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Mallard Speech: Labour Govt leads way for under 5s

Trevor Mallard Speech: Labour-led government leads the way for under-fives

Speech to New Zealand Kindergarten Incorporates annual conference "Creating a Confident Future"

Good afternoon everyone.

Thank you for inviting me to join you at your conference - "Creating a confident future". It's a good theme that, as you will know, is also reflected in the early childhood education curriculum Te Whâriki which expresses the importance of children growing up as confident and competent learners and communicators.

By keeping this vision firmly in mind we can create a New Zealand where every youngster does have a confident future. And it's our shared job to think about how we can make this vision happen, working together. The Labour-led government certainly recognises the importance of early childhood education and our goal is to make this accessible and affordable for all young kiwi kids.

We are investing heavily in early childhood education to make this happen. Budget 2005 carried a significant new investment of $152 million over the next four years.

This budget allocation means total expenditure on early childhood education in 2008-09 will be $694 million, an increase of a massive 140 per cent since Labour came to government in 1999. I am very proud to be able to say that our 10-year strategic plan Pathways to the Future: Ngâ Huarahi Arataki is changing the face of early childhood education in New Zealand.

And the progress we are making is something you too should all be proud of. Since the strategic plan was launched three years ago significant achievements have already been made with the help of your hard work and commitment.

Participation in quality early childhood education has grown considerably, services have improved and become more flexible and people throughout the sector are working together to share information and experiences.

It's great to see the great gains in participation continue – enrolments have increased by nearly 10,000 in the past two years.

Services are continuing to diversify to better meet the needs of their communities. Some kindergartens have begun to offer longer hours and others are considering similar changes. This kind of flexibility helps many families to get the support they want from early childhood education.

While I am on the subject of the great service that kindergartens offer to families, I should take the time to remind you of what my political opponents are planning for your sector.

You will be aware that Bill English has pledged to scrap our government's commitment to giving 20 hours free early childhood education to all three and four year olds at community-based centres from 2007.

I wasn't the only one amazed at a recent early childhood education forum recently to hear him make this promise - which effectively means that around 86,000 children and their families will miss out, in order to help pay for his party's tax cuts.

He also told teachers that he does not believe the research that shows that quality early childhood education makes an impact on children's learning later in the life.

This might explain why his leader is also suggesting that all centres, public or private, should only receive funding for 10 hours per week of free early childhood education for three and four-year-olds.

That would, of course, mean substantial fees for those children attending morning kindergartens - thus destroying an iconic service - your iconic service. Our manifesto is still being finalised, but I'd like 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. 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 all know the involvement of parents and whânau can work wonders for their children’s learning. This year we announced a major new information programme for parents and families – Team-UP.

We want this programme to encourage families to better understand what they can do to help their children learn and develop. We are very excited to have Tana Umaga on board as the Education Ambassador to assist us with the work.

Team-Up gets officially underway in October. In other developments - next month sees the new funding rates for running an early childhood centre kick in. Recently I announced some transitional funding which means that all-day kindergartens that were open on 1 June 2005 will be funded at the 100 per cent all-day rate until 30 June 2007.

That decision shows the importance I place on making sure parents do not face fluctuating fees before the implementation of free early childhood education. I am also giving you more time to implement an appropriate fee structure for children that attend kindergarten for more than 20 hours, or children under three years of age, from 1 July 2007.

Recently I announced $28.4 million to further expand the Discretionary Grants Scheme. This means some $18.59 million will be allocated in 2005-06. The extra funding will see between 55 to 65 more community-based centres built over the next four years in areas of need.

This will create more places for youngsters in the lead-up to the introduction of the free early childhood education in 2007. The allocation meeting for the Discretionary Grants Scheme is on the calendar for this month and I expect funding announcements to be made shortly.

A new grant, the Establishment Grant, sees $4.3 million over the next four years, for these new services to employ the staff they need to get ready for their centre’s opening. Services will also be able to purchase good quality teaching materials and equipment from this grant.

The Labour-led Government wants these services to open as soon as they reasonably can so as many children as possible can reap the benefits of high quality education. Budget 2005 also provided $16 million for Foundations for Discovery, the new information communications technologies framework for early childhood education.

This framework promotes using technology as part of a young child’s education and is also an administration tool as it helps services streamline their administrative systems. Seeing the way some of our youngsters are using this new technology has amazed me - they are taking better digital photos than me, and really having fun using ICT as they learn.

This year we also released the early childhood education exemplars. What is really exiting about the exemplars is they include the voices of parents and whânau, alongside teachers and children.

This is a ground breaking and innovative move for early childhood education in New Zealand and I believe for the rest of the world. Professional development is accompanying those exemplars in all services. Finally, can I say that the work you do significantly improves the learning and wellbeing of children throughout New Zealand – who ever they are and where ever they are. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today about what the government is doing and where Labour is heading in the near future, and even further. I wish you all the very best for the rest of your conference.

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