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(DRAFT of) Open letter on Kindergarten Changes

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Feedback on this draft is welcomed - please add your feedback and suggestions. A final copy will be prepared on Monday 29th May and sent to relevant organisations including kindergarten associations and the Minister of Education. 

 

DRAFT 

kindergarten signOpen Letter 
May 2017

Do you see the free public kindergarten as having had its day or as being important to retain?  Whatever your opinion is on this matter, we hope you continue reading this letter as it contains discussion and perspectives that everyone involved with the early childhood sector needs to know and consider.

The free kindergarten is a model that is highly suited to the needs of children. It has served generations of kiwi children and families well. Its structural quality has provided a robust basis for effective teaching and learning. Kindergarten teacher salary and working conditions have set an important benchmark for the rest of the ECE sector without which other teachers (and the ECE sector) would be worse off. 

As with the school system, it may be argued that NZ should retain a public system of early childhood education that takes all children, is funded fully by the taxpayer with donations only from families, is run transparently, and stably staffed with the best teachers it can recruit.

This open letter has been prompted by news of the Heretaunga Kindergarten Association in the Hawke’s Bay being among the latest associations to make changes to the way it offers kindergarten services. Auckland Kindergarten Association also recently announced that it was considering a serious restructure including scrapping term breaks and extending the 6 hour day attendance for children at many of its kindergartens to 7 hours.

The changes raise questions concerning:

  1. How to manage the risk to children of institutionalisation - spending more hours in non-parental care at a young age than is necessary for children’s learning and for their care and protection.
  2. Whether kindergartens can provide support that will help to make changes in the home that any vulnerable child goes back to at the end of the day when teachers have less or no non-contact time for work with parents, planning, and liaison with support agencies.
  3. How far kindergarten will assimilate or be assimilated into being a childcare service and be even more at the mercy of political whims related to the supply of childcare services and views on the need for qualified teachers to deliver the curriculum, such as when the government dropped funding from covering 100% qualified and certificated teachers to 80%.

If associations continue on the track of assimilation into the childcare sector instead of retaining their unique point of difference as free and public kindergartens, there will be no reason for the government to maintain an interest in wage negotiations for kindergarten teachers. It could be argued that associations no longer have a right to free or taxpayer subsidised use of public land and buildings not available to other ECE services.  When there are no longer any sessional-licenced kindergartens in the country the separate funding rate for sessional kindergarten with 100% certificated teachers will not show any more in the Ministry of Education funding table. For all statistical and funding purposes kindergartens under kindergarten associations would be counted and treated as ‘education and care centres’, a classification that for example includes community kindergartens run under the BestStart private family trust childcare agency brand.

There is a perception that kindergarten will die if kindergarten association managers and boards do not change how kindergartens operate to compete more and more strongly with the operators of services that provide year-round long-day childcare. But actually to be well positioned to survive in the strongly competitive childcare market and to properly support the childcare needs of full-time working parents a kindergarten would need to offer 8 or 9 hour days of care, or be changed back by its association to being a sessional-licence and offer morning or afternoon preschool sessions for the children of working parents using Home-based ECE.

The erasure of kindergarten as a unique choice for families is unfortunately getting closer to becoming a reality. The consequences of this happening are grim. 

  • When the last remaining sessional kindergarten in New Zealand, Ponsonby Kindergarten, is changed by its 'owner' the Auckland Kindergarten Association to an all-day licence there will be no free kindergartens left in NZ that meet the definition of a free kindergarten under the Education Act. 
  • The Ministry of Education will no longer need to collect separate statistics on Kindergartens and the category of Kindergartens will no longer feature as a distinctive choice in our early childhood system alongside childcare centres, playcentres, kohanga reo, home-based ECE, and hospital-based services.
  • The Kindergarten Teachers Agreement is important for the government to continue to have responsibility for teacher wages and conditions but Kindergarten Associations through their actions are making it possible for any government now to remove kindergarten teachers from the State Services Act and Labour would have no case to restore kindergarten teachers to the State Service Act as it has previously done after National removed them.
  • Even teachers working in childcare services say that 6 hours plus a day of institutionalised education is too long for young children.
  • Any possibility of early childhood teachers in the childcare sector gaining pay parity with kindergarten, and kindergarten teachers with primary teachers, would disappear when/if kindergarten teachers are removed from the State Sector Act.  

But we hope that this open letter raises awareness and gives opportunity for discussion about where kindergarten is heading.

Kindergarten is a unique and much loved part of our education system, serving many generations of children and families and it will be a sad day when it is fully assimilated into being not unlike any childcare service and communities and parents are locked out of running and having a say over their local kindy for their children.  

It is hoped that the NZEI union will come out strongly in support of retention of the high quality kindergarten education model - it is still not too late and late is better than never.  

Government commitment and actions to secure the future of kindergarten is needed.  

Kindergarten associations need to put their greater responsibility as a community service to children, families and to the quality of early childhood education in Aotearoa New Zealand first, and focus on retaining kindergartens' distinctive point of difference in the early childhood system. 

Yours sincerely,

  • Sarah Alexander 
  • Bianca Dykman
  • Louise Carrington
  • Janet Walden    
  • Louise Baker 
  • Michelle Simon 
  • Helen Betts Byrne
  • Sandra Mead
  • Franzi Corker
  • Marnie Rosser
  • Heather Marshall
  • Joceline Triscott
  • James A Doyle
  • Kimbeley Cammock
  • Angela Palmer
  • Lorraine Gray
  • Patt Jepsen
  • Heather Thurlow
  • Vida Schurr
  • Cheryl Kingi
  • Melissa Collins
  • Maryanne Gilbert
  • Garrett Kett
  • Mindy Cheung
  • Emma Dobbie
  • Liz Sutton
  • Anita Stowell
  • Suzanne Brocx
  • Katherine Belz
  • Teresa Robertson
  • Lee-Anne Turton
  • Sandra Tukukino
  • Natasha Humphrey
  • Sandy Thompson
  • Michelle Smithies
  • Viv Browne
  • Chris Bell
  • Rhonda Leigh James
  • Rebecca Harris
  • Ruth Bennett
  • Anuja Jena-Crottet
  • Sharron Raams
  • Christine Smith
  • Amie Whiting
  • Angela Kimber
  • Michelle Cross
  • Donna Marie Plasmeyer
  • Sheree Davys
  • Sandra Pearce
  • Renate Simenauer
  • Claire Eyres
  • Monique Snow
  • Dena Chrishelle Baxter
  • Sandy Lugton
  • Kelly Griffiths
  • Sandi Frearson
  • Tanya Tucker
  • Sharon Lewis
  • Zair Taylor
  • Caroline Bowald
  • Cindy Logan
  • Kaye Goodall-Anderson
  • Stacey Shannon Mckellar Murphy
  • Angela Mitchell
  • Jess Welsh
  • Carma Bailey
  • Kimberley Powell
  • Rhonda Follows
  • Ashleigh Potts
  • Mel Hart
  • Sarah Collins
  • Geraldine Redpath
  • Megan Utting
  • Jennifer Millar
  • Lyn Hoffman
  • Tammy Wellaway
  • Joshua Moreland
  • Antonia Mountfort
  • Jennifer McBride
  • Rachael Sanderson
  • Helen Hansen
  • Kate Liddington
  • Mark Walker
  • Tui Skelton
  • Angela Drabble
  • Donna Courtney
  • Denise Durbin
  • Maree Conaglen
  • Linda Petrenko
  • Melissa Hopcroft
  • Georgina Head
  • Glenn Furniss
  • Marline Couper
  • Rex Couper
  • Naomi Peterson
  • Rae Lorimer
  • Jacqui Barnes
  • Sarah Lou
  • Amy Louise Chung
  • Jo Goldsmith
  • Rebecca Brears
  • Heidi Harrison
  • Sue Mareta-Ria
  • Milly Croft
  • Wendy Riefler
  • Julia Campbell
  • Martina Saville
  • Debbie Croad
  • Megan McSporran

 

*  See Appendix 1 for some key facts and issues regarding the background to recent changes, why and consequences.  Appendix 2 outlines actions that lead to kindergarten resembling a childcare business and actions that instead could be taken to secure the future of the free kindergarten by retaining its distinctive model of education and reflecting core public service philosophy. 

 

Appendix 1

Key Facts and Issues

State Protection and Financial Privileges and Support

  • Under the Education Act a free kindergarten is defined as an early childhood service “whose licence permits no child to attend for a period of more than 4 hours on any day … and is controlled by a free kindergarten association founded for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a kindergarten or kindergartens.”
  • The terms and conditions of employment of all teachers in a free kindergarten (as that term is used in the Education Act) are subject to the requirements of the State Sector Act. All collective agreements applying to teachers are negotiated by the Ministry of Education with the NZEI union and are then binding on the employers (the Associations) and the employees covered (members of NZEI).  Teachers who are not members of NZEI are covered by individual employment agreements, which nevertheless require the concurrence of the Ministry of Education.
  • Twenty years ago, rushed through with urgency and no consultation, the State Service Minister Jenny Shipley introduced a bill to Parliament to remove kindergarten teachers from the State Sector Act. Associate Minister of Education, Brian Donnelly, said that it was about removing an unfair anomaly in the early childhood sector. Labour came in at the election following that and returned kindergarten teachers to the State Sector Act. State Services Minister Trevor Mallard said that “the National Government was trying to wriggle out of the shame of refusing to fund the pay increases negotiated by the State Services Commission.  By doing so, they removed a very important benchmark for the funding of all other early childhood education.”  He added:  “The previous Government saw early childhood education as a business.”  But, “The Government owns the majority of kindergartens and there is certainly a public perception that we are a major partner in the kindergarten sector and therefore have a greater responsibility for encouraging quality.”

Fees and parent right to access ECE

  • Legally kindergartens defined under the Kindergarten Act 1959 could not charge fees.  Kindergartens could ask for a donation, but had to accept any child no matter what the family circumstances and parent financial contributions. Today there is no legal requirement preventing kindergartens from charging fees and using debt collectors for unpaid fees.
  • Kindergartens today that are signed up to the 20 Hours ECE funding scheme can deny a family free access if the child is also attending another licensed service that is funded for 20 Hours ECE.

20 Hour Free ECE Policy

  • Introduced by Labour to support women’s right to work through reducing the barrier of access to and affordability of childcare.
  • Designed to support community-based childcare and the growth of community services but lobbying saw Labour extend the funding to private childcare.
  • Designed to provide care ‘free’ of payment with obligation on the State to ensure that the funding rates kept pace with the costs to ECE providers of providing the care. However, Labour buckled under the joint pressure of the Auckland Kindergarten Association and the private lobby group for childcare centre employers the Early Childhood Council to allow centres to directly levy optional charges to parents and not have rules in place preventing centres from finding other ways to generate revenue from parents. National subsequently removed the word ‘free’ from the 20-Hour funding scheme’s name. 
  • The 20 Hour-funding tiered rates provided a financial incentive to childcare centres to increase their qualified and registered teacher numbers.  Kindergartens that had changed licence from a sessional to an all-day service to get the top 100% qualified teacher rate were caught out when the government collapsed the 100% and 80% rates into a single 80%+ rate.
  • NZEI’s current campaign to restore funding for 100% qualified teachers will benefit the whole ECE sector, but will not give kindergartens protection against any subsequent drop in the funding rate or decision that may be made by any government to do away with the qualified teacher funding incentive and move to a flat rate. 

Participation Rate

  • By increasing the hours that children are enrolled in kindergarten, Associations have acted to decrease the total number of children participating. In 2007 there were 43,695 children enrolled at kindergartens across the country.  By 2015 the number had decreased to 31,000 children enrolled - and yet 34 more kindergartens had opened over this period (meaning more kindergartens but fewer children overall catered for).

Effects of Extended Kindergarten Hours

  • Kindergarten children are no longer all arriving close to opening time and staying till closing time. A fall in occupancy rates to a level the same as childcare centres is suggested by the Ministry of Education to indicate that since kindergartens have switched to all-day licenses a higher proportion of maximum available funded hours are not being used by parents, “this may well be the hours at either end of what are now longer daily attendances.”
  • It can be questioned according to the Ministry of Education, whether the higher hourly subsidy rate amount paid to all-day centres has offset the increased salary cost of the higher teacher to child ratios of all-day services and benefited kindergartens’ financially.  (Would not kindergartens have been as well off, or even better off financially to have not gone for the all-day funding rate amount?  Instead kindergarten teachers and the union could have lobbied the government for improvement to ratios, remaining as sessional-licensed services and being as financially well-off or better off than is the case now under the 80%+  ECE funding rate)
  • The research evidence on childcare effects tells us that children experiencing as little as 12.5 hours per week or 2.5 hour sessions are similarly advantaged as children who attend more hours. Conversely, more hours in childcare can act to increase the risk to children of poorer health outcomes, developing problem behaviours and exhibiting aggression, and negatively influence mothers’ sensitivity in interaction with their children. 

Threat to the Future of Kindergarten from More Parents Working

  • A claim that has existed for some time that kindergarten was in decline and needed to secure its future by adopting similar structures to childcare centres isn’t supported by data that shows that prior to 2007 the number of kindergartens was holding steady, slightly increasing over the 5 years previous.
  • The majority of public kindergartens in NZ have been sessional. Exemptions were allowed to fit in with local communities, for example in rural areas and for mobile kindergartens. In 2007 there were 542 sessional kindergartens but as at April 2017 there is now only one kindergarten with a sessional licence funded for 100% qualified teachers.
  • The job market has been strong in NZ over the past 3 to 4 years. There is good availability of full-time jobs, making full-time preferable for many parents as opposed to short hours in likely lower paid jobs. Changing to a 6 or 7 hour day kindergarten does not meet full-time working parent needs well for 8 hours or longer childcare, especially if parents commute some distance to work and because Home-based ECE providers say that this no longer fits in with them as it used to when they could offer wrap around morning or afternoon care and kindergarten drop-off and collection of children for working parents who wanted their child to attend kindergarten.

 

Appendix 2 

Actions that can turn Kindergarten into a Child Care Business

  • Move any remaining kindergartens that take two groups of children daily to a single group of children for 6 hours or longer each day.  Parents who feel their child is not ready for longer hours or who want to continue to be their child’s primary educator and carer will then drop out of kindergarten. Parents who are wanting lower cost childcare will move to kindergarten from their current childcare service. These parents will be supportive of subsequently increasing hours from 6 to 7 or longer and not closing for term breaks.

The following are taken from practices that occur within some sections of the childcare sector. 

  • Require parents to enrol their child for the full 20 hours of subsidy or 6 hour day, and sign that they have attended the hours (to maximise funding).
  • Make any teachers employed above the minimum teacher-child ratio redundant and appoint on the basis of maintaining a skeleton staff.  Have changing teacher start and finish times according to the number of children present.
  • Employ cheaper teacher aides or unqualified staff. Count unpaid student teachers and volunteers within the service’s advertised adult to child ratio.
  • Be part of a private childcare business lobby group and lobby government for large business growth friendly policies and ongoing support of the corporate model.
  • Pool revenue obtained from individual kindergartens and not allow parent committees to see their individual financial position and know exactly what revenue has come in, what it has been spent on, and how much of it the Association has spent or kept for other purposes.
  • Siphon funding from kindergartens to establish, build, and buy licensed home-based ECE services and childcare centres for the Association to have a diversified business portfolio.
  • Run as top-down organisations, with all power and decision-making held at the top by the Association manager or managers and not by the community of each kindergarten.

Actions that will instead help secure the future of Kindergarten as a Public Pre-school Service

  • Don’t carry out the actions stated above.
  • Associations, together with teachers and NZEI lobby the government to raise the minimum staffing ratio for sessional-licensed kindergartens to 1 teacher to 10 (as for all-day licensed centres) and fund accordingly.
  • Each Association maintains at least one or more kindergarten under a sessional licence so the 100% qualified teacher funding rate legally binding of Government will not disappear from the funding chart for different ECE services.
  • Evaluate the current capacity of each kindergarten to accept any child, regardless of family ability to pay, living within its local community/zone.
  • Adjust hours to increase the number of children who can access kindergarten, by for example providing 2 sessions a day and form links with local home-based ECE providers to assist parents in employment with childcare before- and after- kindergarten care.
  • Get agreement from political parties to commit to retaining kindergarten teachers, and protection of salaries and conditions under the State Sector Act.
  • Decisions regarding changes at any kindergarten are made following a fully democratic and inclusive model.  This includes: one, giving current families voting rights in any proposals for change put forward; two, Associations not withholding information pertinent to the financial position of a kindergarten and any agreements it may have with the Ministry of Education or other parties; three, individual kindergartens having final say over their own future; and four, teachers having no reason to feel un-safe to voice their opinion and join their parent community in debates on change proposals put forward by their association manager/s.

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