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Impending Government review of the Early Childhood "Market” is nothing for centres or home-based ECE to fear

making things better for children1. What's happening and why
2.  Hipkins is no fool
3.  Will the free kindergarten system have a future
4.  What's in it for centre and home-based teachers/ educators
5.  Discussion and further information

 

1.  What's happening and why

A work programme to champion a high quality public education system which will include early childhood education has been announced by the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins.

The private sector currently makes up 48% of all licensed early childhood services (2,241 out of a total of 4,647 services with known ownership – ChildForum analysis undertaken on 14 Feb 2018).  

It is the upward trend in the growth of the proportion of private to community-based ECE services that Hipkins has his eye on and how this may best be managed whilst strenghening the presence and role of ECE within the public education system.      

A new government Strategic Plan for ECE is to be developed. Also, a review of Home-based ECE that got underway a few years back but was postponed indefinitely when the Ministry of Education got cold feet after protest by some commercial providers will be re-started. (Read more)

In a confidential document to cabinet Hipkins stated that he envisages a key component of a new Strategic Plan for ECE will be to create “a shared vision for what early learning (sic services) should achieve for children and exploring what settings best support these outcomes”. 

He adds that this would include reviewing “the nature of the early childhood education market”. 

Our analysis at ChildForum suggests investors, commercial centres and home-based services have nothing to fear.

We would be very unlikely to see large scale closures of private centres and home-based services because the government could not afford to let this happen.  The private ECE sector is important to our economy.

But also don’t expect Hipkins to bow to pressure or to any threat of providers withdrawing from the market in large numbers or massively hiking fees in protest of any new conditions placed on them. Hipkins knows that private providers are adept at adjusting to the conditions, because that is what they do as business operators.

What we may see coming out of a new Strategic Plan is the beginning of a reigning in of further growth of the private sector and better planning of provision. This could be a good thing. There is market saturation already in many areas of NZ and many services would struggle over coming years to fill rolls and remain sustainable should a stocktake not be undertaken now.

In regard to the review of home-based ECE a key reason for this will be to look at raising the bar for educator qualifications and recognition as teachers. The Home-Based Association has previously argued the need for this because it would be positive for children and positive for the status and standing of home-based ECE within the education system.  (Read more)

In NZ we have a strong early childhood system. The government has recognised that it’s important to take the next step from years of focus on addressing a shortage of childcare to now putting in place policy to make our ECE system the best it can be - the question is whether this will turn out to be best for children or best in terms of political obectives or other stakeholder interests? (learn more:  go to an outline of quality problems for children

 

2. Hipkins is no fool

Hipkins worked under Trevor Mallard when the 20-Hour funding policy was being developed (Read More).

He has seen the Early Childhood Council (a business lobby group) playing oppositional politics and will have picked up from his union, home-based, kindergarten and other contacts within the wider sector that it has a destructive nature.

The ECC has responded to the announcement of the education work programme by issuing a conciliatory press release for the purpose of letting the Minister know it wants to be considered as a friend and openly begging to be involved. The Minister may well allow the ECC’s involvement if only to keep it busy so it doesn’t cause trouble.

To have credibility the ECC will need to declare the names of the centre owners/ providers it speaks on behalf of and show that informed permission has been obtained from each centre owner/provider for the views it puts forward on their behalf.

 

3. The future of the Free Kindergarten system

Could a new Strategic Plan signal a return to recognition of the free kindergarten system as integral to our public education system? (Read more: Open letter on Kindergarten Changes)

The Minister has not yet stated his intentions in regard to bringing kindergartens fully back into the public education system and clamping down on associations that operate kindergartens as childcare services and, or, run businesses on the side such as home-based services.  (Read more)

 

4. What is in this for teachers / educators

There could be a lot in the changes for teachers.  As noted by Clare Wells, chief executive of NZ Kindergarten Inc. the work programme could result in a coherent, future-focused workforce strategy across the education system and across the teaching profession (ECE centre teachers and home-based educators to Tertiary teachers). 

What this means potentially is an opening up of opportunities for ECE - perhaps even resulting in wages and work conditions being brought into line with the school sector. 

 

5. Discussion and further information

The Early Learning Strategic Plan - What Chris Hipkins has proposed and essential elements that are missing

An agenda for improving funding and improving the quality of ECE -  AN OUTLINE OF WHAT CHANGES ARE MOST NEEDED AND WILL MAKE THE GREATEST DIFFERENCE 

 

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