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Mallard: Early Childhood Professional Development

Labour
2000 web siteAddress by Trevor Mallard
Labour Education Spokesperson

Early Childhood Professional Support Programmes
Auckland College of Education

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

I bring to you the apologies from Labour Leader Helen Clark who, as you can probably understand, is in rather high demand at the moment.

One month ago, I released Labour's policy for early childhood education. You may not have about it in your local newspaper. As many of you will know, early childhood education is not considered 'sexy' enough for mainstream media and the very real issues that confront the sector are often ignored.

So let me go over some of our priorities and objectives.

Primarily, they include improving quality across the entire sector; and closing the gaps in participation in early childhood education.


Improving quality

You are here because you have an interest in upskilling yourselves and in keeping up with developments in early childhood education. I welcome your commitment.

Labour is often accused by our opponents of focusing too much on teachers and not enough on children. My reply to that is simple. To me, there is nothing more important to the quality of a child's learning than the quality of their teacher.

That's why there is a big focus in Labour's policy on improving the initial qualifications of early childhood educators and improving both quality and access to professional development.

In pre-service education, I have a concern that the current system is giving incentives to providers to worry more about student numbers than about selection procedures and programme quality. As a result there has been a proliferation of providers and a wide range of course standards emerging. Approval of unsuitable courses by government agencies has at times resulted in students wasting years of their lives and being left badly out of pocket. Students need to know that if they pass approved courses they can expect to gain registration. Currently that is not always the case. This is an area we will be sorting out fairly quickly with a review on the shape and quality of teacher education provision.

We have plans to expand the Teacher Registration Board into an Education Council which we would see as the major body in providing professional leadership in teaching. That organisation would have a key role to play in developing standards for all teacher education.

And, as in the schools sector, Labour believes in the registration process as a means to ensuring that teachers in the sector are well qualified.

In 1996, an Act which I sponsored was passed by Parliament and re-instated compulsory teacher registration for the schools sector. It always seemed mad to me that the National Government abolished teacher registration in the first place. Ironically, they did it the same night that they made it compulsory for veterinarians to be registered. That was a strange message to send to the electorate!

Registration for the early childhood sector is not quite as straight forward as it is for the schools sector but it is not insurmountable and we will legislate that for a system of registration for all teaching staff in early childhood education.

Let me make it clear that that a teacher currently working in the system who is not fully qualified would not lose their job or be expected to gain registration overnight. Rather it would be a process which will be phased in over time.

We have also decided to link registration to ongoing professional development. So in order to be registered, a teacher must have undertaken some form of professional development. That will put the onus on us to ensure that teacher can access professional development. That is a responsibility that I will take seriously. In particular, I am committed to core non-contestable inservice advisory and training services. If it is left to individual centres to fund entirely out of their bulk grant, professional development is not always a top priority.

And I am always conscious that professional development of staff does not just benefit the centre that the teacher is currently working in, it benefits the entire sector. It benefits the children of New Zealand and it is a responsibility we must meet together.

Labour is also willing to recognise the increased professionalism of the sector through pay parity. This is not a short term goal. It is complex and it will be expensive. But by the end of the first term in government, it is my aim that we would have completed the benchmarks for pay parity and agreed on a process for phasing it in.


Increasing participation and closing gaps

I want to move now to our plans to increase participation in early childhood education. In particular, I want to see participation among Maori and Pacific Island children improve.

A big worry that I have is that despite an increase in the number of Maori children attending early childhood education - the gaps are still widening.

In 1991 the rate of non-Mäori participation for four year olds was 97%, compared with only 75% of Mäori four year olds. By 1997 the gap had widened even further, with Mäori participation dropping to 71% for four year olds.

Participation by Pacific children is even less. Only 60% of Pacific four year olds are in licensed early childhood centres.

Labour is convinced that if all New Zealand children begin their lifelong learning in high quality early childhood education, the whole society will benefit, both socially and economically.

Schools in the more disadvantaged areas have access to equity funding to help them overcome some of the additional barriers they face. No such help exists for the early childhood centres that face the same problems. But I think it is essential that both the limited ability to fundraise and provide services in kind, and the wider social problems be recognised in funding of early childhood education.

I'll give you an illustration of the type of inequities that do exist in our communities and flow over to the education system. Last week I appeared on a television debate with my political opponents. On the programme a West Auckland school principal told this story. An Auckland school in a wealthy area raised $35,000 in one afternoon on a property open home. Another raised $30,000 in a goods and services auction one evening. Conversely, a South Auckland school thought they were doing pretty well when they raised $1300 after three months of selling raffle tickets.

Stories like that show why equity funding is necessary in the education system and why Labour is prepared to introduce equity funding to the early childhood sector. We will establish a working party to develop criteria and costings for an equity funding system for community-based early childhood education centres on a similar basis to the schools sector and the system will be implemented in 2001.

I will require such a system to also take into account the needs of rural communities and areas with low population density who have to bear the operational cost of small sized centres with irregular attendance and higher costs of goods and services.

I also want a portion of equity funding tagged for projects with a clear objective of increasing participation among Maori and Pacific Island children.

The provision of buildings is also a major part of closing those gaps. Coming up with funding for buildings suitable for licensed early childhood centres is almost an impossible dream for some communities. It shouldn't be as hard as it is.

This issue has been highlighted this week in Wellington following the announcement of the successful applicants to the discretionary grants scheme.

In Porirua, there is a school run for teenage mums. It's giving them a second chance of education. A chance to learn to read and write. Obviously, the goals of the school cannot be fulfilled if their children cannot be looked after. Despite raising more than $40,000 towards the cost of suitable premises, their application from the discretionary grant scheme was refused.

Quite frankly, I found it amazing that this application fell outside the Government's priorities.

It certainly meets many of Labour's objectives for early childhood education in that it caters primarily for Maori and Pacific Island children and is an area where there is a shortage of good quality early childhood education provision.

He Huarahi Tamariki is doing a fantastic job in trying to give their young mums a second chance. But by denying their children decent early childhood education, the Government is ignoring an opportunity to ensure that those children get an educational boost in their early years and hopefully avoid the need for a 'second chance' later in their life.

When this situation was given media prominence earlier this week, the Minister of Education quickly jumped in - saying he was confident that a 'creative solution' could be found to deal with this problem. My response to his intervention is that this situation should not require creativity during an election campaign - it should be covered by core priorities at all times.

The kind of help that Labour would offer communities like this is increasing capital works funding through an increase in loans and the discretionary grants scheme. We would also develop designs for relocatable buildings which can be used in areas of urgent or temporary need.

It gave me a great pleasure to release Labour's early childhood education policy at a Tokelauan early childhood centre in my own Hutt electorate. Like many Pacific language centres, it runs out of a community hall and is not licensed despite its staff being qualified. Under Labour - centres like that will get more help to meet licensing standards.

Conclusion

During the consultation on Labour's early childhood education policy one of the common themes was the lack of strategic planning in the sector. There was a feeling that there was a lack of direction and cohesion. The sector has been dogged by ad hoc changes and short term planning.

That is why Labour is committed to developing a long term strategic plan for the sector within our first term of government.

Another thing I wanted to achieve in developing our policy is to include early childhood education as an integral part of the education sector. Too often it is treated as an 'add on' because it is not compulsory. I'm not about to advocate that early childhood education be compulsory. But what I do want is a sector which is given its rightful place in the New Zealand education system; a sector which is recognised for the vital role it plays in how well children do at school; and a sector whose views are taken into consideration in all aspects of education policy.

Let me give you an example of where this has not happened. The National Government announced last year a literacy taskforce which would develop its literacy strategy. The taskforce included no early childhood education specialists. Yet you all know that being read to from an early age is the best start a child can get if they are to become good readers and good writers.

When the literacy taskforce released its report, early childhood education was mentioned only three times in passing. I believe that ignoring the early childhood sector was unwise and that government policy in this area may have been significantly different had that not happened.

That is why Labour is committed to improving the links between early childhood education and schools by involving the early childhood sector more in the development of key education decisions.

There is ample research showing that Children who have experienced high quality early childhood education score higher on a range of competency measures when they go to school. I know that early childhood education is included in a longitudinal study that the NZCER is conducting on competent children and I look forward to following those results carefully.

Everyone says early childhood education is important. I look forward to being part of the government which acts on those sentiments.

Thank you.

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