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Kindergarten movement faces oblivion if union wins

12 December, 2005

Kindergarten movement faces oblivion if union wins

If the union wins the current kindergarten dispute, the New Zealand kindergarten movement may face oblivion, says Early Childhood Council (ECC) chief executive Sue Thorne.

Mrs Thorne heads the largest representative body of licensed early childhood centres in New Zealand. She said today (12 December, 2005) that kindergartens would be at risk of collapse if stuck with staff who worked less than 30 hours a week and 40 weeks a year, in a sector in which almost everyone else worked 40 hours a week and 48 weeks a year.

Kindergartens had already tumbled from a dominant position to be fewer than 17 per cent of early childhood providers in New Zealand, Mrs Thorne said.

The Ministry of Education and the kindergarten associations (which run kindergartens) knew kindergartens were poised on the edge of a very steep cliff, she said.

'They know change is required urgently, but they face an impediment the size of a dinosaur: unionised, privileged, salaried staff accustomed to their place of work being open only three to six hours a day, less than five days a week, and only 40 weeks a year.'

Mrs Thorne (whose ECC is not involved in the current kindergarten dispute) said the NZEI (the kindergarten teachers' union) 'is probably hoping to force the Government into wasteful extra spending that would prop up the kindergarten movement in its current form with special grants and inefficient regulatory protection'.

'It is hard to see what else will save them - in the absence of a workforce prepared to work the same hours as early childhood teachers in the rest of the sector,' she said.

Mrs Thorne said kindergartens had diminished in importance because they had failed to adapt to the big social changes of recent decades.

Most importantly they had continued to focus on three-hour sessions and all but ignored the rise and rise of the working mother who needed all-day care.

'In addition kindergartens lost their privileged funding position earlier this year and are now paid the same as other centres providing an equivalent quality service.

'And the Government's policy to introduce 20 hours free early childhood education at all teacher-led services in 2007 will see kindergartens lose their final advantage of being perceived as the only free teacher-led service in town.'

Mrs Thorne said that kindergarten workers 'arrogantly imagine themselves to be providing a better quality service than everyone else'.

'The big lie is that kindergartens are the only service providing high quality early childhood education,' she said.

The truth is that hundreds of other centres can now match kindergartens for quality of education, and are much better at tailoring services to the different needs of different families and communities.'

Parents knew what 'quality' was, she said.

And the fact was that in the past 15 years parents, 'voting with their feet', had seen enrolments in alternative education and care centres rise from 30,000 to 80,000 while the kindergarten share of the market had plummeted.

The Early Childhood Council represents more than 860 early childhood centres nationwide. Its members are both community owned and commercially owned, employ more than 5000 staff, and care for more than 45,000 children.

ENDS

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