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More childcare the focus for early education budget

More childcare the focus for early childhood education budget

Press Release Thursday 21 May 2015

This year’s Budget announcement shows the Government is focussed on getting more children into early childhood education, especially babies and toddlers and for longer hours.

Just under an extra $75million has been allocated for early childhood education, but this will only enable providers to keep up with the expected increase in the hours and number of children attending.

The Budget press release from Education Minister Hekia Parata states the money will “enable more children to attend ECE from an earlier age and for more hours”.

The government is still pursuing its target of 98% of all children in NZ having attended early childhood education before they start school despite a lack of evidence that participation is better for every child and that the more time children spend in ECE the higher their educational achievement at school and beyond.

There is however no new money for improving teacher/child ratios, supporting community-based services, encouraging the employment of qualified teachers or other quality standard improving measures that the sector has repeatedly asked for.

Instead, many smaller services in particular are likely to be left struggling to keep pace with increased wage and infrastructure costs, and will potentially have to increase charges to parents in order to continue operating.

The remaining sessional kindergartens will probably have to move to providing all-day services and community-based providers such as Playcentre are likely to be particularly affected.

Dr Sarah Farquhar, Chief Executive of the Early Childhood Professional and Research Network ChildForum says the only likely beneficiaries are large-scale childcare centres and home-based providers who have greater numbers on their books and are open for long hours.

“This Budget announcement is in line with Government’s commitment to institutionalise children’s early care and learning. It is not what is in the best interests of children or of parents. Children need time with their parents to form a good attachment and parents need time to learn to parent. When parents are asked what they want most research shows that they want to spend more time with their children and when they do use ECE what they want is better quality, not simply more and more of it.”

The Budget also shows a focus on numbers not quality. Dr Farquhar says:

“It is not what the front-line teachers and workers in the early childhood sector want most to see the Government spend new money on”.

There is some positive news, with a small increase in the Childcare Assistance rate from $4 to $5 per hour for lower income families from April next year. This increase, long overdue after minimal increases in the Work and Income subsidy rate, will be helpful for low-income families who have a working parent, particularly if they have children under the age of 3-years-old and do not qualify for the 20-hours subsidy.

The professional development budget will also see an increase although ECE service providers may feel that it is not enough to keep pace with the training and development that they would like to be able to offer their staff.

However, in general the Budget shows a commitment to increase the number of children attending early childhood education from an earlier age and the hours that they attend without the commitment to making sure that care and education is of a high standard and offers a positive outcome for every child and family.

On Friday, 22nd May 2015, early childhood providers from throughout the country will meet in Wellington at the national Early Childhood Management Forum to discuss the Budget and its implications for the early childhood profession and the sector. More information is available at www.childforum.com

... ENDS

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