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Education Minister Chris Hipkins and his interest in Early Childhood Education

Men Summit Chris photo 2014Chris Hipkins has been in waiting - as Labour’s spokesperson on education since 2013 and associate education spokesperson before that. He is now Minister of Education.

As a new dad with a 1 year-old Hipkins will see the benefits to families of Labour’s introduction of a Best Start payment of $60 a week for each child in the first year after Paid Parental Leave ends, and for low to middle income families up to age three. 

He joined the Labour Party when he was Head Boy at a College in Petone in 1996 and studied politics at University. He worked as a policy advisor to Education Minister Trevor Mallard and then to Steve Maharey.  You may recall that Trevor Mallard masterminded the 20 Hours Free ECE funding scheme for community-based teacher-led ECE services. Under Steve Maharey the scheme was extended to include all private teacher-led ECE services and the policy modified to enable ‘optional’ charging of parents by services.

While in opposition Hipkins could have launched an attack on National’s handling of early childhood education, focusing on any number of problems, for example: 

  • Large class size / and the burgeoning growth of mega ECE centres to the cost of small home-like centres and community-run centres.
  • The Ministry of Education’s repeated refusal of requests for transparency in its handling and reporting of complaints against services and inadequate checking of ECE standards and the Minister of Education’s implicit support of this.
  • The Minister of Education’s total lack of interest in addressing gender issues in the ECE workforce and the Ministry of Education lying about why it is doing nothing.
  • The Minister’s hands-off approach to issues impacting on teachers’ work conditions in kindergartens when the government has a responsibility for this under the State Sector Act.

In opposition Hipkins could have held National strongly to account and made ECE a big issue in Election 2017.  But he didn’t .

The story is told by media releases over the past 3 years.

2017

March 23rd – Endorsed NZEI’s ‘Have a Heart’ campaign, and stated that under Labour ECE would be properly funded and all teachers would be qualified and registered.

July 14th – Outlined Labour’s policy for ECE (press release by Andrew Little)

2016

No media releases by Hipkins on ECE

2015

Oct 12th – Expressed opposition to the government funding of Home-Based ECE – nannies and au pairs. (Yet in 2007 it was Helen Clark and Steve Mahary who announced the start of 20 Hours Free ECE with the funding to include Home-based ECE unqualified nannies supervised by a registered teacher/ coordinator).

Oct 15th – Used the pending teacher redundancies at Wellington kindergartens as a basis to argue that National was underfunding ECE.

Oct 20th – Used the increase in the number of Ministry of Education recorded complaints against ECE services to argue that National was underfunding ECE, affecting the employment of qualified teachers.

Nov 3rd – Stated Labour’s commitment to restore funding to service providers for the 100% qualified teacher funding band.

Nov 13th – Called the independence of ERO in question after a newspaper reporter claimed that the Ministry of Education had input into a report on ECE before ERO released it.

In 2014 Hipkins was invited to address the 8th National Summit on Men in EC Teaching in Wellington hosted by ChildForum on behalf of EC-Menz Inc.  He spoke eloquently and connected well with the delegates and with the issues.  However, Hipkins is yet to take any action to help move the issue of gender-balance in ECE forward.

And now …

It could be quite a different story now that Hipkins is Education Minister. And, as a Dad now of a growing toddler Hipkins may have a different perspective on ECE.

Perhaps he will take a leaf out of Trevor Mallard’s book and bring about fundamental changes in ECE (rather than only restoring what Mallard put in place)?

ECE was not included on Labour’s list of priorities for the first 100 days. Labour’s ECE election policy platform for ECE had a narrow  focus on restoring the funding band for ECE providers that employ 80 – 100% qualified and certificated teachers and on requiring all centres to have 80% qualified teachers – which nearly all teacher-led centres already have in any case.  

But Labour’s coalition partners, NZ First and the Greens, can give Hipkins political support to progress important issues such as teacher pay and a review of kindergartens.

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