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20 hours free policy praised by former critics

21 August 2005

Labour's extension of 20 hours free policy praised by former critics

The Minister of Education Trevor Mallard is being praised by former critics for announcing today that he will extend an offer of free early childhood education from children attending community-owned centres only to those attending privately-owned centres also.

Early Childhood Council chief executive Sue Thorne said today that Labour's announcement 'will redress an inequity that would have given free early childhood education to millionaires in some parts of New Zealand and nothing to battlers in others'.

Mrs Thorne said the Government's decision to extend its offer of 20 hours a week free early childhood education for three and four year olds was 'a victory for common sense and fair play'.

The Early Childhood Council, that represents 850 education and care centres nationwide, has been an aggressive opponent of the old policy 'because it was especially unfair to working families', Mrs Thorne said.

'Under the old policy the subsidy was available to children at community-owned centres only. The thousands at privately-owned centres were to be excluded simply because they were attending privately-owned centres.

'This would have meant that poor families in areas with little or no community provision would have been paying for early childhood education accessed free by wealthier parents in parts of New Zealand with plentiful community provision.'

Mrs Thorne said that many parts of New Zealand had 'very few or no community-owned all-day education and care centres.

'Under the old policy thousands of children in these areas would have missed out entirely on the free education' she said.

'And this would have been wrong because the ability of children to access government support should be a matter of need and not a matter of where you happen to live.'

'It is very encouraging to see that this government has accepted this to be the case and has changed its policy accordingly.' 'Community-owned and privately-owned services are all required to meet the same regulatory, staffing and accountability requirements so it makes perfect sense that children attending these services be treated the same for funding purposes.' said Mrs Thorne

Details of how the policy will work in practice need to be worked through to ensure that centres will be able to continue to provide the high quality education that parents and children currently enjoy. The Early Childhood Council looks forward to working constructively through these details with the Minister.

The Early Childhood Council, which Mrs Thorne heads, represents 850 New Zealand community and private early childhood centres that look after more than 45 thousand preschoolers.

It commissioned a recently-released report (31 July, 2005), Putting Children First, that was highly critical of the old 20 free hours policy that excluded privately-owned centres.

ENDS

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