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ECE standards are falling at the expense of participation


For immediate release

Friday 23 December 2016

Little School founder says early childhood education standards are falling at the expense of participation

Government action is needed to address falling quality in early childhood education (ECE) in New Zealand, says ECE specialist and businesswoman Maria Johnson.

Ms Johnson, who owns the Little School group of pre-schools in Wellington and Auckland, says years of underfunding by government and rapid growth in numbers of ECE providers has eroded quality in the sector.

Now she is preparing to launch a consultancy, operating at ‘break-even’ level, to help lift the standards of ECE provision nationally.

“There are many very good ECE centres in New Zealand but I could not say hand on heart that every child in ECE is in a quality environment,” says Ms Johnson who is a qualified teacher, executive member and former President of the Early Childhood Council and a member of the Education Council’s Disciplinary Tribunal.

“I have 15 years’ experience in the sector and I recognise that quality is deteriorating. Many people I meet through my involvement in educational organisations say the same thing.

“Funding for 100 per cent qualified teachers was removed in 2010, increases to funding rates have not kept pace with the Consumer Price Index and there has been no increase in ECE funding at the per-child level in the Budget for the past two years.

“The government wants 98 per cent of children in “quality” ECE and, understandably, a lot of people have seen an investment opportunity. That’s fine but, combined with funding cuts, including loss of funding for qualified teachers, we are seeing quality starting to deteriorate and there is a risk of serious impact on learning outcomes.”

Ms Johnson says the current legal ratio of one teacher to ten children is not high enough and some centres operate with the bare minimum of qualified staff.

“If you have 30 children and three teachers, especially if some children have special needs, then children are not going to be having the one-on-one conversations they need to really engage through various learnings. It’s basically baby-sitting, not ECE.

“Approximately 96 per cent of children are in ECE, which is great, but it’s currently being achieved at the expense of quality. The government needs to put more funding into ECE to ensure professional standards are upheld and consistent quality is brought back to the sector.”

Ms Johnson owns six Little Schools, with a seventh due to open in Orakei in May, as well as a nursery next to her Khandallah pre-school. In 2012 Little School won Best Small to Medium Business in the Wellington Business Awards and Ms Johnson was named Wellington Business Woman of the Year.

She also provides a consultancy service in the Middle East to help ensure high standards in ECE.

She’s now establishing a similar consultancy in New Zealand, launching in mid-2017. While the Education Review Office inspects ECE centres at least every three years, the consultancy would provide annual assessments, to a set quality standard, on eight different criteria. A quality improvement programme would be provided for centres that did not meet the standard.

“I’m doing this to lift the bar and give back to the educational community,” says Ms Johnson. “I’m prepared to do it on a break-even basis to increase quality levels for children, because they are our biggest asset.

“The children enrolled in the first Little School in Wellington in 2003 are just leaving high school. I meet families all the time who tell me how Little School gave their children a great start – they’ve done well at school and many are in leadership roles.

“If we want children to become lifelong learners and if we genuinely want to ensure that 98 per cent are in ‘quality’ education then we need to lift the bar.”


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