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South Auckland Centre Hit By Education Strategy

Tue, 27 Aug 2002

South Auckland Centre Hit By New Education Strategy

A South Auckland early childhood centre with a glowing Ministry of Education report is struggling to survive under a new government education strategy which disadvantages privately owned facilities.

Play and Learn, Sunnyside, is one of three early childhood centres owned and operated by two dedicated South Auckland women, Jan Beatson and Wendy Gray. The centres cater for a total of 120 pre-schoolers and offer flexible hours to suit working parents.

In its last report on Play and Learn the Education Review Office described it as an outstanding centre with a strong commitment to children, families and the community. The centre offered children rich learning experiences and provided high quality education and care, the state body reported.

Despite this, the Government has excluded the Play and Learn centres and other privately owned centres like them, from new equity funding and pay parity it recently announced for the early childhood education sector.

The Early Childhood Council believes this and other aspects of the governmentís early childhood education policy is an intentional discouragement to private centres which currently cater for 70,000 infants and pre-schoolers nationwide.

"Jan Beatson and Wendy Gray fill a huge need in the community but the government has turned a blind eye to that when it comes to funding," ECC, CEO Sue Thorne says.

Equity funding is available to non-private centres in rural and low socio-economic areas. Many of these struggle with funding and are unable to charge as much as those in more affluent areas.

Jan Beatson and Wendy Gray have lived in Papatoetoe all their lives and are committed to their community. They have 45 years experience between them in the early childhood sector. That expertise and the quality of the service they provide is recognised by the government organisation, Group Special Education, which refers children with special needs to the Play and Learn centres. A major part of the service the two women provide is taking their young charges on daily educational excursions to explore their world.

"We looked at how we could make a difference and at the opportunities our children did and did not have," Jan Beatson says.

" We bought a van and take 10 children out each day to places like the zoo, museum, MOTAT and Mangere Mountain. Many of our parents donít have transport, so chances for their children to take these trips are limited. This week 18 children are going to the snow.

"We have noticed that the children have become more confident and aware of their world and their knowledge and understanding has increased."

Play and Learn has also placed computers in all its centres

"These are the sorts of things equity funding should be for," Wendy Gray says. "We wrote to the Ministry of Education when we heard about equity funding but were told as a privately owned centre we could not apply. When we asked why, the ministerís reply was that most private centres are only interested in making money.

"The reality is if you want to make a profit from an early childhood centre you donít open one here. We are pleased the government is recognising the early childhood sector with equity funding and pay parity ? but you canít divide a sector by funding only a part of it ? that just doesnít make sense."

Under the governmentís new education strategy, kindergarten teachers will have pay parity with primary and secondary school teachers. Again, funding for this only applies to free kindergartens. There has been a small increase in funding to other centres.

Jan Beatson and Wendy Gray say they have worked hard to increase their level of qualified staff. They believe they are now in danger of losing them if they donít pay them more.

"We are increasing wages to our staff but that is putting huge pressure on us. The reality is we will have to reduce our number of qualified staff and put up fees to cover the increased costs.

"We care passionately about we do ? and we have to make it pay. We donít make a huge profit and what we do make we put back into our centres."


For more information, phone Sue Thorne, CEO, Early Childhood Council, 0274 483-215.

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