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NZEI early years education conference

6 April 2002

Hon Trevor Mallard Speech Notes

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.

Your conference is addressing collaborative approaches in the early years.

In my book, it can be summed up as serious teamwork between early childhood services, primary schools, parents, whanau and the community.

Services must be pulling together to ensure the transition between ECE and school is as seamless - and as painless - as possible.

A smooth transition between ECE and school helps drop the barriers to learning a young child can face.

This helps keep the focus on the learning and development of the individual child – exactly where it belongs.

We know that problems with transition between ECE and school can reduce earlier gains and impact on a child’s learning.

If ECE and schools work as a team, a child is more likely to be confident, and participate fully and successfully in all learning opportunities.

There are strong common themes between the curriculum frameworks used in ECE and in schools.

Te Whariki, the New Zealand Curriculum Framework and the National Education Guidelines all place the individual student at the centre of teaching and learning.

Each adopts a development approach to learning that recognises that children learn and develop at different rates.

Each acknowledges that children of the same age can be at different levels of development, and that a child may be further along the continuum in one area than another.

The Early Childhood Primary Link project highlights the practical benefits that can be gained from having a dedicated transition program between ECE and school.

It is part of the Strengthening Education in Mangere and Otara work that has led to a greater focus on student achievement in those communities.

A report about the Early Childhood Primary Link project that was released late last year is the most exciting that I have read since I became Minister of Education. It has given me hope. If you haven’t heard of it, please take the time to read about it.

Through a careful mix of initiatives, reading and writing results for six-year-olds in Otara and Mangere schools improved so dramatically they are now close to the national average.

Early childhood is a major contributor to that improvement.

Work to date has established licence-exempt playgroups on school sites and trained ECE educators and primary teachers in how to appropriately support the development of children’s early literacy skills.

These great results help prove the case that if we want a strong future as a country, we have to get the early foundations right.

That is why this government is committed to increasing participation in quality ECE.

Quality ECE then gives children a solid foundation to build upon when they go to school.

As part of this government’s commitment to ECE we set up the Strategic Plan for ECE Working Group and asked members to develop a framework - or a road map - for policy development in ECE over the coming decade.

Work here was focussed around three main aims.

First, to increase participation in early childhood services, secondly, to improve the quality of those services, thirdly to reduce disparities in participation in quality ECE between Maori and non-Maori and Pacific and non-Pacific children.

The working group was made up of a diverse group of sector-based representatives who engaged in 15 months consultation with the early childhood sector.

Their final report made a huge contribution to the future direction of early childhood services.

The feedback the working group received also showed just how strongly Kiwis feel about getting ECE right.

The Government is still considering the working group’s final report but I’d like to announce one of the first steps that I am taking to put the plan into action.

As many of you know, some groups in our society have lower participation in ECE than others.

To increase levels of participation, we set up the Promoting ECE Participation project.

This is now underway through a variety of community projects across New Zealand.

Feedback to date has indicated that access to ECE is one barrier to participation.

That is why government is going to take a more active role in facilitating access to quality community-based ECE services in communities where participation is low.

To achieve this the Ministry of Education will employ people to work with communities to find solutions to access to ECE services. We’ll be allocating more than $10 million over the next four years for this project.

We are going to do this in two stages. The first stage will happen from May this year. It is about looking at the current network of ECE services and establishing new community-based ECE services where planning tells us there are gaps.

Solutions that could be put in place include identifying groups as a priority for the Discretionary Grants Scheme. I am also looking at other ways of providing property for community-based ECE services where communities are struggling to do this themselves. At the same time, the government is increasing the amount of funds available through the discretionary grants scheme this year by $5 million to nearly $14 million. It’s likely that more than 130 centres will benefit from the scheme this year.

But we know that property is not always the solution. The second stage is about working community-based ECE services where participation is low to identify services that need help and find ways of providing assistance to them. This work will start from the middle of next year.

In September last year the Kindergarten Pay Parity Working Group met.

This group included representatives from NZEI.

They have briefed me on the benchmarks to translate kindergarten teachers (including head and senior teachers) to a unified teaching pay scale with primary and secondary teachers.

I look forward to the phasing in of pay parity from 1 July 2002 as part of the next Kindergarten Teachers Collective Agreement.

We know that teachers with a Diploma of Teaching make a real difference in educational outcomes for children.

Ultimately we want to see the Diploma of Teaching (ECE) as the benchmark qualification for all early childhood teachers.

We recognise however, that this is a big task and is likely to take some time.

As a start the government has changed the qualification requirements for the purpose of licensing.

From 1 January this year, all new ‘persons responsible’ at a centre are required to hold a Diploma of Teaching (ECE).

People who are already ‘persons responsible’ have until 1 January 2005 to gain the same qualification.

We acknowledge that increasing qualification requirements places pressure on the supply of qualified ECE teachers.

We have therefore put in place a number of schemes to boost the number of qualified ECE teachers.

These include the Recognition of Prior Learning Scheme, Incentive Grants, and TeachNZ scholarships.

The urgent need for more Maori and Pacific teachers in ECE led us to provide a number of scholarships for Maori and Pacific people to study towards a Diploma of Teaching (ECE).

From your teaching experience many of you will know that some early childhood services face additional barriers in providing quality ECE.

These may occur because parents in the community are less able to financially contribute to the service or because the service may face higher costs due to high proportions of special needs children.

To address these barriers, the Government has decided to implement an Equity Funding regime.

The result will be an additional $30 million for eligible community-based ECE services over the next four years.

This money will target funding to licensed and chartered, community-based ECE services in low socio-economic communities.

It will also target those based in isolated areas, or ECE services that are based on a language and culture other than English, have significant numbers of children with special education needs or come from non-English speaking backgrounds.

In conclusion, in order to move forward our early childhood services and primary schools must never lose sight of our goal of giving every New Zealand child the chance to participate in quality education.

The government is committed to working with the sector to ensure that this goal is reached.

Collaboration is not just about ECE and primary teachers meeting together on a regular basis.

It is about each knowing what the other is doing, helping them to achieve their goals and working in the best interests of the child, their parents and whanau.

Finally, I’d like to mention the hui taumata matauranga and the progress we are making.

Just over a year ago the first hui was held in Taupo, hosted by Tuwharetoa. Remember that the hui came at a time when the Government had been under intense pressure from an opposition party backlash against our ‘closing the gaps’ work. But we made a conscious decision that we would ignore that pressure and carry on with a work programme that I consider will be some of the most significant in my time as Education Minister.

Following that hui we spent a lot of time taking the recommendations around the country and discussing them at a regional level. We met nationally again in November and a work plan is being developed.

As professionals, you will be heartened to know the importance that participants at the hui place on early childhood education. They certainly see it as critical to improving Maori educational achievement.

I personally feel very optimistic about the progress that is being made and I also sense optimism among the people that we are meeting with.

We all know that there is no easy solution. There is, however, a matrix of ideas that will lead to improvement. I bet that every single person in this room knows an education initiative that has excited them. One that they see as having real potential. The hui taumata process is helping us define our priorities, share ideas about what works, identify the gaps, and work towards making a difference.

And sitting behind everything we do is the absolute belief that Maori children can succeed in education. If we don’t have that belief, we will not succeed.

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