The Ministry of Education in New Zealand regulates and funds early childhood education and childcare services.
A Short History of the Ministry of Education in Regard to Early Childhood Education
Previous to the formation of the Ministry of Education in 1989, kindergartens were supported by their regional kindergarten association and Department of Education Board.
Kindergartens were widely considered to be part of the state education system along with primary and secondary schools. Kindergartens were part of the public sector. The government viewed itself as being joint owners of kindergarten buildings and grounds due to its investment in and provision of rent-free land etc. (Note that without discussion or explanation, today the Ministry of Education treats kindergartens as being private operations and has allowed kindergarten associations to form companies and run childcare centres and provide home-based ECE).
Childcare centres, playgroups, nursery schools, crèches, family daycare and preschools were operated autonomously by their owners or community groups without interference by Government Departments. This was in the days when funding was not given to these services, they were funded through parent fees and donations and often supported by volunteers or staff who were willing to work often for no more than a minimum wage (note however, that it was still possible for privately-owned services to make a considerable profit if fee charges were high and the wage bill was low).
The Department of Social Welfare licensed early childhood service facilities. It also regularly carried out inspections (often surprise inspections without notice) for the purpose of making sure that services maintained full compliance with regulations.
Today the Education Review Office has taken over the monitoring function but does not always specifically check for compliance with regulations as it sees this as the role of the Ministry of Education. Though once a service is licensed the Ministry of Education may not visit the service again in its lifetime unless it receives a complaint about it or the Education Review Office recommends that the service contact it for advice or support before the next ERO visit.
When ERO visits/ reviews an early childhood service it is mostly interested in looking at written documentation and procedures and relies on the operator's honesty concerning meeting minimum regulations. ERO does not do spot checks or unannounced visits. It may choose to visit an early childhood services as little as once in every four years.
The Ministry's legal power to tell ECE services what to do and its assumption of stewardship of the sector
While it takes Parliament to pass legislation to make changes to Education (Early Childhood) Regulations. The Ministry of Education today has considerable power to set a lower level of regulation which is called 'criteria'. The 'criteria' are very extensive and prescriptive, covering the regulations and extending them. It is no wonder then that many operators report being faced by a seeming maze of requirements and that compliance is a major part of operating an ECE programme.
The Ministry of Education has taken over the traditional partnership that early childhood services had with parents and their communities, and assumed control of many aspects from curriculum to governance through to influencing the hours that a service opens through how it funds services.
A popular term in the public sector to describe the management of a private sector is 'stewardship'. As stewards of the ECE sector and individual services, the Ministry of Education in many ways must defend the operation of services and do its utmost to support them even in the face of criticism.
ECE providers must comply with the Ministry though this may sometimes mean not responding to or overriding the wishes of parents/ users and community.
As the only national early childhood network to encompass all early childhood interests and people who care for, teach, and research young children ChildForum meets a need for unbiased informed support, advice and information which may also concern relationships with the Ministry of Education and critiquing Ministry policy, performance, etc.
Early Childhood Education Policy
The Education Ministry advises Government ministers on early childhood education policy. It has a major responsibility for policy analysis, forecasting, and reporting of trends and threats.
It must follow the direction of the Minister who sits within or outside of Cabinet who holds the portfolio for Education. This is almost always a Minister who sits within Cabinet and is the Minister of Education rather than an associate minister.
For example, Government policy was to increase children's participation in ECE so the Ministry of Education worked out that it should allow and encourage ECE providers to set the minimum hours of enrolment at 20 hours instead of setting a rule that services signing up to the scheme must be flexible and allow parents to access any amount of hours up to 20 for free.
Would you like to keep up with news and changes concerning the Ministry of Education?
Often it is hard to know what you need to pay attention to among all the material and notices put out by the Ministry of Education.
Should you be new to the early childhood sector, work for an early childhood service, or manage a service you will find it helpful to participate in ChildForum and discuss matters and issues with other ECE people as well as receive advice and expert interpretations of what you need to know.
Further related information
Ministry of Education regional office address contacts and complaints information - View by clicking here
Issues and problems facing the early childhood sector and Ministry of Education responses - View range of articles/ topics here
Government policies and election promises made by political parties - Read more