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Labour’s election policy for early childhood education

The Trojan horses in Labour’s election policy for early childhood education

Opinion editorial
Dr S Alexander

presentsLabour has a good chance of winning this election according to the latest polls so it’s important to turn our attention to what it would mean if Labour held power and followed through on its election promises for early childhood education (ECE). 

In contrast to National (read more), Labour appears to be giving the ECE sector a wondrous gift of millions of more dollars and a return to the ideological base of a Strategic 10 year plan that it had in place before National took over nearly nine years ago.

Sounds good?  Yes.  And it’s certainly more than National is offering this election.  But could Labour be intending to sneak anything in that will catch the majority of us unaware?

Let us take a closer look.


Three things contained in Labour’s Education Election Policy for ECE that have potential to be harmful from one or more perspectives  

1. To give "parents who are struggling to balance their parenting with their commitments to paid employment” more choices, Labour says it will “boost support for parent-led early childhood services such as Playcentre and Kohanga Reo, including funding to increase participation”.   But:

  • Linking funding to increased attendance so that parents in employment can leave their child at a Playcentre whilst in paid employment will be the death of Playcentre as a unique choice.
  • Te kōhanga reo kaupapa as a Māori immersion environment for tamariki and their whanau will be put at risk in being treated simply as a parent-led ECE service that must change to support the economy and parent participation in paid employment.

2. Labour says it will “reinstate funding for centres that employ 100% qualified and registered teachers in early childhood education, [and] require all early childhood services to employ at least 80% qualified teachers by the end of our first term in government”.  But:

  • Currently primary qualified teachers are included by services when calculating their funding band and Labour’s policy will exclude this. 
  • ECE providers given more funding for qualified/ certificated teachers may not pass this on in staff wages/ salaries. Labour has given no commitment to retaining attestation rates for qualified teachers.  It has also not given a commitment to increasing the minimum wage rates a teacher-led ECE service must pay all its qualified/ certificated teachers in return for receiving a higher rate of funding. 
  • Why does Labour say it will wait until the time of the next election in three years to regulate for a minimum of 80% qualified/ certificated teachers?   It need not wait to do this for the teacher-led sector – the vast majority of these centres already meet or exceed this level.
  • As all “services” (not just teacher-led centres) will be required to employ at least 80% qualified teachers by the end of its first term in government (by Sept 2010 potentially) the differential funding rates by service type (at present kindergarten is paid more than childcare is paid more than homebased is paid more than kōhanga reo is paid more than playcentre) will need to be standardised across all services or those services that receive less funding will struggle to survive under competition due to increased wage and recruitment costs.
  • The 100% qualified and registered rate that Labour says it will reinstate was $10.89 per hour per child when it was last in Government  – this is lower than the present  80+% qualified and certificated teacher rate paid to kindergartens today of$12.10 and childcare centres  $11.43. Labour have given no commitment as to whether the funding incentive for 100% qualified/certificated teachers will be higher than the 80+% rates and what it will be.

3. Labour says it will put the “free” back into the policy of 20-Hours ECE scheme.  But:

  • This may mean nothing more and nothing less than Labour adding the word “free” back into the name of the 20-Hour ECE funding scheme, i.e. “20-Hour Free ECE”.  
  • Labour does not state if it is planning to reverse the decision it (and not National) made when in Government in 2007 to allow ‘optional’ charges.
  • There is no mention of any plan to tighten the funding rules to stop any service from collecting other money from parents using other methods or requiring children to be enrolled in more than the 6 hours a day or 20 hours a week that the funding covers.  If this is the plan then Labour needs to reveal it as many ECE services currently rely on this additional revenue.


Labour shows it hasn’t taken time to do its homework properly

A big disappointment with Labour is that it has had close to nine years in opposition to really do its home-work and become well-versed and researched on early childhood education.  But the heart of its election policy is a basic rehash of the promoting chid participation policy it had under Helen Clark as leader. 

There is little that is original or even revolutionary in its policy, and little that will make a real difference to children and supporting parents as children’s first and primary teachers.

Labour promises that it will “undertake a review of home-based early childhood education, including investigating the introduction of minimum qualification levels for all home-based educators.”   Perhaps Labour doesn’t know that the Government has already tried to do this, but the Ministry of Education got cold feet and cancelled the review after PORSE joined with some home-based providers and protested against the Home-based ECE Association’s support of a review and a required teaching qualification for all educators.

The last time that Labour really showed much in the way of support for kindergartens in the public education system was 20 years ago in 1997 when it returned kindergarten teachers to the State Sector Act after National dumped them out.  By not continuing to take a stand on free kindergartens Labour has acted to support the National Government in seeing the kindergarten system move closer and closer toward full privatisation and adoption of the all-day education and care model.  In regard to public ECE it says only that it will actively support the establishment of new public early childhood centres in areas of low-provision through targeted establishment grants - which the current government has been doing in any case.  

Labour says it will work to improve group size for infants and toddlers though it is a mystery how it will do this when there is no regulation in place yet on group sizes for these two age groups.  A first step would be to introduce regulation for group sizes. Labour has omitted to say if it supports centres to be licensed for up to 75 infants or 150 children of mixed ages – and this omission indicates that under Labour mega centre sizes with staffing ratios calculated across the centre will probably remain.

Safety for children in ECE is omitted in its education policy though it says in schools that no child should be subject to verbal and physical abuse. Yet safety is a major issue in the ECE sector and information exists on ways to improve monitoring of standards and transparency of Ministry of Education handling and reporting of cases if only Labour would do its homework.

As with National, Labour shows by omission in its education election policy that it is gender biased and may think that a predominately female workforce is a good thing to maintain because it’s cheaper (and possibly more likely to accept poor employment conditions?). There is nothing in its election policy about pay equity for ECE teachers and also nothing about increasing gender diversity in the ECE workforce.


Where National and Labour Agree

A central statement in Labour’s election policy is: “Children who participate in quality early childhood educations enjoy the benefits throughout the rest of their lives. They do better at school, in tertiary education, and when they enter the workforce. Investment in children is one of the most important investments any government can make. Labour is committed to providing all children with the best possible start in life.”  This is the very same rhetoric that we hear from the National party.  

While Labour’s election policy appears to bear gifts, as discussed above, we also need to be fully aware of the agenda behind the gifts and what might be being sneaked in that could actually cause more harm than good.

However should whoever is appointed to be the new Education Minister do his/her homework adequately and quickly, and take a personal interest in ECE, then there may be less to worry about and more to look forward to should Labour form the next government. 

* For more go to our online overview of all political party election promises


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