A series of recommendations about improving standards, the early childhood regulatory system and making government more responsible for the quality of services it funds has been released by Education Minister Hekia Parata.
The recommendations were made by two advisory groups set up by Ms Parata in the wake of the ECE Taskforce report.
The groups were established in January and one looked at quality across the ECE sector, while the other looked at the care of under-2s.
The group considering the care of under-2s made 15 recommendations including a focus on infant and toddler care during training, regulated group sizes and annual spot checks to monitor the care of under-2s.
Recommendations from the group looking at sector-wide quality included a funding system linked not only to the percentage of qualified teachers but to higher levels of quality on other standards, maximum group sizes and more use of existing licence sanctions.
Ms Parata said she welcomed the recommendations and had now asked the Ministry of Education to provide advice regarding the suggestions.
"All of our children deserve high quality ECE", she said.
"The pre-school years are too critical in terms of learning and development to allow anything else. Parents need to be assured that their children are attending a quality service."
The Ministry will be asked to advise which of the recommendations could be implemented in a short time frame and which would need longer to work out.
Some of the recommendations ask for a 'review', 'further work', 'research' or for some aspect to be 'considered' or 'supported' which may be done and ticked off easily but it will be up to government or to others, such as training providers, what happens from there. The implementation of some recommendations will require a willingness on the part of government to fund these, such as improving staff-child ratios in centres and employing more Ministry of Education and ERO staff to more frequently review centres and monitor compliance.
To improve the standard of care and education for children aged under 2 years the recommendations were:
- Government supports the provision of specialised professional development for all staff working in services licensed for under-2s
- Include an infant and toddler component in ECE degrees and diplomas through initial teacher education as well as post-graduate options
- A focus on infant and toddler specialisation through study awards that support post graduate study
- Introduce a requirement for under two spaces to be staffed by at least 50% qualified staff
- Review aspects of regulations and licensing criteria against best practice (key teacher requirements) and international criteria (such as World Health Organisation requirements for space and room temperature), with a view to improving under-2 settings
- Introduce regulated group size. In the context of improved ratios such as 1:3 or 1:4, regulate for group size of three times the adult: child ratio. If current adult: child ratios remain in place, regulate for a maximum group size of 12
- Consider introducing a review/renewal of licence process every three years
- Ministry to monitor infant and toddler settings more proactively, through annual service spot-checks
- Ministry of Education to collaborate with the Ministry of Health to support the health of under-2s in ECE (ie noise levels, physical environment, spread of infectious diseases)
- Ministry of Education and ERO to collaborate to ensure quicker responses for under twos in poor quality settings
- Ensuring that ERO reports are in accessible formats for parents
- Ensuring information is provided to parents about how ECE can support the needs of under twos
- Ministry processes to be more proactive in supporting the planning stage for new services to ensure high quality outcomes for infants and toddlers
- A review of the home-based service type be carried out as a matter of urgency
- Through the ECE funding review, consideration be given to more flexible funding for infants and toddlers in ECE and how to better support infants and toddlers with special needs and their families.
The ECE sector-wide recommendations for improvement were:
- Develop a protocol between the Ministry of Education and the Education Review Office (ERO) to ensure a faster response when poor quality services are identified by ERO
- The Ministry develops further information about quality risk factors for services to enable more active monitoring of at-risk services.
- More active use of existing licensing sanctions
- Teacher-led, centre-based services should be required by regulations to have 80% registered teachers from 1 July 2013, and this should apply explicitly to teachers counted in ratios for children aged less than two.
- Further work be undertaken to establish appropriate maximum group sizes for children in centre-based services
- Development of the new funding system should include incentives for services to meet higher levels of quality in addition to teacher registration
- Services should be required to provide information to their families on the results of ERO reviews, and any changes to their licence status
- Research to improve our understanding of quality in ECE, with a particular focus on the following specific services and groups of learners: home-based; infants and toddlers; Māori and Pasifika learners, and learners with special needs
- Development of a medium-term plan to bring more sustainable change to the quality of ECE services by increasing the stock of high-quality professional ECE leaders
Ms Parata is due to announce further information about the recommendations in August.