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National win will not benefit Early Childhood Education

National win will not benefit Early Childhood Education in big way

Monday, 22 September 2014

The election outcome does not bode well for the care of children and the early childhood education sector which sees little positive change in the near future. Promises for improving the sector were made on the hustings and the more vibrant ones were made by the Greens while National played it safe by being just lukewarm in its ECE offerings.

“Once again, ECE was not high on the priority list during the election campaign” says chief executive of ChildForum Dr Sarah Farquhar.

“There was the usual talk of reinstating funding for 100% teacher-led services and some parties, including Labour, promised to extend the 20 hours scheme but, in general, ECE did not feature prominently.

“National went into this election with just one main ECE policy. It said if it were to be re-elected, it would provide an extra $156 million to help early childhood education services remain affordable and to meet demand pressures. It also vowed to continue with its 98% participation target.”

While the promise of extra money always sounds good, in this case it is likely that the amount will be too little to really make any noticeable difference. Much will probably be spent on the normal adjustment of the non-salary component of funding rates to keep pace with inflation, says Dr Farquhar.

The Government also seems set on increasing participation by targeting areas with generally low participation such as low decile areas and Maori and Pacific Island communities.

“Therefore, it is a fair guess that some of the promised cash if given will be used to fund the opening of more services even in areas where there is already an oversupply of childcare places, and to fund more promotional schemes to get more parents to place their child earlier than they planned in ECE.”

This would appear to leave little for most early childhood services to use to improve quality or keep fee rates low for parents, says Dr Farquhar.

Instead, we may see more measures to downgrade standards or measures focused on producing the same outcome for less money. It also makes it unlikely that we will see National revive any of its previous promises such as improving teacher/child ratios for infants.

National’s direction for ECE would seem at odds with what the sector perceives to be needed. This is explained in an analysis of what the election results means for ECE at: http://www.childforum.com/news-early-childhood-education-latest/1231-early-childhood-education-election-2014-results-national-government.html

“It remains to be seen how the sector will react to another three years of National-led government,” says Dr Farquhar.

So far, the sector has been relatively quiet in the face of funding cuts, staffing and quality issues but faced with three more years with as yet no sign of any significant changes, the sector will likely become more vocal in its criticism of the Government and its policies.

John Key and Bill English have spoken previously of a focus on returning the country’s finances to an even keel and increasing surplus, so maybe once that has been achieved there will be more incentives offered to industries such as ECE perhaps with some carrots offered closer to the next election in 2017.

“Until then it seems the ECE sector must continue to survive on roughly the same funding, with little in the way of quality improvements on the horizon,” says Dr Farquhar.

About ChildForum: As New Zealand's Early Childhood Network, ChildForum delivers advice and information to early childhood services nationwide and across all parts of the ECE sector, as well as to many individuals and organisations. ChildForum provides leadership, research and analysis, resources, support, and networking opportunities. For more information see ChildForum’s website at http://www.childforum.com

ENDS

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