As more children are enrolling in early childhood education than ever before, the sector is concerned about keeping up with demand and offering a quality service. Education Review highlights nine areas in which improvements could be made.
The Ministry of Education gets a big tick for increasing participation levels in early childhood education. ECE enrolments are the highest they’ve ever been and approaching the Ministry’s goal of 98 per cent participation. This is excellent – we want children to have the benefit of early childhood education prior to starting school. However, the ECE sector is crying out for changes in a number of areas to support the increase in enrolments.
Funding brought in line with real costs. The Government now spends more than $1.6 billion on ECE each year – more than double the amount it spent on ECE in 2007/08. The Ministry says that for every $1 that parents contribute to ECE, the Government contributes $4.80. It claims per-child ECE funding in New Zealand is among the highest in the OECD. However, the NZEI Te Riu Roa’s Every Child Is Worth It campaign calls for
per-child funding to be restored to the inflation-adjusted levels it was set at prior to 2010. It wants to see funding levels increased annually in line with real cost increases.
Keep a careful eye on quality. Evidence shows that the quality of ECE can make or break a child’s educational outcomes later in life. It is clear that a child is only better off in ECE if the education is of high quality.
The Education Review Office (ERO) has raised serious concerns about the quality of ECE on offer in many services, warning that children could be harmed by poor-quality ECE. However, the Government says the percentage of ECE services assessed by ERO as “not well placed to deliver quality education” has shown a significant decrease, from 28.8 per cent in 2008 to just 2.6 per cent in 2015.
Support centres to have 100 per cent qualified staff. Qualified staff undoubtedly lift the quality of ECE. Since 2010 the Government has funded a maximum of 80 per cent trained staff. The sector wants to see the Government restore the 100 per cent qualified teacher component to the funding formula. This will help to encourage services to employ qualified staff, and also remove a funding stress on those currently committed to 100 per cent qualified staff.
Lower child:teacher ratios. Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand (ECNZ) wants to see teacher:child ratios improve for under-two-year-olds from the current 1:5 to 1:3; the union is calling for 1:4. Both agree that the ratio for two- to five-year-olds should be reduced from 1:10 to 1:8.
Aim for smaller group sizes. ECE centres can currently have up to 150 children over two and up to 25 under two. While this has helped to increase participation, it can diminish the overall ECE experience. The union is pushing for a maximum of 15 under-twos and 40 over-twos.
Continue to focus on priority groups, including Māori and Pasifika. The Ministry’s Early Childhood Advisory Group for under-twos has warned: “We know that Māori and Pasifika children, and children from low socio-economic status backgrounds, are more likely than other children to experience poor-quality ECE. Correspondingly, they are likely to receive the most benefit from increases in the quality of ECE.”
Ensure the revamped Te Whāriki is properly implemented. The Ministry has already committed to sector consultation for the review of the highly regarded 20-year-old ECE curriculum and progress looks promising. However, NZEI’s Paul Goulter stresses that “excellent implementation of a quality curriculum requires trained and well-supported teachers”.
Exempt ECEs from the new food safety regulations. The sector feels that while food safety is, of course, critical in ECE, the compliance costs relating to the new food safety legislation are unnecessary for a sector that is already regulated. The sector is calling for an exemption from the new regulations.
Equal pay. As a female-dominated sector, the ECE sector will be watching how events unfold with the equal pay negotiations affecting the aged care and home health sectors and whether it could have any bearing on pay levels for ECE teachers.