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Early Childhood Education: United Future Policy

Tuesday, 15 March 2005

Early Childhood Education: United Future Policy

United Future would guarantee all pre-school children over the age of three the right to access up to 20 hours per week of free early childhood education at any teacher-led provider, said party leader Peter Dunne in releasing the party’s early childhood education policy today.

The government announced in last year’s Budget that it will introduce 20 hours free for 3 to 4 year olds at community-based providers only.

“This is ideologically-driven nonsense, and discriminates against those families who don’t live near a community-based centre.

“The majority of early childhood providers are privately owned, and they have been responsible for the huge growth in participation in early childhood education in recent years. Parents don’t care whether their centre is private or non-profit, they only care about location, quality and price, and so should the government.

“By extending the 20 free hours to all teacher-led providers, regardless of who owns them, we can make sure that as many pre-schoolers as possible are able to access early childhood education.”

United Future’s education spokesman, Bernie Ogilvy, says extending the 20 hours to all providers will cost $62 million a year.

“If the Government continues to limit it to community providers, in order to meet demand 165 new centres will need to be built by 2012, costing $8-14 million per year in capital grants alone.

“This would be a waste of resources when there is already sufficient capacity in the private sector, yet private providers will close because they can’t compete with the free hours,”said Mr Ogilvy.

United Future is also focusing on engaging more parents in their children’s education from the very beginning, by expanding credible programmes such as the Parents As First Teachers and Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) progressively to include all new families.

“These programmes perform an invaluable service in teaching parents how to educate their child themselves from birth, so why should they be restricted to families deemed to be ‘at risk’?”

United Future would also implement family education programmes, enabling new parents to enrol in adult education while their children attend early childhood education, so that they may be better able to support the learning of their children.

Parents could improve their literacy, numeracy, communication and parenting skills, and the programmes would also bring parent and child together on a regular basis to learn as a family.

“United Future believes that parents have the primary responsibility for their child’s education, and we want to support them in that role.

“That means that we will give parents the skills to be their child’s first teacher, and to ensure that the family home environment values education and supports educational aspirations.

“That also means we will allow them, and not the government, to choose the most appropriate provider of pre-school education for their child.”

United Future’s early childhood education policy also includes commitments to:

1. Support lifting the qualifications of early childhood teachers, but relax the government’s target for all staff to be degree-qualified by 2012 for centres that provide all-day care as well as education, to allow them to employ support staff to supervise children when they are not actively engaged in learning.

Between 250 and 400 centres are currently at risk of closing due to an inability to meet the qualifications targets set by the government. In light of the shortfall of qualified staff and the likelihood that those who are qualified will be drawn to kindergartens where they will receive pay parity with primary teachers, this policy will ensure that experienced yet unqualified staff are retained in the sector, that families are able to access early childhood education and care, and that costs for parents and the taxpayer are kept down.

2. Include early childhood teacher trainees in United Future’s bonding scheme that reduces student loan debt for those who are qualified in fields facing shortages, in return for a continuous period of work in New Zealand after they graduate.

3. Ensure that government funding of early childhood centres is reflected in the fees passed on to parents by requiring them to disclose what proportion of fees is taxpayer-funded.

There is nothing to compel a provider to pass on any increase in the subsidy to families in the form of a reduction or suspension in fees. This disclosure policy lets parents see how much centres charge over and above their government funding, improving the level of transparency and accountability.

4. Ensure that parents are fully consulted in the development of early childhood education policy, and assist early childhood education providers to encourage greater parental involvement in their activities.

5. Increase funding for early identification of children with special needs and disabilities with targeted systematic, intensive and high quality interventions.

6. Ensure that early childhood education teachers are trained to recognise children with behavioural disorders or potential learning difficulties.

7. Support the further development of Kohanga Reo and Pacific Island language nests as a means of increasing participation in early childhood education amongst Maori and Pacific Island pre-schoolers.

8. Establish networks between early childhood education centres and family support services, such as parenting courses, budget advice, health and counselling services.

9. Give playcentres and other parent-run early childhood education providers more recognition and resources for the work that they do.

10. Prioritise staff-to-child ratios for each age group taught early childhood education centres as a condition of funding.

11. Support flexible training options for those early childhood workers who want to upgrade their qualifications while they continue to work

ENDS

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