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20 free hours ECE policy needs improvements

Media Release – New Zealand Playcentre Federation
14 October 2008

Labour's 20 free hours policy needs improvement to meet its stated purpose

Labour's 20 free hours ECE policy has failed by it's own standards because it has brought few new children into early education.

The purpose of the policy was to increase participation in ECE by removing cost as a barrier. The evaluation report found that, one year on, the policy has, instead, increased the number of hours children already enrolled are attending. In some areas waiting lists are longer than ever.

The best international research shows that young children do not learn anything more by attending group education for longer than 2 ½ hours per day. While some parents may wish to participate in more hours of work or training than this, that benefit could be achieved more efficiently by an increase to the childcare subsidy administered by WINZ, rather than through the 20 free hours policy as it now stands.

“The 20 free hours policy is likely to be retained by whichever party forms the new government” said Playcentre President, Marion Pilkington. “It is now timely to review the policy and change it so it will work better for children and families.”

Playcentre suggests the following changes:
Cap the daily number of hours under the 20 hours free policy at 4 hours. This would encourage centres to offer morning and afternoon sessions, as well as full day places, thereby increasing child spaces and reducing waiting lists. It would also better reflect research on how children learn.
Remove the funding disadvantage for sessional services so centres can afford to offer parents a choice between half day and full day places.
Include parent-led centres, such as Playcentre, in the policy. This would immediately add over 10,000 child spaces, again reducing waiting lists.
Review the WINZ childcare subsidies, so childcare costs remain affordable for parents who require longer than 4 hours per day of care.

“This policy was supposed to be a major advance in education in this country” said Mrs Pilkington. “As it stands, the policy suggests that the government is really socially engineering parents to do anything but care for their own children. There needs to be public discussion about what is in the long term best interests of children.”


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