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Govt’s ECE record: quantity up, quality down

09 June, 2014

Verdict on Government’s early childhood education record: quantity up, quality down

Early Childhood Council CEO Peter Reynolds told the council’s annual conference this weekend (06 June to 08 June 2014) that the Government was succeeding in increasing the quantity of early childhood education, but failing to maintain quality.

While Government spending on early childhood education had risen substantially in recent years, the bulk of new Government spending had gone on the 20 Hours scheme, and to increasing both numbers attending and the number of hours they attended.

Centres, however, were receiving less money per child hour after inflation was taken into account. Many specific funding programmes had been cut. And the result was ‘centres all over New Zealand under substantial financial pressure’.

Many had been forced to replace qualified staff with the unqualified. Many have been forced backwards on teacher-child ratios. Most had cut professional development for teachers. And many had eliminated it.

A March (2014) survey of centres had found ‘the effects of government revenue cuts’ to be most significant of the ‘limiting factors’ that centres were facing, Mr Reynolds said.

While the Government was succeeding in getting early childhood education to greater numbers of Maori, Pasifika and low-income children, some of their ‘ECE Participation Programme’ projects were ‘$2 shop trinkets - cheap and unlikely to work in the long run’.

While every dollar invested in quality early childhood education made it more likely ‘all children, but especially at-risk children, will do well in school, get qualifications, and hold down a job’, if it wasn’t quality it wouldn’t work, Mr Reynolds said.

‘To be specific, I am talking about “supported play groups”, and something called the “flexible and responsive home-based initiative”, neither of which are teacher led in any sense we (the education and care centres) would recognize.’

Mr Reynolds said it was hard to believe that while most middle class children needed qualified teachers, at-risk children could ‘make up all that lost ground’ with unqualified teachers.

Low quality care should not be acceptable anywhere in the early childhood sector, he said. ‘And certainly not for our most at-risk of children – the ones for whom a quality early childhood education could mean the difference between a job and jail.’

The Early Childhood Council’s annual conference was held in Auckland this weekend (Friday 06 to Sunday 08 June).

It was attended by 500 delegates and about 100 speakers, presenters and exhibitors.

The Early Childhood Council is the largest representative body of licensed early childhood centres in New Zealand. Its membership includes more than half of all education and care centres.

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