More opinion on Cohort Entry

Discussion about the government’s proposal to enable schools to introduce a Cohort Entry policy continue, with most recent concerns relating to four-year-olds starting primary school when they may not be ready.

In reviewing the Ministry of Education’s proposal on Cohort Entry, we note:

  • The paper mentions that the Ministry’s impact assessment is soft. It also mentions the ECC Supports the idea of cohort entry. What it doesn’t say is that we offered conditional support, wanting to see a robust impact assessment on ECE services and beefing up of the community consultation requirement by school BoTs.
  • Four options were presented, as follows:

Table 1: Impact of Options A, B, C and D on school start date Potential change in school start date

Option A: extend childcare subsidy and promote potential benefits of cohort entry.

This option does not change the law to enable schools to introduce cohort entry, but perhaps paves the way for this to be re-visited in future

Option B: Start of the term in which the child turns five

Children could start school up to 10 weeks before their fifth birthday.

Option C: Start of the term after the child’s fifth birthday

Start date could be delayed up to 10 weeks in terms 1, 2 and 3; and up to 15 weeks in term 4.

Option D: Start of the term closest to the child’s fifth birthday

Some children could start school up to 6 weeks before their fifth birthday in terms 1, 2 and 3, and up 8 weeks in term 4.

The start date for some children could be delayed up to 6 weeks in terms 1, 2 and 3; and up to 8 weeks in term 4.

  • NZEI were against the cohort entry proposals full stop; and did not talk about the downward push of age.
  • Option B looks like it will push children into school much younger than even D.
  • All options will be expensive for Government apart from B, however the ECE sector look to lose the most from option D (the Ministry’s preferred option).
  • Option D lists a financial impact assessment, suggesting that if all schools take up the Cohort Entry policy option in their communities, the ECE sector stands to lose around $11 million per year. If only 10% of schools take up the policy, the impact reduces to just over $1 million.
  • Option B is the fiscally neutral one and A and C the most socially responsible ones if you agree 4 years old is too young for school.

There is a wider issue here, and it relates to why this cohort entry idea is being mooted in the first place. Does it have anything to do with learning outcomes for children? I seriously doubt that it does. Will cohort entry make the administration within schools easier? Yes, it undoubtedly will.

So let’s be clear about this. If the goal is to provide flexibility for schools so they can better manage their administration, then cohort entry makes sense.

If you accept the international evidence regarding child development and learning, then cohort entry the way it is being proposed makes no sense and poses more risks to children than it resolves.

Parents will benefit, however, from the introduction of cohort entry, in that they may find they can stop paying early childhood education fees sooner if their child starts school earlier – but at what cost?

I think, after all that analysis by the Ministry of Education, it is surprising that they’ve gone against international evidence and the arguments from NZEI and others regarding the risks that a downward push on age below 5 to start school presents. Option D is the Ministry’s preferred option, but has the most likelihood of pushing children into school before they’re ready. Other parents will feel pressured to do the same for fear their children will be behind children who are captured by the cohort entry experiment. The policy will hurt the pockets of early childhood providers and undermine what evidence says about child development, i.e. the importance of learning through play and the other benefits of being with the ECE curriculum for longer.

My final concern is that there is no real guarantee that schools will effectively consult. And no controls in the Bill making it a requirement that if there is a strong negative impact within a community, the school cannot implement a cohort entry policy.

Having expressed all that caution and concern may, therefore, seem incongruous with the ECC’s submission that it supports cohort entry with conditions. But it is the conditions that make or break this idea. It is the impact assessment in each community that will identify where serious damage may be done to ECE services as a result. And it is tighter controls on the requirement to consult with communities and act on the flavour of that consultation, that will ensure a seemingly sensible policy idea works best in those communities that are collectively welcoming of the policy.

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