Increasing participation, particularly among Maori and Pacific Island communities and in low income areas, and improving quality are priorities for early childhood education according to the briefing prepared for new Education Minister Hekia Parata.
The briefing prepared by ministerial advisors restates the government’s election policy of achieving 98% of new school entrants having participated in early childhood education. This target is set for 2015.
Specific emphasis is being put on increasing participation among children from Maori and Pacific Island with the briefing stating the government’s focus needs to shift from "gross inputs, such as rates of participation and numbers of qualified teachers, to more closely targeted interventions focused on the quality of education delivery and the intensity of participation for Māori and Pasifika children".
Increasing the uptake of ECE by children of beneficiaries is highlighted as part of planned welfare reforms.
A change to the way ECE is funded is also in the pipeline.
The government has already indicated that it intends to review the funding system for the ECE sector and the minister’s briefing states that "decisions on a future funding system and the broader strategy will be required within the next six months".
The briefing suggests a simpler funding system to reduce the burden of compliance on ECE providers but cautions that it will need to be "designed, trialled, and implemented carefully to ensure it has the required impact".
One concern is that the targeting of certain areas might lead to funding decreases elsewhere in the sector as it is unclear whether new money will be allocated for these groups.
The briefing for the Education Minister states that "improving value from the ECE system means ensuring available funding is directed where it will make most difference, to supporting sustained participation of Māori, Pasifika, and children from disadvantaged backgrounds in high quality ECE settings". In addition a separate briefing prepared for Finance Minister Bill English by the NZ Treasury states that "despite large increases in government expenditure, early childhood education (ECE) participation rates for children in the lowest income brackets have not increased , with the expenditure instead supporting a greater volume of hours and higher proportions of registered teachers. Given the gains that can be made, we recommend further targeting of existing ECE funding to children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds". (To read more about Treasury's recommendations click here).
Both of these statements indicate that funding to the sector may not be increased but may simply be re-distributed in order to fulfil the government’s priorities. It is unclear how this would leave other ECE services and whether it may lead to a reduction in their funding.
Specific figures and details have been withheld from the public version of the Ministry's briefing under the Official Information Act.
The briefing also reveals plans to increase monitoring of the ECE sector and other measures to improve quality.
More information about ECE participation will be collected from new school entrants and better information for parents about the quality of ECE services will be made available.
It is also recommended that under-performing services be more closely reviewed. The briefing says there needs to be a "greater focus on specific work with individual ECE services to raise their performance". This may include more regulatory intervention such as strengthened ERO reviews with "more explicit performance expectations".
An evaluation of Te Whāriki the ECE curriculum is also being carried out by ERO which will be used to support measures to improve the curriculum.
The briefing contains the following key short-term initiatives:
- Ongoing implementation of community-level initiatives to improve participation in ECE (current). New policy and Budget initiatives will also be required to meet Government’s target of 98% of new entrants in school having participated in early childhood education by 2015
- Work on improved funding and information systems (current, key funding policy decisions in mid-2012)
- Policy development on improved interventions in poorly-performing ECE services
- Policy development to improve the quality of care that under-two year olds receive in ECE
- Improving the uptake of ECE by children of beneficiaries, in line with welfare reforms (in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development)
- Ensuring continuity of learning between ECE and school
- Evaluating the national ECE curriculum, Te Whāriki (ERO-led) – during 2012
- Interactive web tools to help parents choose the 'right' ECE service for them (ERO-led) – development during 2012.