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NZ Council for Educational Research Conference

Hon Trevor Mallard
26 October 2001 Speech Notes
New Zealand Council for Educational Research Conference

Thanks for inviting me to speak to you.

This audience will be well aware of my commitment to early childhood education – and how this Government’s sees it as a key building block for our education system.

Emerging research - such as the landmark Competent Children study which I am launching today - continues to reinforce the benefits of early childhood education.

Competent children at 10 shows that early childhood education still counts. Five years after they have started school the early childhood education experiences of the children in the study are still impacting on their performance.

I believe that these are exciting times for early childhood education.

Today, I want to talk about some of the initiatives underway within the sector, focussing on issues like participation, qualifications, and the vital question of quality.

But first, I’d like to outline my vision for early childhood education.

Spelling out the vision can point us towards the tools we need to build it.

My vision is that every New Zealand child gets the chance to enjoy quality early childhood education.

I want a sector diverse enough to meet the needs of children and their families.

I want a sector where all the various services offer a quality early childhood education.

I want a sector where all teachers are well qualified.

I also want to make sure that those children that are currently missing out get a chance to participate in a quality early childhood education service.

So how are we going to get there?

Last year I established a working group to develop a strategic plan for Early Childhood Education.

I asked the members to give me a framework - or a road map - for policy development in early childhood education over the coming decade.

As many of you know, Dr Anne Meade chaired this working group.

A number of early childhood education researchers were also members of this group (Anne Smith, Helen May, Jean Rockell, and Linda Mitchell).

Later in the process it became apparent that a smaller group was needed to do the technical sequencing and staging work.

Last week the technical planning group gave me its report.

I've read it but am still working my way through the implications so I’m not going to respond specifically to it today. I will release it next week.

What I will talk about is some of the exciting work already underway within the ECE sector.

The first of these involves lifting participation – an issue that is crucial to reducing the disparities within our education system.

Since becoming Minister, one of my personal aims has been to boost participation rates in early childhood education.

We know that quality education experiences among our young children build strong foundations for later educational and social success.

We also know that Maori and Pacific families have lower early childhood education participation rates than others do. The Competent Children @ 10 research shows that participation in an early childhood education service that provides a variety of activities across different learning areas and a “print rich” environment, as well as quality teachers, has been shown to be important in children’s performance at 10.

It is important that low income children also access these services. Equity funding will help with this. As we move towards increasing the numbers of qualified teachers across the early childhood education sector we are going to have to pay particular attention to making sure that we get qualified teachers into early childhood education services that are serving low income communities.

To help turn participation rates around, I have already put in place the Promoting Early Childhood Education Participation project.

This is currently underway in the Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and Canterbury regions areas with greatest numbers of non participants.

Under this new project organisations are working closely with targeted local communities, to help them to develop ‘grass roots’ solutions to barriers to early childhood education participation.

Feedback to date from the Promoting Participation project is underlining the importance of access to quality services.

Over the next few years I am keen to see government take a much more active role in helping communities gain access to the kinds of early childhood education services that meet their specific needs.

This might even see government directly providing buildings in some communities. I've already required that new school sites being purchased are big enough to house an early childhood centre.

The Promoting Participation project is also telling us that the lack of quality early childhood education services can be a barrier to participation.

Parents are saying they’ll keep their kids away from early childhood education services if they don’t think the services are up to scratch.

Parents have my wholehearted support here – and research would support their decision. Again, the Competent Children @ 10 research shows that the quality of interactions between teachers and children in the early childhood education setting is a key factor accounting for differences in children’s performance at age 10. This means that children who went to early childhood education services where the staff were responsive, asked open ended questions, joined children’s play, allowed children to complete activities and guided children in centre activities are performing better at age 10.

I want to turn now to the vital issue of improving the qualifications of teachers.

Government has made a number of decisions in this regard.

We have seen a bookshelf of research about what makes for quality early childhood education services.

Where professional teachers rather than parents are providing an early childhood education service, the qualification of the teacher is a factor right up there with ratios and group size.

I have therefore started programmes to improve the qualification level of teachers in the sector.

Our first step was to require those designated as “persons responsible” in centres and co-ordinators in home-based care networks to hold a qualification recognised by the Teachers Registration Board by 1 January 2005 at the latest. New persons responsible must hold the qualification by 1 January next year.

To help people make this adjustment, we have put in place incentive grants to help services meet some of the costs incurred as staff upgrade their qualifications.

We have also set up contracts to deliver Recognition of Prior Learning Assessment and Flexible Programmes for people wanting to upgrade to the Diploma for Teaching (ECE).

This is only the start.

Over the coming decade, I want to see more and more teachers holding qualifications that would be recognised for the purposes of teacher registration.

I know that this is going to be a challenge in some parts of the sector.

We are going to have to plan for it carefully.

We are going to have to provide incentives and support programmes to get people to work towards these qualifications. For early childhood education teachers to achieve quality interactions they need quality teacher education. The results of competent Children at 10 are highlighting the importance of quality teacher education and on-going professional development.

Improving the qualifications of early childhood education teachers does not represent a silver bullet that will solve all of our problems.

Even with qualified teachers and good ratios early childhood education services can still improve the quality of the teaching and learning that takes place.

But I would also like to see the development of programmes and initiatives to improve the way that early childhood education services work with Te Whäriki.

We also need to look at how we can recognise and support quality in early childhood education services where parents - not teachers - are responsible for the education of the children.

The Competent Children research is telling us that these services can achieve quality for children and their families.

These services are important in the diversity of the New Zealand early childhood education sector and they make it distinctive internationally.

We should protect and foster that.

As I said at the start, the goal of the Government is to ensure that no New Zealand child misses out on quality early childhood education services.
The strategic plan will help take us forward in this direction.

ENDS

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