Focus on ECE and where the new Government might take it

9 November 2017

We are all watching the new Government as they take their seats in the House and begin the settling in period of a new Coalition Government. And what a settling in it’s been so far this week.

Aside from the political jockeying, the Labour-New Zealand First Government, with confidence and supply arrangements from the Greens, is likely to take some new directions with the education portfolio, including early childhood education (ECE). We may see more focus on ECE, or at least more opposition questions, with National adopting a new ECE opposition spokesperson position.

From what we know from the pre election policy statements, Labour was keen to return to the sector strategic plan, increase the universal subsidies, return to the 100 percent incentive, and improve learning support funding. New Zealand First has an interest in supporting Playcentres and Kohanga Reo, and to review ECE teacher programmes.

So what might we see happening in the first 100 days and beyond? And what would ECC like to see?

The ECC would love to see the loss of funding from the per-child subsidy level, across both the Universal Subsidy and the 20 Hours ECE Subsidy, addressed. Upward adjustments to the per child rate would enable ECE services to be better placed to explore increasing their teacher numbers toward the 100% qualified goal.

However, achieving the 100% goal would also require there to be suitably qualified pool of ECE teachers available to employ, which could be tricky given the current teacher shortages the education sector is facing.

And, wouldn’t it be wonderful to achieve a far less complex funding system for ECE? It’s currently so complex it cannot be understood by parents, providers and even at times - the government. We’d like to see the funding review for ECE revisited and completed. Why does a less complex system matter? Simplicity could open the way for ensuring children from low-income families or those living in hardship could be more easily prioritised to ensure those most in need can be funded to access ECE.

We may well see a renewed and welcome focus on ensuring those most in need can get access to the education and learning support they need. Improving access to quality ECE for children with learning support (special) needs could be as simple as increasing the per-child hour subsidy to cover the extra costs of education and care for these families.

If New Zealand First achieves a review of ECE teacher programmes, we’d ask for employers to be able to have a say, and for all parties, including the Education Council, to get around the table on this issue. And what about the idea of ensuring teachers get more support and training to enable them to better recognise children in ECE with additional support needs, and put that support in place earlier?

It’s been signalled that a 30-year strategy for education might be undertaken. It makes sense to look at education as a whole, and for a fresh look at this strategy for education to include ECE at the table. A sector-wide view is important here and ECE needs to be at the discussion tables.

We also expect there could be changes made to Communities of Learning. They are a great idea, but the current arrangement has not always put ECE at the Community of Learning tables, and we need to be there to ensure a child’s education pathway is viewed as a whole.

Lastly, we at the ECC always advocate for a level playing field for the ECE sector. We will continue to advocate for ECE providers to be subject to the same reasonable levels of government rules and regulation, which is not currently the case.

The Early Childhood Council looks forward to continuing these discussions on behalf of our members, and working with the new Government, and the Education Minister, and Associate Education Ministers on the important portfolio of early childhood education.

Peter Reynolds

Chief Executive Officer, the Early Childhood Council