Ministry Forcing Closure Of Kawhia Pre-School
Kawhia Educational Trust
318 Rosamond Terrace
Monday 4 October 2004
Ministry Of Education Forcing Closure Of Kawhia Pre-School
Proceedings were filed in the Hamilton High Court on Friday 1 October 2004 challenging the decision of the Secretary of Education Howard Fancy to suspend the licence of the Kawhia Early Childhood Learning Centre at Kawhia Primary School.
The proceedings are the culmination of a debilitating seven month wrangle with the Ministry of Education over the proper implementation of the Early Childhood Regulations concerning the employment of a teacher at the Centre.
The Centre, opened in April 2002, is operated by the Kawhia Educational Trust, a body established by the Kawhia Primary School Board of Trustees. It is integrated with the school which has a decile 1 rating. Over 90% of the 26 children currently attending the Centre are Maori.
“The BOT took the unusual step of setting up a pre-school within the school because like so many other low decile schools we have been struggling to overcome low reading levels in our six year olds. Quality early childhood experiences are essential if our children are to become successful readers and learners”, says Virginia Shaw, licensee of the Centre and Chairperson of the BOT.
However the Centre fell outside the Regulations when earlier this year a teacher was appointed who holds a primary teaching qualification rather than an early childhood qualification as recognised by the Secretary of Education. She was appointed because there were no other applicants for the job – reflecting, says Ms Shaw, the serious national shortage of early childhood teachers.
“An isolated rural Centre which can only offer a salary well below what is available in kindergartens (which have pay parity with primary schools) and many urban early childhood centres is obviously going to miss out. Our situation is even more desperate as we are a bilingual Centre so need a teacher fluent in te reo Maori. Qualified bilingual teachers are extra-ordinarily difficult to come by.”
The Secretary of Education was asked to exercise his discretion to grant the Centre an exception to his recognised qualifications so as to enable it to employ the primary teacher . He was also asked to reverse the funding cut he had imposed. He refused claiming that he has no discretion to make an exception.”
“We dispute this decision. The Secretary’s inflexible ruling and the refusal of the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard to intervene despite stating in answer to a parliamentary question that “there is discretion and flexibility in licensing matters” has left us with no option but to seek the protection of the court.”
Ministry officials suggested that once the Centre’s licence has been cancelled a probationary licence could be issued to the Centre. However Ms Shaw has declined to apply for such a licence because of concerns about its legality and objections to the proposed conditions.
The proceedings are important for the whole early childhood sector. ‘We are not the only early childhood centre that is finding it impossible to comply with the Regulations because of a shortage of early childhood teachers”.
The court will determine whether the Secretary is acting lawfully and reasonably. A ruling has also been sought as to the scope of the Minister of Education’s discretion to authorise exceptions to the Regulations.
“From our view point the Secretary’s attitude is incomprehensible and defies common sense. The effect of his decision is to deny pre-school education to Kawhia children and undermine the efforts of the BOT to realise the government’s gaols for Maori education – efforts which have been applauded by the Education Review Office in its review of our school last month.”
Additionally the Centre has encouraged and supports local Maori women to undertake early childhood training. Three women, including the Centre’s teacher, are currently undergoing such training.
“It is hard to imagine what more the Minister and his officials could expect of a small, poor school community in terms of realising government education policy. Our efforts should be being celebrated and supported. Instead we find ourselves harassed, told to close and forced into court simply because we have tried to do the best for our children and our community.”