiary families.
  • It doesn't matter about ethnic background but it does for socio-economic background, i.e.: solo parents have less time and energy to provide quality for their child and should have to place their child in ECE.

3. Children are safer in an ECE service than in their home environment:

  • Sometimes children would be better off spending time in an environment where they are responded to and cared for in a way they may not be at home.  It can sometimes be their safe place.

4. ECE is a child’s right and therefore the State must ensure parents give them this right:

  • All children deserve to socialise and learn in an appropriate centre, including Kōhanga Reo and Playcentre.

5. The parents of children who attend ECE parent better than those who do not use ECE:

  • I can only speak from our centre’s point of view, a quality environment for a short period each week (depending on parent's work commitments) should enhance what parents are doing with their children outside of the centre.

6. Only ECE can give children the socialisation and education they need from 3 or 4 years of age:

  • From 3 years children need socialising with other children in a centre.
  • Parents of children under 3 years should be able to choose. For the benefit of their future education children over 3 years should attend some pre-school service.

7. The ECE industry provides jobs and money for the economy:

  • Just make it compulsory!  Parents will be working and bringing money into the family, there will be more jobs in ECE and we won’t have to worry about filling empty spaces. 

8. Research is claimed to show that ECE is invaluable for children and therefore it should be compulsory:

  • All the studies show improved educational skills from children participating in ECE.
  • The social, educational, and emotional value to the child of quality ECE is proven.

3.7.3.  Why some respondents did not want ECE to be mandatory for a particular group(s)

The explanation most respondents who indicated ‘maybe’ to making ECE compulsory gave was that while they supported ECE and wanted children to participate in it, they disliked targeting ECE to a particular group of families/children.  Some stated that they preferred ECE to be made compulsory on a case-by-case basis rather than according to ethnic group or family income.  Others simply noted that compulsory ECE would be nice but it would not be a very workable policy. 

1. Compulsory ECE for any particular group of children and families would be discriminatory: 

  • Although the 5 last options are indicators for families where children are harmed, it is not true that all beneficiary, Māori, Pacific, single, and poor/low income families harm their children. I think that we need to be careful not to stigmatise fantastic parents because of statistics.
  • I put maybe as I don't believe we can force parents to send children if they choose not to.  Making ECE compulsory must be for a better reason other than their race, income, etc.
  • I do not like this question - at risk children come in all income groups and ethnicity.
  • This is a hard one ... one can generalise but that is dangerous as not all Māori/single/... need to have the decision taken from them and others should be made to enrol their children in high quality ECE.

2. Preference for ECE to be compulsory on a case-by-case individual rather than a group basis:

  • It would depend on the level of competence of the person/people providing the care at home.
  • Before I got my qualification I was a solo mother with 4 children (part Māori). I enjoyed the job of mothering and raising my children and worked hard to provide them with everything they needed, love, security, values, kindness and laughter. One is a plumber with his own business, one is a project consultant, one is a qualified builder who is studying to get his quantity survey qualification and the last one has just finished his first year at Teachers College. Whilst this may be the exception rather than the rule single/solo parents can and do make a valued contribution to the lives of their children. We have many young/single/solo/low income families at our centre and they are all doing a fabulous job at caring for their children. I believe that it should be a choice. However, children/families who are identified as being at risk (and I don’t believe this should be measured on income alone) should be in some sort of care and education facility.
  • It shouldn't matter what race a child is or what income they've been born into because that is blatant discrimination - instead the requirement needs to be based on individual families, and yes that would mean a lot more work than just saying all brown/poor kids over 3 years need to go to ECE, but if a child is not having their needs met then it needs to be looked at individually.
  • I don't believe we can administer a 'one size fits all' mentality to the raising of our country’s children. I do believe though that children and families identified as 'at risk' or under CYFs care should be required to attend an ECE facility.
  • Every parent and whanau have needs and personal history and so they need to be consulted individually - we have home schooling, religious, health, and many other influencing factors that need to be considered.

3. ECE is essential for every child but it may be unworkable to make it compulsory:

  • I agree that all children should be in ECE, however how responsive are parents going to be if they are forced to put their children in ECE?  Beneficiaries need to be empowered to make good decisions for their families and need to know their children are in quality centres.  How would the government intend to place all these children?  How would it provide for children in remote areas?  How would it make sure parents have choice of type of service? Travel will be an extra cost and fees will be an extra cost to parents. 
  • Often resources available for families who may wish to have their child attend ECE limit their ability to access such services. So where resources are lacking, perhaps the option to allow children to be learning at home with support from agencies could be a method for overcoming barriers.  This question opens a can of worms really as we know many children are safer and have increased potential for learning in specific early childhood environments.

3.7.4.  Ideas for alternatives to compulsory ECE for encouraging attendance

Some alternative ideas to compulsory ECE were suggested by respondents in their comments and these included: 

  • Recognise and value parenting as an option for ECE - there are a lot of really good parents who are very skilled and effective in teaching their children.
  • Provide more parent support services such as HIPPY, and PAFT.
  • What should become mandatory is regular (bi-monthly) visits to all families by qualified professionals to support parents as teachers (e.g. ECE teachers and social workers).
  • Increasing options and funding for supporting parents in their home would be great, including building centres with drop-in capability for parents.
  • Maybe the schools should have pre-entry classes and when the child has demonstrated they can meet various goals then they start school (rather than at age 5) so if they are nearly 5 and gaps are prevalent the family can be directed to a centre for extra support in meeting the expectations.
  • I would be more interested in early intervention to prevent unwanted pregnancy, teenagers choosing pregnancy.  Let’s be the doctor at the top of the hill rather than the ambulance at the bottom.
  • Bring back funding for ACE, so adults can attend free education and be empowered about learning so that they can pass this on to their children.

 

Section 4: Conclusion

This is a comprehensive report on how things are going in the early childhood sector from the perspective of those on the sector’s frontline. It gives a clear indication of what people most want Government to do in responding to children’s and the sector’s needs.  Each section of the results provides insights important for those determining the policy priorities.

The results as a package suggest that early childhood education is going in directions that would be very worrying for parents and for people with knowledge of what young children need to be happy, form good relationships, and thrive intellectually, socially, and physically.

For example, the Government via the Ministry of Social Development is planning to apply financial sanctions to families receiving a benefit who do not put their child into an ECE service. At the same time, the Ministry of Education is planning to harvest the contact details of families with young children from other agencies and find ways to convince them that they have to use ECE or risk harming their child’s future educational success. Yet, this policy direction is viewed by many working in the ECE sector as a political one and not in the best interests of a sector that values parents as being important for children’s learning and participation in early childhood education as a voluntary activity. 

The results also point to conflicting pressures such as providing great care and learning for children while facing increasing staffing costs, less or no increase in funding, falling rolls and few options available other than to find ways of increasing the hours that children attend, increasing the number of children attending, and increasing child-to-adult ratios. There is little confidence that things will improve during 2013. 

It seems from the analysis of the results that the biggest single problem in early childhood education is with government policy and funding not appearing to back the sector in a way that shows an understanding of early childhood care and education and what is needed for it to work well. 

It will be interesting to see in a year’s time if the low levels of confidence are confirmed by reports of how things have gone.  Or perhaps 2013 will turn out to be a better year for the ECE sector if the Government surprises the sector by being pro-active in making changes that are accepted to be in the best interests of children such as reducing the child-adult ratio for under 2s, funding for 100% qualified teachers, and regulating for maximum class sizes. Members of the ECE sector might also work to turn this around by engaging in strong advocacy for children and for the integrity of ECE to be preserved.      

A note of caution must be added here and that is that analysis of responses also revealed some major differences in opinion between respondents depending upon factors such as their role within the sector, if they were from a private and commercial service or a community-based one, a centre or a home-based service, and other ECE service characteristics such as service size. This finding suggests it would be intelligent for the Government and its departments to not regard any single ECE lobby group as representing the views of those it says it represents, since views and the intensity of those views may differ.

 

References

Education Review Office (2011). Early childhood education review methodology project - survey results. Retrieved from http://www.ero.govt.nz/Review-Process/For-Early-Childhood-Services-and-Nga-Kohanga-Reo/ERO-Reviews-of-Early-Childhood-Services/Early-childhood-education-review-methodology-project-survey-results

Fergusson, D., Boden, J, and Horwood, J. (2012). Early Start evaluation report.  Nine year follow-up.  Wellington: Ministry of Social Development.

Fergusson, D.M., Horwood, L.J., and Lynsky, M.T. (1994). A longitudinal study of early childhood education and subsequent academic achievement. Australian Psychologist, 29(2), 110-115.

Ministry of Social Development (2012). The Green paper for vulnerable children.  Every child thrives, belongs, achieves.  Wellington, NZ: Ministry of Social Development

Parata, H. (2013). Benefits of early childhood education promoted to Pacific families.  NZ Government Press release, 15 February 2013. 

Silva, P.A. (1980). Experiences and activities and the pre-school child: A report from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Child Development Study.  Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 5(2), 13 – 19.

Smith, A.B., Grima, G., Gaffney, M., Powell, K., Masses, L. and Barnett, S. (2000). Strategic  research initiative literature review - early childhood education. Report to the Ministry of Education.  Dunedin: Children’s Issues Centre.

Sylva., K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I., and Taggart, B. (2004). Effective preschool education. A longitudinal study funded by the DfES 1997 – 2004. London: DfES and the Institute of Education.


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