Early Childhood Education has been something of a hot potato for political parties in recent years with the introduction and subsequent tweaking of the 20 hours scheme, the introduction of the 100% qualified teacher target which was then reduced to 80% and the recent ECE Taskforce Report. Successive Governments have intervened, some would say interfered, in the ECE sector and it now appears that Government is playing a greater role than it ever has in determining the financial sustainability of services, setting standards, closing differences and also creating differences between ECE service groups.
The timeline at the end of this report in Appendix A highlights some of significant events and turning points for early childhood care and education and government’s role and shows how the Government’s intervention in ECE has increased and how it can, perhaps unintentionally, influence the direction a service takes; for example driving a previously community minded service to adopt a more business orientated approach such as kindergartens changing from sessional to all day in response to the 20 hours funding.
It is little wonder then that our latest survey on the state of early childhood education shows an increasing concern that the Government is intervening too much in the sector and that it is creating instability and fears for the future of ECE As one respondent said "the sector is in a constant state of flux".
The over-riding concern among respondents to the survey was what was happening to the sectors funding and what further policy changes might occur and what their impact might be. Many respondents reported that this was in turn causing an increase in stress levels and having an impact on the care and education of children. These concerns featured much more frequently in responses than things such as teaching and curriculum.
The nationwide survey had 241 respondents including ECE service owners and managers, ECE workers and parents who are involved in ECE either through their child being enrolled in a teacher led service or through association with a parent-led service. The survey asked two key questions. Firstly it asked respondents whether things were currently going well or badly at their service and secondly it asked whether they felt things would improve or worsen in the next 12 months.
Overall slightly more respondents (59%) said things were going well but worryingly more than two fifths (41%) thought things were going badly. Teacher-led services were more likely to report that things were going badly compared to parent-led and home-based services with 61% of respondents from teacher-led services saying things were not going well.
Optimism for the future was also very low with only just under 4% of respondents saying they thought their service’s situation would improve in the next 12 months and that nothing would get worse. Thirty per cent thought some things would improve while others would get worse, but 40% felt things were only going to get worse. The remaining respondents either expressed uncertainty (e.g. “who knows in this current climate?”) or did not state what would likely worsen and improve. Pessimism was seen across all home and centre based, parent-led and teacher-led services.
The following sections of the report explore in more detail what is currently going well and badly in the ECE sector and what might happen in the future, including comments from respondents.
Community-based services were more likely to report that things were going well in their service with 61% of respondents from community-based services saying things were good. Why these services are more inclined to feel they are doing better needs more research but may be because they tend to operate more on a collective basis and this social and collaborative context for problem solving may provide some buffer against stress.
Some of the services which reported things were going well had actually benefited from government changes to funding structures or had managed to successfully adjust to them, while others reported increasing rolls and settled children. Some services had increased the number of hours or days they were open for or had opened new premises. In these services staff morale or that of the parents running the service was high leading to high quality care and education which was reflected in the happiness of the children attending the service.
In the words of respondents
Funding, rolls and management
- We have opened another day. (Parent from a parent-led centre)
- Opening of a new kindergarten building. (ECE owner or manager)
- Excellent. When the hype re govt cuts came on we cut our under-2s fees to compete with home based and are full. (ECE owner or manager)
- With funding at 80% we have hit target staff wise. (ECE owner or manager)
- We are finding that more and more parents are opting to have their children preschool educated and cared for in a home environment with the low ratio that home-based childcare offers. Enrolments coming from centre based services are increasing. (ECE owner or manager)
- The funding band reduction meant some financial loss but we were able to budget and cope with this. We have 80%+ trained teachers and are able to deliver high quality care. (ECE owner or manager)
- We are large enough to have good management structure and to spread the increased costs of professional development over a broader base. (ECE owner or manager)
- All is going well - we have a strong philosophy. Parents are keen to learn and work with us. We have been hit by the funding cuts, but are still viable. (ECE worker)
- So far so good - maximised funding opportunities and made next tier of funding. (ECE worker)
- At the moment, have no debt and have implemented wise business and financial procedures to ensure centre is in a good position before the funding cuts. (ECE worker)
- The 20 hours has helped our low-socio economic centres to stay afloat. (ECE worker)
- I teach in a service that is committed to 100% trained teachers. As a result the learning programme for children has not changed detrimentally since budget cuts. (ECE worker)
- The enrolment numbers have nearly returned pre-earthquake. (ECE worker)
- Full roll, mainly due to children on 20 free hours. (ECE owner or manager)
- Our rolls have increased. Publicity/word of mouth and advertising. (ECE worker)
- All is well in two of our Centres. Full rolls and waiting list. (ECE owner or manager)
- I am almost fully booked, 4 children daily, 6hrs daily for 4days a week which is ideal for me as I can still have input into my own children’s education e.g. sports days. (Home-based ECE worker)
- We are thriving with a full roll, small waiting list and very happy families. (ECE owner or manager)
- Great. Always a waiting list for our service. (ECE owner or manager)
- We have a new business and we are growing in numbers steadily week by week. (ECE worker)
- Home based is becoming a good alternative in the ECE sector, our service doesn't charge any additional fees for the 20 ECE hours and are flexible with the hours and needs of our families. Therefore we are getting plenty of enquires; so much so we have had to employ a second co-ordinator for the network I run. (ECE worker)
- All is going well. Our membership is increasing and we are finding our children are happier to be at our service than to go to all day kindergarten. (Parent from a parent-led service)
- We are still a sessional Kindergarten so are able to keep strong links with whanau and children are able to spend time with the most important people in their young lives - their family. (ECE worker)
- Good. We are lucky to be a small service with excellent staff. We know our families, educators and children in the service very well and are able to provide them with a service which is flexible and supportive. (ECE owner or manager)
- We have full roles and a healthy waiting list. We have family participation and lots of interaction with our local school. (ECE worker)
- We are not for profit and have flexibility over bookings and length of bookings, family driven. (ECE owner or manager)
- We have good systems and support from our association. (ECE manager)
- All is going well, community based, non profit, great support from families, on the grounds of primary school, great transition. (ECE owner or manager)
- Low numbers with only 4 kids at a maximum in home-based at once. (ECE worker)
Staff morale and well-being of the children
- Great because our in-home carer is responsive and loving. (Parent from a home-based service)
- We have a lovely strong vibrant Playcentre with committed families who are engaged with their children's learning and wellbeing. (Parent from a parent-led centre)
- My child is happy and thriving. He gets to experience the authority of other adults. It takes a village to raise a child. (Parent from a home-based service)
- Staff on the same wavelength as to what is important for the children. (ECE worker)
- Going well because we are looking at ways to support families through life and making sure children get only the best care and support to grow and develop positively. (ECE worker)
- Better teamwork now and more emphasis on documenting children's learning for parents rather than for Ministry of Education/Education Review Office. (ECE worker)
- We have a great team that is consistently changing practices to suit the needs of the children. (ECE worker)
- Govt ECE Taskforce is causing concerns and anxiety but the service is great. (Parent)
- Good - some concern about funding changes but the service is awesome. (Parent)
- Quality teachers, high ratio of qualified, low ratio child to teacher, great structure and curriculum. (Parent from a teacher-led centre)
- My younger ones are at Playcentre and loving it. (Parent from a parent-led centre )
- Overall, things are going well. It is concerning some of the information highlighted in the Taskforce report which will have serious repercussions for our agency if implemented. (ECE owner or manager)
- Good - 80% plus qualified staff, full rolls, positive ERO reviews, motivated professional staff committed to PD and quality, settled engaged children and a satisfied community. (ECE owner or manager)
- Good, due to hard working qualified teachers. (ECE owner or manager)
- We have 100% qualified, committed, dedicated teachers, quality programme, great families and are not in the business to make money. (ECE owner or manager)
- Great families and staff who support each other. (ECE worker)
- We have a very enthusiastic team of educators working with the children who are our best form of advertising. (ECE worker)
- All is going well in the home based service where I am employed due to the service ensuring that everything is done to the NZ Home-based Service requirements, the Ministry of ECE requirements, ERO requirements and that the Educators are supported and guided in every way. (ECE worker)
- We are well staffed centre that support each other, and very supportive management, who provide and support staff to do professional development. (ECE worker)
- Our Centre has worked through difficult times before and we all pull together and look for solutions like now. (ECE owner or manager)
Most of the concerns reported by the survey respondents were centred on funding, policy and government changes. The reduction of the qualified teacher target to 80% and the related funding losses were highlighted by many respondents. This may explain why more teacher-led services reported things were going badly as these services would have borne the brunt of this funding cut. Several respondents said their services had to re-budget and cut costs as a result of which other things such as provided lunches and excursions were being cut. Some were struggling due to increased competition and were suffering from falling rolls. The knock-on effect of this was increasing anxiety and stress among staff which some respondents felt was in turn impacting on the quality of care and education for the children. Other problems included lack of funding for children with additional needs, lack of professional development and affordability for families. Unsurprisingly respondents from Canterbury were also struggling to deal with the impact of the recent earthquakes.
In the words of respondents
Funding, rolls and management
- Not enough money to make ends meet for either centre or parents. (Parent from a teacher-led centre)
- Not good that the 100% funding was taken away as we had to release staff and take on teacher aides and were not able through fees to recover the full funds back. (ECE owner or manager)
- From a teacher/employee focus it all seems to be about the money now and we seem to have to 'fight' for things that just should be provided; extra resources/enough non-contact time, professional development etc. (ECE owner or manager)
- Can't afford to give anyone a pay rise this year. Don't want to raise fees for parents. (ECE owner or manager)
- Having to cut back on resources - staff training and other things to make up for the budget cuts. We charge no fees above 20 hours and most of our parents are on this so money is short and things such as class trips have been cut. We are in a low income area and some of these children never get to the zoo etc. (ECE owner or manager)
- Funding is tight and staff salaries aren't at a level they should be - puts extra pressure on parents and staff. (ECE owner or manager)
- We are struggling to meet our budget and funds for maintenance and replacement of equipment has been severely eroded. (ECE owner or manager)
- We have no money for re-investment in improvements, and we can no longer keep up with Consenting Parties rates for our teachers. (ECE owner or manager)
- We have a new centre that was caught in the funding freeze started in November and have struggled financially. Our old centre is working with the best resources we have and doing the best we can with what we have. (ECE owner or manager)
- Lack of fundraising options due to recession and businesses struggling. (ECE worker)
- Concern over need to charge parents a "donation" will make other fundraising hard so resourcing for children will suffer. (ECE worker)
- Cuts to funding putting service under financial strain. Canterbury kindergartens already under severe strain due to earthquakes. (ECE worker)
- We are working harder for less, we have had major resource cuts, and pay cuts to stay 100% qualified. (ECE worker)
- The problem with having to rely more and more on grants is that there is a good chance that we miss out. The tighter the money gets, the more other ECE are going to try and access that same pool of money. That money can only be spread so far. (ECE worker)
- The budget is a worry. We would like to maintain the ratios and not reduce teachers and non-contact time. (ECE worker)
- For some, financial pressures and challenges were not helped by being in competition with other ECE services for children and staff:
- If we could be paid what the kindergarten teachers do (with the very same qualification I might add), work the lesser hours they do, be given the top bulk funding rate they're given, we might have a better chance of operating with effective equitable practices and qualified staff. (ECE owner or manager)
- Things are less than they were before the funding cuts we lost 5 teachers to kindergarten because there was more stability in the state sector. (ECE owner or manager)
- Our building needs serious investment, from drainage to repiling, building repair then eventually repaint. Would be lovely to have a vibrant looking centre to match the vibrancy of the children’s education there. (Parent from a parent-led centre)
- Lots of uncertainty surrounding sessional kindergartens changing to kindergarten school day models. (ECE worker)
- Demand for under-3 spaces has dramatically reduced. Feel it is due to new centres opening in the community and the cost of care for under 3's being cheaper in home-based than centre. (ECE owner or manager)
- One of our centres is just hanging in there with low rolls caused by the unbridled growth of centres in this particular part of Auckland City. (ECE owner or manager)
- Too many centres and home base services licensed without consideration of population and where these are situated. (ECE worker)
- We are a small ECE centre struggling to maintain presence and voice as opposed to corporate ECE services. (ECE worker)
Staff morale and well-being of the children
- Staff are stressed trying to cope with scheduling changes made to compensate for the changes in funding. (Parent from a teacher-led centre)
- Management and staff are not performing well and it reflects in teaching practices. (Parent from a teacher-led centre)
- Kindergarten teachers are stressed out and with a 1-10 ratio can’t look after the 3-year-olds starting. (Parent from a teacher-led centre)
- We have lost a qualified teacher and they are being tardy in replacing her, meaning we are behind in our planning and learning stories as the relievers don’t do it. (ECE worker)
- Loss of long standing staff has unsettled staff and I have seen a drop in the quality of care we provide. (ECE worker)
- My centre chooses to have a teacher/child ratio of 1:4 which, in theory, is better than the regulation of 1:5. This, however, is not always implemented when staff are away sick or on leave and often the ratio is brought back to the minimum number of teachers to children. Additionally, while not refusing to give breaks, the employer frowns upon them. (ECE worker)
- We have reduced staffing, no longer provide lunch for our children, more parents are referred to debt collecting agencies and we cannot spend the same time talking to parents and reading stories to the children. (ECE worker)
- The Taskforce report has placed a good deal of anxiety on educators, families and business. We have had to work extremely hard to keep everyone positive and upbeat. (ECE owner or manager)
- Since the Taskforce report, our parents, educators, teachers and staff have become very unsettled and worried about the future of Home-based. (ECE owner or manager)
- The ECE Taskforce recommendations now hang over us. We also have the possibility of having to undertake expensive and unwanted renovations in order to re-license under the new Regulations. (Parent from a parent-led centre)
The Canterbury earthquakes
- The earthquake has affected our numbers and our funding. (ECE owner or manager)
- Due to the earthquake we have had to relocate to a church hall. We have lost children, due to them moving, us moving, having to change our hours of operation, have had a large number go to school and with the earthquake our waiting has completely gone. (ECE owner or manager)
- Rolls dropping (earthquake). (ECE owner or manager)
- Like many centres which were 100% funded we took that knock which sadly has been further impacted by number losses due to the three earthquakes here in Christchurch. We now are going through staff reductions to save the service. (ECE owner or manager)
- Uncertainty due to earthquakes – fluctuating numbers, buildings needing repairs. (ECE worker)
- Very low number of children. Families have moved out of Christchurch. (ECE worker)
Optimism in the sector was very low with the majority of respondents saying they thought nothing was going to improve in the next 12 months and things would only get worse. While community based services were more likely to report that things were currently going well there was little difference in the amount of optimism shown between community-based and private services with many respondents from community-based services also believing things were likely to get worse.
Interestingly the comments from respondents who said they thought things would improve showed that many of those improvements were likely to be internally generated by the services themselves.
Some ECE employers were also hopeful that the reduction of the qualified teacher target to 80% may in fact lead to an increase in the number of qualified teachers available on the job market as services re-structured, giving them more choice when looking for new staff.
Less positive was that many felt that funding would continue to be tight and could actually worsen, leading to services having to cut back on teachers. The potential scrapping of the 20 hours scheme was of particular concern. An increasing amount of compliance, borne from talk of new curriculums and assessment, rising costs and a lack of affordability for families were also worrying respondents. Again, a perceived knock on effect of these concerns was increased stress for staff and service owners and in turn a decline in the quality of care and education they provide.
Other hopes for the future included less compliance, funding increases and a greater recognition of different types of service. This last point was raised particularly by those in home-based care which many feel has been somewhat neglected up to this time.
Several respondents raised the hope that the government may change after the up-coming election, or if National is re-elected that it will be forced to listen to what people are saying and re-consider some of its decisions.
In the words of respondents
What Might Get Better
Service generated improvements
- The possibility of new premises. (ECE worker)
- The teaching the children at our centre receive, as we are always looking at ways we can improve what we do. (ECE worker)
- Our service as we continue to grow and provide the best service that we can. (ECE worker)
- If funding continues then we will carry on and we are always reflective on our practices and looking to improve our service, particularly in the area of sustainability as a parent run organisation. (ECE worker)
- We will do more PD and read the implications of the Green Paper and discussion around ECE.
- Our relationships with other early learning centres and schools in the area. (ECE worker)
- Our teaching - this is always improving because we work so hard on this. (ECE worker)
- My skill level etc as that constantly evolves. (ECE owner or manager)
- Our Programme Planning, Literacy, Parent Communication through IT and the Physical environment. (ECE owner or manager)
- Teachers become more confident in recognizing and reporting abuse. We use the All About Me program and work with parents to help children become more confident and competent in protection themselves. (ECE owner or manager)
- More choice of qualified teachers as 100% centres restructure. (ECE owner or manager)
- There will be a surplus of qualified teachers as centres gear to 80% funding band. (ECE owner or manager)
- Because demand for qualified teachers isn’t as high, centres now have more people to choose from which should result in employing the right person for the job not the only person available. (ECE owner or manager)
- Have some more teachers coming out of their training. From a longer-term perspective, however, this may even out and result in fewer people being prepared to train to be ECE teachers, fewer teachers staying in the profession, and few qualified teachers being available for employment in NZ. (ECE owner or manager)
Changes to the Government or to National’s thinking
- Government realises that the people have a voice and they listen to them. (ECE owner or manager)
- Our service will not be compromised in 100% qualified ECE teachers (that’s a given). We hope that the current advocating in ECE will change the government’s approach to ECE - or change of government if we're lucky! (ECE owner or manager)
- We could have a government that is fair and equitable and acknowledges those who have the same qualification and do the same job! (ECE owner or manager)
- Perhaps if Labour, (huge miracle) win the election, a change in ideology may provide relief and increased funding. (ECE worker)
- Not sure anything is going to improve at this stage......maybe change in Government in November! (ECE owner or manager)
What Might Get Worse
- We lose the funding to be able to reach children in need. (Parent from a home-based service)
- I think the ‘money’ will be even more the focus. I think it will become very tiring fighting for basic quality. (ECE owner or manager)
- Don’t see things improving for a couple of years will just have to make do – so no pay-rises for the staff and maintenance will not be done etc. (ECE owner or manager)
- Hopefully 20 hours will remain. If it goes who knows what will happen for our families and our business. (ECE owner or manager)
- Cost to parents will increase if we are to give teachers pay increases. We may have to reduce adult: child ratio. National government likely to be re-elected, and if so I expect further reductions in funding. (ECE owner or manager)
- Home-based will lose their funding and parent’s choices in childcare will dramatically change. Our Educators, Staff and my business will no longer be operating. (ECE owner or manager)
- If 20 free hours are reduced I would have no children in care & I would be unemployed. (ECE owner or manager)
- Just about everything relating to ECE – more complex funding system, less funding, new cumbersome processes. (ECE owner or manager)
- The funding cuts/access to quality professional development. (ECE worker)
- Ability to raise money to provide resources for children to use. (ECE worker)
- This government is unpredictable in some ways but predictable that I know there will be further funding cuts. (ECE worker)
- Loss of income from Ministry of Education Funding for ECE Sector. Loss of children and staff. (ECE worker)
- If MOE funding for home-based is ceased then the service will not be financially viable therefore home-based will not be an option for parents. (ECE worker)
- 6 years ago I risked our savings from 30 years work to build a purpose built centre and employed 100% registered teachers. When Free ECE came in I trusted the government to support my investment and goals for a quality centre. I was wrong. I cannot charge parents enough to cover the drop in funding and I am now considering selling my centre as a result. (ECE owner)
- We risk now losing graduating teachers overseas as the jobs are not as readily available anymore. These teachers are New Zealand’s future - what will the ECE sector look like in 10years time? (ECE owner or manager)
- I have trained myself to qualified ECE teacher for more than 3years and I owed student loan for more than $40,000.00. This is not fair to do this to us. (ECE worker)
- Greater pressure for staff salary and wage increases. (ECE owner or manager)
- Staff leaving as not being paid enough as they qualify. (ECE owner or manager)
- Staff wages need to go up to maintain staffing levels with qualified teachers but I am reliant on the government funding. (ECE owner or manager)
- The ability to maintain hours for high quality staff if funding reduces again. (ECE owner or manager)
- Reducing unequal support staff if minimum wage increases. (ECE owner or manager)
Rising costs and lack of affordability
- Huge property costs. Families struggling on one income. Rising inflation and financial costs. (Parent, from a parent-led centre)
- During the next 12 months our Centre faces a 75% increase in our lease with Wellington City Council, budget blow out!! Big Fee increase anticipated. (ECE owner or manager)
- Building compliance costs are going up, depreciation allowances are now cut, and tax is going up. Hygiene, cleaning and food costs are also going up significantly. (ECE owner or manager)
- Costs are rising fast. We will have to reduce our training support for teachers. (ECE owner or manager)
- We will have to ask parents to enrol for longer hours to make more money. This resulting in less family time at home for children. (ECE worker)
- Parents struggling to stay at home (which is what they want) and pay all their bills. (ECE worker)
- We have NOT increased fees as most centres have but parents are reducing hours and going for substandard care arrangements due to economic necessity. (ECE owner or manager)
- In the last month we have seen parents remove their children because of financial hardship – one parent that has lost their job. As much as we tried to work with the parent to keep the children at daycare, the parent felt so overwhelmed at the loss of job that she came took the children early and we saw children walking out our doors crying because they didn't want to leave. The impact of the economic climate on parents is frustrating to see as it impacts on their children. My concern is what it will look like for parents if more jobs are lost, prices are increasing and their struggling to bring children to school – this will impact on children’s learning overall because of the strain they see their parents under. (ECE owner or manager)
- I think there will be more informal childcare going on as more people are out of work. (ECE worker)
- Younger families will not be able to afford our service and it would only be affordable for high income earners. (ECE worker)
- Service prices may increase to cover general rise in living. (Parent from a teacher-led service)
- Costs for parents as prices increase and staff wages fall to a level that is intolerable. (ECE owner or manager)
- More cuts to our budgets or charging our families to meet the shortfall which goes against our philosophy of being here for all families regardless of their ability to pay. (ECE worker)
Staff morale and the well-being of the children
- The staff will become more stressed with the increase in living costs and no pay raise - causing them to interact with the children in a less positive manner. (Parent, from a teacher-led centre)
- Quality in care and education and providing professional development for my staff and this will reflect on their practice. (ECE owner or manager)
- We have prided ourselves in offering high quality education for children for the past twenty years but are finding the financial constraints we now find ourselves in are definitely impacting on the education we can deliver. (ECE owner or manager)
- Less money for children's education requiring parents to pay when money it’s tight or nonexistent. Lesser services = lesser education= lesser readiness for school. (ECE worker)
- Quality of resources provided as budget cuts mean not able to provide the experiences we want for children. (ECE worker)
- I’m a qualified reliever looking for work. It’s very hard... Only working 1-2 days per week (that’s a good week). (ECE worker)
- Staff are under stress trying to cut back expenses within the centre and they want higher wages. (ECE worker)
- Maintaining qualified part-time staff. (ECE worker)
- Unable to catch up with all my expenses. (ECE worker)
- Could lose good staff due to increased stress on them as they have to take on more work load. (ECE worker)
- As the only qualified teacher in staff of 4, I can only foresee the pressure increasing. (ECE worker)
- Kindergarten are reducing teacher aide funding so teachers will have less help. (Parent, from a teacher-led centre)
- Money to do professional development - teachers need to pay own costs for mentors. (ECE worker)
- What to do with the new graduates that we have invested a lot of money on in the last 3 years. (ECE owner or manager)
The results of the survey show that increasing government intervention in the early childhood education sector is having a largely negative effect at the level of individual services. The sector overall appears to feel that it has been hurt by recent changes to policy and funding and is worried about further changes such as those signalled by the government’s ECE Taskforce report.
One problem for the sector is that as the proportion of government funding has increased so too has service dependency on that funding. This means when the rules are changed or funding is cut; the impact on services is greater putting stress on owners, staff and families. This is particularly true for some funding areas such as the 20 hours subsidy without which it appears many services fear they will lose large numbers of enrolments.
Perhaps more worryingly the sector appears to be distracted by lack of funding and ever-changing government intervention and the instability this creates. The core functions of early childhood education services are the care and teaching of children, supporting parenting and assisting families, so it could be assumed that these would be the major focuses of any survey response. This survey suggests, however, that government interventions are getting in the way.
The questions in this report were asked as part of a wider survey which also included child and family, professionals, academics and community members as well as those working in and using the ECE sector. This wider survey asked another key question: what is the one thing government should do for early childhood education.
The responses to that question clearly reflect similar feelings to those shown in this survey. The top three wishes were:
- Restore previous funding for, and the target of, 100% qualified registered teachers in teacher-led ECE services
- Focus ECE policy not on saving costs or benefiting ECE providers but on ensuring the best standards for children alongside bringing in regular inspection
- Provide certainty and consistency in funding and support for all ECE service types, thereby taking stress off the sector and retaining choices for parents
Interestingly if we look back at the issues for the sector prior to childcare services being defined as educational (they were bought under the Department of Education in 1986) and before the first major government reforms of early childhood education resulting from the Education to Be More report of 1988, it seems that many of the issues concerning the sector then, still remain. Issues from that time included: insufficient funding, unequal funding between service types, unqualified staff, affordability of services for families, a lack of Maori control over services for their children and ineffective policy development frameworks, and many of these issues have been raised again in this survey.
It seems that the setting up of advisory groups, tinkering with funding systems and making changes to the curriculum as has all been proposed by the current government may not help. Instead political parties should be looking to create the stability and clearer future that ECE services seem so much to want.
One answer might be for political parties to come together to agree on policy and funding and come to a broad national definition of core standards for quality from a public policy perspective. ECE services would no doubt benefit in the long-term from knowing broadly what is expected of them while still be able to retain their individuality. More clearly defined funding structures and policy would also mean the sector would not have to worry as much about what is round the corner.
Any government may also do well to base future policy development not on economic issues or the interest of competing lobby groups but on grounded and evidence-based research and expertise from its own departments.
Of course it is unlikely that cross party agreement would be possible, so perhaps each political party should bear in mind when they develop their own ECE policies that the results of this survey show clearly that the sector is fed up with a lack of clear funding and constant changes to policy. Instead, if the following two comments from respondents are anything to go by, it would welcome a more stable, clearly defined long-term plan which would allow them more autonomy to run their services in a sensible way and focus on what really matters - educating and caring for the youngest members of our society.
To provide the best service for all, we need to be able to focus on providing great programmes that inspire and give children the best opportunities to achieve and have fun! (ECE owner or manager)
Do we want an educated future? People who make informed choices? People who are able to challenge themselves daily? If this is YES, then let early childhood educators do their job! Support us, believe in us. (ECE worker)
APPENDIX 1: Time-line of significant events and turning points in the role of government in early childcare and education for children
1982 –The first Kohanga Reo opened and Kohanga Reo were funded via local Maori management groups and Vote: Maori Affairs.
Pre-1986 -Childcare services were within the social welfare sector. Playcentres and Kindergartens as part-day services that involved parents either as teachers (Playcentres) or in parent-helping and home-visits (Kindergartens) were within the education sector. Getting childcare recognised as education became a focus of feminist and trade-union lobbying as a way that would lead to a socially acceptable expansion of childcare services to allow more women to engage in paid work and not be tied to domesticity.
1986 - Government transferred administrative responsibility for childcare centres and family daycare services from the Dept of Social Welfare to the Dept of Education.
1987 - The Early Childhood Workers Union (for childcare workers) amalgamated with the Kindergarten Teachers Union and later formed a combined union. It was hoped that this would raise the status and benefits of childcare work whilst giving a larger political voice for kindergarten and childcare employees alike.
1988 – Education to Be More, report of the Government's Early Childhood Care and Education report was released. It advocated for bulk funding of services and closing the gap in funding differences between childcare and kindergarten. Also recommended the introduction of national standards for government to set a baseline of quality across ECE services. Eight working groups were formed to provide advice on implementation.
1988 - Three year early childhood training for a diploma introduced for working in both childcare and kindergarten services.
1989 - Government budget provided for a staged plan for higher funding per child, per hour subsidy up to 30 hours a week to childcare centres and kindergartens, with a higher amount for under-2s
1989 (Aug) – Early childhood services received the Early Childhood Management Handbook details minimum standards to work towards complying with and how to prepare a charter. Services were asked to develop and negotiate a charter with the Ministry of Education before 1 July 1990. Funding was linked to being chartered.
1990 (Sept) – Legislation for new minimum standards finally passed. Charters not able to be approved until minimum standards met, so deadline moved forward to June 1991.
1990 (Dec) – Early Childhood Management Handbook was replaced by the Statement for Desirable Objectives and Practices (DOPs). Widespread sector disillusionment with the process of implementation as many of the Handbook requirements were subsequently watered down in the DOPs. The DOPs removed the necessity for quality to be higher than the minimum standards for chartering.
1990 –Kohanga Reo transferred from the Dept of Maori Affairs to the Dept of Education which meant having to come to terms with the regulatory environment and expectations of a mainstream government department and the ECE sector.
1991 – Government stopped the Before Five, bulk funding staged plan to make funding equitable across the ECE sector. Funding rate for children under-2 years was lowered. Regulation preventing kindergartens from charging fees was removed. Three new reviews carried out on staffing, funding, and property.
1992 – Education (Home-based) Order regulations promulgated.
1994 - The combined childcare/kindergarten teachers union joined with primary teachers in the NZEI. It was hoped that this would increase wage and status benefits e.g. wage parity for all early childhood employees with primary school teachers.
1996 – The Diploma of Teaching become a benchmark for quality in the introduction of a new funding package for centres that employed one staff member with a Diploma of Teaching.
1996 - The final version of Te Whariki– a curriculum for all types of early childhood services was launched by the Prime Minister and incorporated into revised compulsory standards (DOPs).
1996 - Statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices revised.
1997 - Kindergarten teachers removed from the State Sector Act – principally to enable childcare to have equity with kindergarten and reduce kindergarten industrial negotiating power.
1998 – The Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations promulgated.
1999 - Change of government and kindergarten teachers brought back under the State Sector Act.
2001 - NZ Teachers Council formed and given jurisdiction by government over professional standards in the teacher-led ECE sector.
2001 - Ten Year Strategic Plan – resulted in government: (a) funding thousands more places in teacher-led ECE services, (b) taking on a new role of ECE network management and planning to get more children into ECE services in communities where participation was lowest, (c) introducing equity funding for community-based ECE services, (d) providing funds for significant teacher supply initiatives including incentive grants to ECE services to support staff to become qualified, (e) ECE scholarships for Maori and Pasifika trainee teachers, and (f) setting targets for percentages of qualified staff – 50% by 2007; 80% by 2010; 100% by 2012.
2002 – Pay parity: Kindergarten teachers’ pay linked to primary school teachers’ pay.
2003 – Ministry of Education begins a review of regulations for ECE.
2004 - The Government decides on a three-tied regulatory framework – The Education Act, A new set of early childhood regulations (2008) and criteria which are regulations that can be prescribed and changed by Minister of Education at will. Between 2004 and 2008 the Ministry carried out three phases of consultation. Implementation of the regulatory framework was delayed in 2008 by a change of government.
2005 - The flat-rate funding system changed to a cost driver system based on the cost structure of running an ECE service including outcomes of kindergarten wage rounds. Funding bands introduced to incentivise teacher-led services to meet registered teacher targets set in the Strategic Plan.
2007 - 20 Hours Free ECE funding introduced. A significant policy shift from government providing a subsidy – to government covering the fee charges. The policy created two groups of services: teacher-led and parent-led. Initially when the 20 Hours Free was announced in the 2004 Budget it was for community-based teacher-led ECE services to cover the average cost of providing ECE to regulated level. Intensive lobbying leading up to the 2005 general election saw the Labour-led government agree to extend the 20 Hours scheme to include private ECE providers and allow services to levy parents with optional charges. Kindergarten associations attracted to the 20 Hour Funding rate sought to maximise returns by increasing kindergarten hours. By 2011 few sessional kindergartens remain.
2008 (Nov) – Education Minister announces a review of the regulations that came into effect on 1 December 2008 and appointed a working group to prepare a report, which the Ministry consulted on and provided feedback to the Minister.
2009 - 20 Hours ECE funding extended to playcentres and kōhanga reo
2009 (July) – Changes to Government decisions on licensing and criteria are announced. All ECE services to go through process of being re-licensed under the 2008 revised regulations including criteria.
2010 – Removal of the funding band for more than 80% qualified and registered staff. Kindergartens return to being funded at a different rate to childcare services, with kindergartens providing sessional ECE funded for 100% qualified/registered staff.
2010 (Oct) - ECE Taskforce established by Education Minister to review ECE funding and set priorities for the next 3 – 5 years. No voice on the Taskforce for parent-led services and home-based services; and NZEI Teachers’ Union and NZ Childcare Assn excluded also. Only 439 submissions received with 314 said to be on a standard form issued by NZEI.
2010 (Nov) – Registered primary trained teachers recognised for funding purposes to work in ECE.
2011 (July) –Government increases the maximum allowable number of children from 50 to 150 in a licensed early childhood centre premises and from 25 to 75 children under two-years to 75. The rationale being that an increase in licence size (a de-facto regulation for group size) will save money in duplicate paperwork and help centres save on registered teacher staffing costs by spreading registered teachers across their previously separate centre licences.
2011 (July) - Support grant for provisionally registered teacher limited to those working in services with below 80% qualified/registered teachers
2011 (June – Aug) – Close on 4,000 responses received to the Ministry of Education online survey seeking feedback on the recommendations of the ECE Taskforce report, with a disproportionately high response/reaction rate from playcentre and home-based services compared with kindergarten and childcare.
2011 (Oct) – The Education Minister makes the first of a possible series of announcements following Ministry of Education consultation on the ECE Taskforce report. The funding system for ECE is to be changed, the ECE curriculum is to be reviewed, government is to get involved in directing parents to choose the ‘right’ ECE through web-based interactive tools, and a number of sector advisory groups are to be established.