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ECE Regulations With Unintended Consequences Need To Be Removed While Retaining Regulations

ECE regulations with unintended consequences need to be removed while retaining regulations that ensure quality education and safety of tamariki.

ECE Sector meets with Minister Seymour. Photo supplied.

As part of a programme of work to support the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Sector, Minister Seymour has announced his intention to undertake a regulatory review and immediately scrap a number of regulations.

“Sector leaders recently met with Minister Seymour to discuss the future of ECE in New Zealand,” says Kelly Seaburg, Director of New Shoots Children’s Centre and Advocates for Early Learning Excellence. “We discussed a range of issues including a reduction in red tape where regulations are simply a compliance cost and do not support the safety or quality of education for our tamariki.”

“We believe the Minister is eager to ensure the ECE sector survives then thrives and given the record number of providers that have closed in the last two years, we all agree there is a need for urgent reform which includes an independent funding review. The Minister is currently focused on two provisions that have created increased costs.”

“Under the previous government, there were a range of well-intentioned provisions, but often they were implemented without working with the sector leading to a range of unintended consequences. These consequences have often resulted in increased compliance costs that have then been passed onto parents, and where that wasn’t possible, providers have closed their doors due to stress, teacher shortages and or financial losses due to funding pressures.”

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“The ‘Person Responsible’ regulations were simply supposed to define the person responsible at a centre. However, when the proposed regulations emerged from the Ministry of Education (MoE) they added no tangible benefit to the safety of children or the quality of education. Rather than just clarifying who parents could point to as responsible, they narrowed the pool of staff that fit the criteria, so that only teachers with a full teacher registration could fulfil this role, and that person responsible, needed to be working with children at all times.”

“If this had been fully implemented, it would have required services to shut when the designated person was not working directly with children or left the building. This was utterly unworkable in practice. Had it been fully implemented; the regulation would have increased costs in staffing in an environment of teacher shortages while at the same time reducing our ability to meet the needs of families.”

“While the idea was to have more experienced teachers in this role, and for centres to have multiple people who could meet the requirements across the day, the practicalities did not match with reality during our current teacher shortage. Further, many centres (especially smaller ones) would have struggled to have sufficient team members that were fully registered who could take on this responsibility, said Mrs Seaburg.

The second regulation that Minister Seymour proposes to remove is Network Management.

“This policy was about ensuring there was choice for parents in communities which included Kōhanga Reo and Pasifika cultures and special philosophies,” says Kathy Wolfe, Te Rito Maioha CE. “It was designed to manage supply and demand to ensure that all services were sustainable and that there were teaching staff available for providers to employ.”

“Unfortunately, the implementation did not meet the expectations of the sector with the policy significantly increasing the costs for the development of new centres and creating considerable apprehension for owners as the policy operated without adequate transparency. Unfortunately, decisions often took place without purposeful feedback or judicial review. This created significant trust issues within the sector.”

“Further, the MoE expanded the policy, without consultation, so that if a provider needed to reduce licensed numbers when enrolments fell the MoE could then refuse to increase them back. This kind of behaviour provided little certainty to the sector and may well have reduced the number of services opening at a time when a record number of services have closed.”

“The question here is whether we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” but one thing is for certain, the idea of network management and agreed outcomes post consultation was good, the implementation of this policy has been flawed and the sector has been let down by sub optimal implementation,” says Mrs Wolfe.

Until the legislation is repealed, network approval requirements will remain. To make it easier to establish new services in the interim, it is proposed that the National Statement is revoked. Public consultation on this run from today until 11.59pm on 5 May 2024.

“The major learning for both the Ministry and the new Government is that working with the sector is crucial. We have welcomed the opportunity to meet with Minister Seymour and express our concerns and our solutions relating to the regulation review, systemic funding review, teacher workforce and social outcomes. For now, we look forward to continuing to work with the Minister to progress a better regulatory framework that focuses on the safety and quality of our tamariki while not creating unwelcome costs for services and parents.”

“That’s the key. A framework that ensures the quality education and safety of tamariki. So often in Aotearoa we have a pendulum swing from overregulated to under regulated. Unlike the housing market and the subsequent leaky building disaster, we don’t get second chances if our tamariki are hurt by too little regulation, or their quality education suffers. The task at hand for the sector and the Minister’s new Regulation Ministry is to get the balance right.”

“We also look forward to then progressing work on a funding system review to fix a completely broken system and urge the Minister to continue to value quality education by implementing a teacher attraction and retention strategy,” says Mrs Wolfe.

Jill Bond, CEO, New Zealand Kindergartens

Kathy Wolfe, CEO, Te Rito Maioha

Kelly Seaburg, Director, New Shoots Children’s Centre and Advocates for Early Learning Excellence

Heather Taylor, General Manager, Barnardos

Cathy Wilson, CE, Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand

Christine Hall, CEO, Central Kids

Raewyn Overton-Stuart, Director, PAUA Early Childhood and New Zealand Home Based ECE Association

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