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‘Free’ For a Few

‘Free’ For a Few

"The mounting concern over the Government’s 20 'free' hours early childhood education is hardly a surprise, as the realisation of the pitfalls in the policy sink in" said Sue Thorne, Chief Executive Officer, Early Childhood Council.

Recent concerns expressed include:

- Playcentre worried about their survival as the Government encourages families away from parent-led services into teacher-led services

- Auckland Kindergarten Association unsure how they can practically offer the free 20 hours

- New Zealand Childcare Association admitting that coverage will be patchy

- Neither the Government nor the Ministry of Education able to explain in detail how the policy will work

- Huge regional variations in the number of ‘free’ places available in all-day centres

When announcing the policy 14 months ago, the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard noted the policy to be “a significant step, extending the tradition of free early childhood education from kindergartens to other community-based centres.”

However, unlike the standardised sessional kindergarten model, the range of different services offered by other early childhood centres and their associated running costs vary widely.

“It is a great pity the Minister of Education did not consult with ECE providers before rushing headlong into promising ‘free’ – had he done so the problems of uneven distribution of community-owned centres and differing cost structures would have been identified very quickly” said Mrs Thorne.

Clearly cost is the biggest barrier to access to early childhood education – and for poorer families this barrier is far greater than for more well off families.

“A far more equitable way of spending the extra money would be to target those families most in need of additional support, rather than leave it to chance as to whether their children receive a quality early childhood education” said Mrs Thorne.

The Early Childhood Council represents in excess of 800 community-owned and privately-owned early childhood centres, providing education and care to over 40,000 children.


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