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The Chosen Ones

The Government has now agreed to lift the rate of funding subsidy to the operators of free kindergartens, so they can pay their early childhood teachers the same as teachers in the compulsory sector. There can be no doubt that the selected teachers will ratify this, but it leaves 80% of early childhood staff out in the cold.


There is a part in all of us that will be pleased for these teachers and this public recognition of the value of early childhood education; but the overwhelming feeling, for those of us in the rest of the early childhood sector, is one of despair and dismay. Not only has the Government broken a pledge they made in the 1999 manifesto that they would implement a plan for pay parity for all early childhood teachers, but instead they have carried out another destructive policy act which will have serious immediate and long term negative consequences to the other staff employed in the early childhood education and care sector and the families they serve.

The truth is there is no plan to provide extra funding to allow any other chartered early childhood education organisations to pay their teachers more: As a consequence the Minister has drawn an artificial line between early childhood provider organisations. The Minister and his Cabinet colleagues have agreed to fund this selective pay parity by increasing the level of Government subsidy to free kindergarten operators to an incredible 50% more than other chartered operators. This is simply political favouritism.

The incorporated societies that operate early childhood education centres and style themselves as 'free kindergartens' have a long and important place in New Zealand's educational history. But for the last 10 years the Minister of Education has entered into Charters with a wide range of other organisations to provide services to the same standards* of curriculum, facilities and training. Free Kindergarten operators now employer only 20% of all early childhood teachers and it is they who have become the 'chosen ones' for the Minister's latest political policy statement.

*]The main exception is that Education Regulations and funding rules allow free kindergarten providers to provide services under a 1:15 teacher ratio, whereas, for the same age groups, other chartered providers have to provide 1 teacher for every 8 children. This serious quality deficiency is conveniently ignored by the current Minister, as are the fiscal consequences of fixing it.

This move to provide massive amounts of extra funding just to the organisations that operate free kindergartens is yet another push in the Minister's plan to tilt the playground towards their historical political favourites and away from the ones that parents choose the most.

As well as Playcentres and Kohanga Reo there are over 1700 chartered early childhood education centres in New Zealand, who all employ (and need more) qualified early childhood teachers, as required by Government: These are the parents' 'chosen ones' and the numbers have grown by a stunning 130% in the last 8 years.

The free kindergarten operators manage 603 centres and there has been virtually no growth over the same period, despite the fact that they get higher subsidies (and have low or no parent fees). This is mainly because the hours don't suit working parents and their staff ratios are poor quality.

By agreeing to pay even higher funding the free kindergartens, the Minister is not only playing favourites but he is punishing the success and innovation of the other provider organisations: Welcome to New Zealand 2002.

Already crippled by policy blunders to teacher training supply and standards, which have caused severe staffing shortages, the 'rest' of the early childhood education sector now face this double blow and will be devastated as their best staff simply move away to take up higher paying positions in the politically favoured sector. This will rip the heart out of staff morale and it will undoubtedly force much needed centres throughout New Zealand to close.

Proudly pumping the policy of pay parity, the Minister stands before a delighted 20% of early childhood teachers, who will now get 30% pay rises. The other 80% ask in despair 'how can it be pay parity?' and 'what about your promise?'.

Sadly they are not among the chosen ones.

The obvious solution to this further policy blunder is to agree to 'Funding Parity'; to immediately agree a staged plan that lifts the subsidy rate to the 'rest' of the early childhood providers so that it matches the rate being paid to 'free kindergarten' operators: If the Minister needs reminding, this is exactly what the Labour Party promised to the early childhood sector in the early 1990s.

It is time the Minister stopped exposing his strange political bias, stopped tilting the playground and playing favourites and focussed on educational outcomes and a fair and genuine partnership with education providers.

Or maybe the Minister should just be put in 'timeout'.

Ross Penman

President
Early Childhood Council

Ross Penman is President of Early Childhood Council, a Director of Better Business Bureau Ltd and Prodigy Learning Centres Ltd. The Early Childhood Council is a self-funded support network for the owners and managers of over 800 independent early childhood education centres throughout NZ and advocates for successful and positive partnerships between taxpayer (funder) and private providers to improve educational outcomes for children and their families.


(media contact about this issue only Mobile 0274-999 216 or ross@prodigy.co.nz)

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