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Labour's Vision for Early Childhood Education

Hon Trevor Mallard
13 May 2005
Speech Notes

Labour's Vision for Early Childhood Education

Speech to the Early Childhood Council Conference, James Cook Hotel, Wellington

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I'm delighted to be here to talk about Labour's vision for education and, in particular, our commitment to early childhood education, something I'm passionate about.

Labour's commitment to education is long-standing. It has changed little from the vision put forward by Peter Fraser and Clarence Beeby in the late 1930s.

In short, Labour believes that every New Zealander is entitled to access quality public education of the highest standard, throughout their lives. Quality education ensures that every Kiwi, regardless of who they are and where they come from, can achieve their full potential and contribute to New Zealand’s society and economy.

Early childhood education is the first stepping-stone on the path to lifelong learning. Access to high quality early childhood education that parents can afford, is the firm footing children need to thrive at school and beyond.

This is why when I became Minister of Education I retained the delegation for early childhood education. I've worked hard over the past five and a half years to ensure that early childhood education has the same standing as other parts of the education sector.

I have appreciated the opportunity to engage in positive discussion with many centre owners and managers as the opportunity has arisen. From those discussions I know that there is a real expansion going on in the private sector, particularly among the larger companies. I hope to continue that dialogue in the future.

Anyone who suggests that we should return to the policies that saw early childhood education as little more than day-care does so at the peril not only of their own generation, but also at the peril of the next.

Our commitment to early childhood education is reflected in the Early Childhood Strategy, Nga Huarahi Arataki - Pathways to the Future – that sets out goals for participation, quality and collaborative engagement.

We're making great progress. Participation has increased, particularly among Maori and Pacific Island communities, new teacher qualification requirements are being progressively implemented, and the new funding system that came into effect on the first of April this year is ensuring that centres which offer quality education are properly resourced.

We are committed to investing in what works in education, not what sounds good in theory. No one can doubt the government's commitment to education has been real, substantial and continuous after a decade of under-funding by National.

By 2008 overall funding for education will have increased by 50 percent since Labour came into office. In early childhood education, our investment has almost doubled in five years – an increase of 97 percent since 1999. And without breaching any budget secrets, I want you to know that there is more to come.

But I know that today you will be looking ahead to the future, and you will want to know what pathway we intend to follow after the next election. Our manifesto is still being finalised, but I'd like to take the opportunity today to signal some of our current thinking.

Over the next term of government, Labour intends to continue along the same pathway, focusing on increasing participation in quality, affordable early childhood education.

On the quality side, you will be aware that the Ministry of Education consulted on three options to improve adult: child ratios last year, and also separately on proposals to improve group sizes in services.

We've known for a long time that good adult: child ratios are associated with better outcomes for children, so it was no surprise that the feedback on this supported making improvements. Feedback on group sizes told us that, at this stage, change through regulation could lead to negative outcomes for children.

Going forward there is more work being done on both proposals. I will be engaging in further consultation with you before a decision on ratios is made, and with regards to group sizes, I have deferred a decision until 2009 to allow for more information to be gathered. However, we are working towards improvements in both these areas for the future.

Another important focus is improving access. We will be working with existing early childhood providers to extend services, by either growing their centres where appropriate or establishing additional centres on other sites.

Employers, particularly in the state sector, will be encouraged to establish early childhood education and care facilities on work sites.

Greater family and whanau involvement will be encouraged through targeted education programmes and improved co-ordination with health and social service agencies.

In addition, to help ensure services are working to meet the needs of the families they serve we will move toward requiring parental and staff involvement in the governance of early childhood services. This will include providing them with good information to guide their input.

We are also committed to extending the highly successful scholarship scheme for early childhood teacher trainees - so that there are sufficient quality teachers to staff the additional services.

Yesterday I announced that an additional 200 TeachNZ scholarships for prospective early childhood education teachers will now be available for July 2005 enrolments.

Demand is increasing for qualified teachers, as new qualification requirements for early childhood education services kick in over the next few years. These scholarships will help student teachers achieve an early childhood education qualification to enable them to become registered early childhood education teachers.

The additional 200 scholarships are on top of the 700 scholarships already going to early childhood education student teachers who are beginning study this year. The scholarships cover fees and could be worth up to $20,000 over the full duration of study.

Until this year only 175 scholarships were available in this area. The extra scholarships will be funded out of Budget 2005 through an extra $4.1 million over four years (of which $3.4 million is new spending). It brings our total commitment to these scholarships over the next four years to $43.7 million.

As I know you will be aware, Labour has also already committed to providing 20 hours free early childhood education per week for three and four years olds in community-based centres from 2007, but affordability still needs to be tackled at other points in the system.

Working parents may need education and care for children under three years of age, or additional hours for their three and four year olds. These hours need to be affordable.

In addition to the 20 hours free policy, Labour will cut the cost to parents of early childhood education by reviewing the rate of the childcare subsidy and extending eligibility criteria. This will mean that more families get assistance. We will provide full-cost funding for community-based centres in targeted areas with low participation, and in low socio-economic areas, so that cost doesn't present a barrier to participation.

In government, Labour has delivered for early childhood education. We know how vital quality early foundations are. We know how vital the role you, as early childhood educators, play. We know that government has a lead role to play in early childhood education, and we have stepped up to that responsibility.

The coming election provides a stark choice for voters. We can continue towards a better education system for our kids, towards addressing underachievement, towards a more highly skilled and educated society. Or we can return to policies that are driven more by ideology than sense.

For those who are genuinely committed to education, Labour is the only real option.

ENDS

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