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NZEI Te Riu Roa Early Childhood Millenium Conf.

Hon. Trevor Mallard
11 July 2000 Speech Notes

Embargoed until: 3.15 pm

NZEI Te Riu Roa Early Childhood Millenium Conference


Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. You will know that I am strongly committed to the importance of early childhood education.

Education is a big and diverse ministerial portfolio and I have given some of it away to associate ministers. It would have been easy to give away early childhood, most of my predecessors have done so and is a neat and discrete part of the portfolio. But I have not palmed it off because to me early childhood education is a crucial part of the continuum of education.

Participation

We know that children who get high quality early childhood education gain an advantage in their cognitive, language and social development. It is a worry that Maori and Pacific children are not fairly represented in the numbers of children getting early childhood education. So this is an important failing in the system. This is a serious gap in the education of Maori and Pacific children.

If we can get these children access to quality early childhood education they are more likely to do well at school; they are more likely to do well in tertiary education; they are more likely to do well in the workforce and contribute to society as a whole.

Increasing participation in quality education is one of our key objectives for the early childhood sector.

Quality indicators

I have been talking about high quality early childhood education and I think you will all agree with me that not all of the places where early childhood education is provided could be described as high quality.

Some of the key quality matters that will be considered when we are looking for the best possible provision are:
 good staff-child ratios
 group sizes
 interactions between staff and children, and staff and parents
 the range and type of activities children engage in
 resources and facilities
 safe premises and
 staff qualifications.

The quality of the teacher is the single most important issue in the search for high quality early childhood education.

Qualifications

In the long run what we want to see is a benchmark qualification for all early childhood teachers. But we know this will be quite a slow process so for a start we will require all early childhood teachers who hold positions of responsibility to hold at least a Diploma of Teaching (ECE).

We have chosen the diploma because it is a coherent course. The points system does not guarantee that a holder of 100 points has covered the whole gamut of learning necessary for a high quality qualification. People who have licensing points will have to upgrade to a Diploma of Teaching (ECE).

We are well aware that this insistence on qualified early childhood teachers might work against our determination to increase access. So we are timing its introduction so that there are five years to catch up.

In addition we believe that all early childhood teachers should be registered. Registration is one way that we can reassure parents that good teachers are teaching their children.

Details around the introduction of this policy such as timing and legislation are being worked through as part of the development of the Education Council. There will be further consultation with the early childhood sector as this policy is developed.

This government supports pay parity with the compulsory schools sector for early childhood teachers. A working party will be established next year to deal with the development of a unified teaching pay scale to include early childhood teachers.

Police Checks

As well as requiring all teachers to be registered, the government’s view is that all staff employed regularly in early childhood education services should undergo police checks.

Our youngest children are the most vulnerable members of society. We must do everything in our power to ensure that our children’s experience of early childhood education is a safe and happy one.

Equity Funding

This Government is in dead earnest about closing the social and economic gaps between Maori and Pacific people and other New Zealanders. Closing the gaps work is reflected strongly in the Budget.

For example $60,000 is allocated to an equity funding working party. This is the start of the Government's proposal to introduce some form of equity funding for the early childhood sector.

In the school sector we already recognise that socio economic factors in children's families and homes have a strong influence on the school's job. A child's family background impacts greatly on how well they do in education. The government has taken a responsibility to make up some of that difference in opportunity through the education system.

In schools the decile system is based on information from the census about the households in the neighbourhood the children come from. This may not be useful in the early childhood sector, we don't know yet. I will be asking the working group to develop an appropriate model for early childhood.

I will announce the membership of the working group within a month and hope to implement the policy for 1 July 2001.

Strategic Plan

Another Budget provision is for work on a long-term coherent strategic plan for early childhood education. $100,000 has been set aside in the first year to produce a discussion document, and run a nationwide consultation process. A further $50,000 will be available in next year's Budget for a working group to do further work on the proposed strategic plan.

The strategic plan will be the policy framework for future development. It will build on Before Five and your Future Directions work. It will provide us with some idea of what is likely to occur in early childhood education for the next ten or so years. This increase in planning and forecasting capability will allow us to be more responsive to parents, communities and children in developing early childhood policies. We will be in a better position to identify gaps in the service provided. It will also assist us in our push for quality.

Conclusion

You and I are playing a part in convincing all New Zealanders that quality early childhood education is vital for our children. We want our five year olds to start their school days with a strong foundation for making the most of their future educational opportunities.

Society as a whole will gain from increased participation in quality early childhood education. In fact we will all benefit through better social, educational and economic outcomes.

Congratulations to you all on being leaders in this campaign to improve our early childhood education system.

ENDS

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