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Look out Labour, here comes National with its Education Discussion Document

butterflyDr Sarah Alexander
Chief Executive, ChildForum

This morning in the beautiful Begonia House at Wellington Botanic Gardens, National Party Leader Simon Bridges launched National's Education Discussion Document.

ECE has continued to suffer for the last two years under the Labour-Led Government as it has been put last behind other education sectors. National is set to challenge this.  It has a dedicated spokesperson for  early childhood education (ECE) which is Nicola Willis. Importantly, Nicola Willis is passionate about ECE. 

Simon Bridges indicated that National will now be making social investment and quality in education a top priority.

The Discussion Document provides clear and mostly carefully considered proposals.  There is some terminology that seems a little dated or in need of tweaking but if you can get past that you will see it is a reasonably coherent set of proposals for across the whole of the education system. There are 107 proposals in all.  

Bringing in spot-checks or unannounced visits to ECE services to ensure that regulatory requirements are met will be widely supported by our early childhood sector.  

Also, there will be a big sigh of relief if additional funding is made available for teachers in the first two years after graduating to assist with getting full registration.

National proposes to lift minimum-pay requirements for qualified ECE staff in Government licensed services, and we can assume this includes not only teacher-led centres but also home-based ECE and Playcentres that may employ qualified teachers.

Just lifting the minimum pay rate is however not sufficient. A step further than this - which is to ensure that all teachers are paid on par with their kindergarten and primary peers - is needed .    

And should National wish to maximise the benefits of ECE to children - and to society – then it needs to make sure that children's ECE teachers are not earning less than they could earn elsewhere with their levels of education (Learn more by going to the ECE Teacher Pay Book here).

Proposals to address ECE workforce gender bias are not included but need to be.  

Perhaps the proposal most likely to be questioned and debated is to “support parents to work together by developing ‘passports’ that track children’s progress to key physical, emotional, developmental and educational milestones.”

National proposes to reduce teacher to student ratios in Primary School classrooms to the following:  Year One 1:15, Years Two and Three 1:20, and 1:25 in Years Four, Five and Six. But missing from the Discussion Document is any mention of ratios/class sizes in ECE.  In ECE, teacher-child ratios are calculated across a centre instead of by room and this needs to change so that we never see, for example, a teacher left with 10 babies or a teacher left with 10 or 20 or more preschoolers in a room for any length of time. Up to 150 children under 5 years or up to 75 infants is a group size that is way too big. 

Nikki Kaye, education spokesperson, explained after introducing the proposals that she, Nicola and her education team are expecting some vigorous discussions particularly around things such as ratios and reporting to parents. They have heard concerns about teacher pay and closing the gap.

National is keen for feedback and just because something is not written in the document does not mean it is not something that is being considered.    

Further proposals contained in the Document and specific to the early years are:

Invest more in new technologies to support children with visual, hearing and cognitive impairments and strengthen support for New Zealand Sign Language.

Invest in infrastructure support for Te Kōhanga Reo.

Invest more in interventions to support parents to read to young children.

Strengthen monitoring and evaluation of ECE services to ensure quality requirements are being met. This could include:

  • An intensive programme of ‘spot checks’ of ECE centres: Unannounced visits to ECE centres to check if regulatory requirements are being met and downgrading licenses for services failing to meet quality regulations.
  • Firmer expectations and tighter deadlines for ECE services downgraded to provisional licenses, with more stringent requirements for ensuring parents are aware of any concerns about that service.
  • Cancelling the license of any service that is placed on a provisional license three times or more and more frequent monitoring of services of concern.
  • Preventing services enrolling more children or opening new services if they have been subject to recent quality concerns.

Ensure parents are directly informed of any concerns about the quality of their child’s ECE service.

Commit to a short-term supply package for the ECE workforce:

  • Making it easier for trained ECE teachers to register again after taking time out to have children.
  • Speeding up police vetting.
  • Better recognising overseas qualifications.
  • Providing financial incentives in hard to staff areas.
  • Enabling greater flexibility in the short-term for discretionary hours.

Strengthen access to professional learning and development for ECE teachers and support more early learning services to evaluate their professional development needs.

Strengthen teacher training.

Work with teachers to reduce unnecessary compliance and red-tape in ECE services.

Ensure all families requesting early intervention support for their children receive an assessment within 30 days of a request being made.

Ensure we have an ECE funding system that supports parental choice and ensures affordability of ECE, including retention of 20 hours ECE for three and four year olds.

Additional investment in independent education research and help fund a series of global education alliances in education policy.

Create a centre for child development which brings together the best of health, education research and neuroscience.

Explore ways of ensuring disadvantaged children are enrolled in and consistently attend high quality ECE, including by partnering with community organisations to overcome participation barriers.

Consideration be given to supporting co-location of ECE services as part of new school builds.

Further encourage and incentivise schools to include early learning services or Ngā Kōhanga reo in their COL.

Provide enhanced early learning screening when children start ECE and consider strengthening screening at different ages to pick up any additional needs.

Invest in programmes which help support the development of self-regulation in children and in programmes that support other emotional and behavioural development from a young age.

Include self-regulation as part of the early learning entry check and that consideration be given to amending the Curriculum and teacher training to ensure there is a greater focus on executive functioning and self-regulation.

The discussion document can be found here

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Teachers, Caregivers, Teacher Educators, Policy Advisors - any indivdual with an interest in ECE

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Centres, home-based, hospital-based, playgroups ... established or newly licensed.

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