The Ministry of Education in New Zealand regulates and funds early childhood education and care 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.
But today, 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 there is a serious incident involving a child that the Ministry believes could be related to deficiencies in the service.
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 mean overriding the wishes of parents/ users and community.
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 holds the portfolio for Education.
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.
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