What’s changed for Auckland children, teachers and kindergartens

Opinion article
By Dr Sarah Alexander

Little seems to have been accomplished at the Auckland Kindergarten Association since the resignation of its chief executive Tanya Harvey last year, as unrest grew due to changes she was leading across all 107 kindergartens in the association.  

democracy getting the flick 1Before resigning she was very close to successfully steering the more than 100 year old Association away from being a provider of public community-based free kindergartens and this was upsetting a lot of people. 

Activities had included using property and money donated to kindergarten to open childcare centres; telling parents and whanau that their kindergarten’s fundraising, grants, and decision-making regarding what was best for their children belonged to head office; and forming a political alliance between the AKA and the Early Childhood Council, a childcare owners business lobby group.

In early 2017 Ms Harvey announced a plan to change the hours of operation of all the AKA’s kindergartens, extending to 7-hour day attendance for children and not closing for school holiday breaks.    

As the plan was implemented the ChildForum Early Childhood National Network revealed to others in the early childhood sector and to the country what was happening at the AKA through a series of articles and opinion pieces. The AKA become headline news in the media. AKA parents, teachers, and community members including some AKA life-members pushed in earnest to have more say on the changes. (for example see press release "Money trumps community')

Thirty kindergartens were changed before Ms Harvey and Board chairperson Simon Jones surrendered a little to parent and teacher pressure and announced on 26 October 2017 “a breather” in the plan’s implementation. 

They said they would commission someone to undertake a review and make recommendations for a way forward.  The review would take 4 to 6 weeks, after which time decisions would be made on the kindergartens that had been changed and future changes. This did not happen. 

What happened next is that Ms Harvey resigned - effective from 17 November - and Pauline Winter with public service experience but no early childhood service management experience was appointed until a permanent appointment could be made. 

The Annual General Meeting of the AKA was held on 30 November and three parent nominees for the Board were voted on – an outcome of much parent to parent networking to revive kindergarten parent committees and ensure high representation by parents at the AGM.

The meeting voted unanimously to require any further changes to gain majority approval from a steering committee in which half the members would be elected by the community and half would be AKA teachers and staff.  It also agreed to let teachers speak freely, to require disclosure of financial information and consultants' reports, and to hold a special meeting to put the AKA constitution on to a more democratic basis. (See Herald article)

Early this year the Board commissioned an internal review and appointed three reviewers from outside of the AKA.

Nine months have passed since Ms Harvey’s departure and last year’s AGM.   So what has changed?

The 30 kindergartens changed under Ms Harvey’s management are still waiting to hear what’s going to happen to them. 

Satisfaction in the willingness of Ms Winter and Mr Jones who has continued as the Board chairperson is widespread but there is dissatisfaction in the lack of action to put wrongs right.  

For teachers there is a lot of going around in circles with discussion of what is going to happen. Parents who are not involved at Board level are also wondering about the lack of action. The situation is concerning. 

A teacher commented, “We have written many letters to management, submitted to the reviewers, talked to the union but we are asked again and again to explain the issues we are facing. They already know.  You could really feel the anger and frustration in the air at a recent meeting. We wondered why we were meeting again.  We are stressed and exhausted. When will they take action? When will they carry through with concrete solutions?”

One parent spoken to described how “all the right words to make us feel listened to are being said by the interim CEO and board chairperson but nothing is being done.”

Another parent said, “The changes were thrust upon our kindy and have been bad for it and our children and teachers.  There’s been no direct communication with us about our kindy. It is unacceptable. We are losing patience.”

One positive change has been the cancellation of the proposed closure of the Pt Chevalier kindergarten to reopen it as a licensed childcare centre, with full-time care costing up to $355 a week was halted.

A second change that could be positive is that a management restructure may be happening but has not been publicly announced.

Communication, collaboration and inclusion has not improved

It has seemed like déjà vu for teachers and many parents recently. Last month teachers were not able to access a webinar concerning the reviewers’ completed report.  Last week many families were missed off the mailing list for an email about meetings to be held at which a ‘moving forward programme’ is to be presented to them.  And AKA management did not think to hold a meeting in South Auckland, leaving parents from the area facing travel for up to an hour to get to the venue closest to them.  It is believed these issues were fixed but should not have happened.  

When will copies of the review be made available?  If collaboration is valued then why not share the report?   A reason for withholding the report should not be that Board paid for it because it was AKA money, parent and taxpayer money that paid for it.

There is a rumor going around that the AKA management team has been restructured and there are redundancies.  It would seem that teachers while knowing of the rumor have not officially been informed but a number of parents have confirmed this to be true. I first heard that a number of people in the management team were being shown the door from a journalist seeking confirmation of this well over a month ago. 

The Board has planned a ‘moving forward programme’ from the recommendations made by the reviewers  and it looks like the Board may be hoping to carry out its programme without allowing kindergarten communities to see the reviewers’ report, critique the report and give input into the ‘moving forward programme’. 

Financial accountability has not improved

The board is telling parents and teachers that a finding of the review team was that funding does not meet ongoing requirements for costs – but what does this really mean? It does not sound like costs are a concern especially when money spent on consultants over recent years has been large.   

And yet again consultants were brought in to review the changes. The cost of having not one but three reviewers – with at least one reviewer travelling from Wellington has not yet been disclosed and neither has the cost of the ongoing remuneration of an interim CEO versus a permanent salaried appointment. 

Treatment of staff has not greatly improved

There is recognition by the Board and management of deterioration in relationships with staff but nothing yet to reverse this deterioration.  

The results of a staff survey showed that head teachers were extremely unhappy and even new employees did not express high levels of satisfaction as would be expected of fresh recruits. What staff wanted most was very basic things that were considered missing, such as to be valued for their contributions, open and transparent communication, and reinstatement of term breaks and sufficient non-contact time. Teachers expressed that they were given little opportunity to learn and grow, there was lack of opportunity to progress and they missed having a trusted person at work. The Association needs to bring back professional service managers to visit kindergartens, support and guide teachers professionally and give feedback on appraisals. 

What else has not happened or been achieved?

  • There has been no apology – no letter from the CEO and Board specifically to the kindergartens that have changed, to apologise and acknowledge the kindergartens ongoing challenges and growing despair
  • The consultant’s report that the former CEO and board commissioned that informed the plan in 2017 to change kindergartens has not been released
  • The financial accounts for individual kindergartens have not been prepared/ made available
  • Kindergartens have not been given control over Equity funding and funding for Disadvantage paid to them by the Ministry of Education
  • A whistle-blowing policy to protect teachers is needed
  • A policy on bullying with application across theAKA organisation is needed
  • There has been no movement to restore the AKA to meet the role it was designed to fulfil which is the control of free kindergartens. The AKA is actually continuing to expand into the childcare market and is opening in August a newly built daycare centre to house 120 children, 7.30 to 6 pm.
  • There has been no movement to disestablish teaching positions filled by unqualified staff and to return to employ all teachers who are qualified as teachers in all kindergartens
  • There has been no engagement in promotion of sessional kindergarten as an option for families.
  • It would appear that the interim CEO and representatives have not yet began to meet with government ministers and politicians to present a strong case to government to fund sessional kindergarten at the same rate at least as the all-day centre funding rate.

* Do you know more?  please let us know


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