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Increasing participation in early education

Labour
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Increased participation and high standards across the board are key objectives for Labour's policy for early childhood education, Labour Leader Helen Clark said today.

Helen Clark said Labour appreciated the overwhelming importance of the education and support children received in the first years of life and was committing $86 million extra to the sector over the next three years.

"Within its first term in government, Labour will work with the early childhood sector to develop a long-term national strategic plan for early childhood education to improve quality and access to early childhood education for all young children.

"In the meantime, we are promoting a range of measures to work towards those goals including incentives for centres to have higher staff-to-child ratios and more qualified staff.

"We will also introduce fairer funding for centres serving low-income areas and rural communities.

"Like schools, early childhood centres servicing low income communities face additional difficulties in their quest to provide quality education to their children, including a limited ability to fundraise to meet their needs. Labour will therefore introduce equity funding from 2001 to help centres in those communities overcome those barriers.

"Some of that equity funding will be tagged for programmes which will increase participation among Maori and Pacific Island families. Despite an increase in participation rates over recent years, those two communities are still significantly under-represented in early childhood education."

"Centres in rural areas face issues like access and transport problems and more limited base funding due to their smaller size. The enrolment-based formula does not cater adequately for areas with seasonal variations in the workforce which can prevent regular attendance by children. Enrolments levels can fluctuate, resulting in uncertain funding. Labour will review the current funding formula to ensure that those special rural factors are appropriately recognised."

Helen Clark said Labour was also committed to returning kindergartens to the state sector, and to working towards pay parity for early childhood education teachers, based on qualifications, skills and responsibilities.

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