While the 2016 Budget announced that the early childhood education (ECE) sector will receive $397million over the next four years and $39million this year, the money is earmarked to cover the costs of larger numbers of children attending ECE and does not represent any boost to quality.
The budget revealed that an extra 14,000 children are expected to participate in ECE in the coming years as the Government continues to work towards its participation target of 98% of children having been in some form of ECE before they start school.
ChildForum Chief Executive Dr Sarah Alexander said while the funding would no doubt be welcomed by those looking to expand the ECE sector in business terms by increasing participation, it would not help services that were already struggling to make ends meet, and carried absolutely no guarantee of improving quality within the sector.
She said: “Over recent years the government has failed to keep promises for improvements in standards and staffing. There was once a strategic plan in place for the management, funding and development of the quality of ECE but this appears to have been totally discarded. There is no longer a coherent vision for the sector and no plan for maintaining and improving quality”.
Dr Alexander said the early childhood education system was broken. Government’s view of the early childhood education system as a whole seemed to be becoming more about business and getting as many children through the doors and less about the quality of care and education for those children, despite those actually working in the sector consistently asking for help to ensure standards can be improved. The Government also appeared to be losing sight of a parent’s role as their child’s primary caregivers and educators, by continuing to push more children from a very young age to be in education.
She added: “The Government continues to look to increase child participation and maintains that it gives children a better start in life, but there is still no money for improving teacher/child ratios, implementing optimal group sizes, supporting community-based services, supporting parents as educators, encouraging the employment of qualified teachers or other quality standard improving measures that the sector has repeatedly asked for”.
The budget also allocated spending to give more assistance to children with additional learning needs but this will be targeted only at schools, rather than ECE as well which Dr Alexander said could be a missed opportunity.
She said: “Any funding to help children reach their potential is welcome, but earlier intervention could be beneficial for many of these children and support them for the transition to school. Again the ECE sector has been asking for money too in this area and again this has not happened.”
ChildForum will be hosting the Early Childhood Management National Forum on Friday (27th May) in Wellington, where Dr Wendy Boyd, from Southern Cross University, will be addressing ECE service owners and leaders about, among other things, what Australia has been doing in implementing a quality improvement and accreditation system for its early childhood education services.
Dr Alexander said: “We expect there will be lots of discussion about what the New Zealand government could put money towards so it is used more effectively to ensure good educational, social, and behavioural outcomes for children – because that’s what most early childhood education providers and children want for children”.