Opinion: 2017, the year that almost was

11 December 2017

As we head into the magical season of Santa, tree decorating, BBQs, and acts of community kindness, we are also looking ahead to 2018 and what’s signalled to be a year of change in the education sector.

The specific detail of just what those changes will look like for early childhood education (ECE) is being kept under wraps by the new government. We have been advised to keep a check on the Ministry of Education website page entitled: Changes in Education, which mostly informs us to keep doing what we are doing until any change to policy is made public.

Then there have been a few snippets via the media that signal new policy positioning in education, some of which impacts ECE. This includes the changes to the cohort entry age, and how Communities of Learning might be rejigged. But so far there have been few concrete or detailed policy announcements for education and specifically for ECE. We are watching this space…

ECE matters on so many levels. Looking back on 2017, there have been many highlights in the ECE sector and for us here at the Early Childhood Council.

We continue to enjoy a strong membership base and work hard to represent the interests of our members to decision and policy makers, and to promote quality ECE in New Zealand. ECC members should be proud. Our more than one thousand early childhood centre members care for and educate around 50,000 under fives, and employ around 7,000 people.

Through educating our youngest citizens, childhood centres establish a child’s learning pathway, that ultimately goes on to impact on the future of New Zealand. As a large employer, childhood centres also contribute to the New Zealand economy.

It was appropriate then that Embedding Excellence was the theme of this year’s ECC annual conference, held in Wellington in June. It was attended by around 280 centre managers, owners and governors who discussed leadership, and developing and implementing excellent skills in their workforce. Conference is our main sector event of the year, alongside the seminars, workshops and webinars and other professional development opportunities we run for our members, and non members.

Our ECC conference is a chance for centre managers, owners and governors and teachers to hear from key-note speakers, attend workshops, ask questions of politicians on the panel debate, and socialise with peers in the sector. Next year we are running our conference series in three centres to enable more people to attend than before. The theme is Delivering on the Promise, which aims to bring participants together to share, learn and network and discuss the promises ECE services live by everyday. We are busy working up the schedule of events and key note speakers for that now.

Other high points this year included our involvement in the Ministerial Cross-Sector Forum on Raising Achievement. The Forum is tagged as a collaborative cross-sector leadership group that meets to advise and inform the Education Minister on raising achievement for child learners.

The Forum considers issues in education, and shares and exchanges information, including on the education work programme which historically has supported the Minister of Education’s priorities. It’s crucial to have the ECE voices at this table and ECC is a proud sector representative here.

We also did a lot of work representing our membership views on the Food Act implementation processes, which were more costly and bureaucratic than officials had initially said they’d be. We wrote lots of letters, had meetings to pass on our sector concerns.

We were promised more lists of National Level 2 Food Act verifiers and that did eventually happen, and we were told officials were keen to hear of cases of variable fees and charges. We encouraged our members to send those examples in to officials. In the end the Ministry for Primary Industries revised the information it had on it’s website to give better information and more Food Act verification contacts to support the registration requirements. We feel our voice, representing our membership, contributed to those improvements.

We have great hopes that this new government will be a friend of small business, both open and willing to listen to the ECE sector voice. Democracy requires many views, and we rely on government to listen to the people and those working on the ground. Rules and regulations are necessary but sometimes their impacts are not truly understood in terms of time and costs to ECE centres. We hope to see more of a level playing field across the sector under the new government, with different types of ECE services treated more equally.

We like making a difference where we can with one-on-one representation. One of the most rewarding aspects for us here at the ECC is being able to help and advise member centres if they need help with Ministry of Education or Education Review Office processes. We can make quite a difference here unravelling the complexity to help find solutions and improvements.

Finally, this year we finished the processes at our ECC National Office to bring on board some new part time roles. With this boosted team we aim to deliver even better services for our members.

To our ECE members, thank you for your support and your views and ideas. Keep up the good work out there leading a strong teaching workforce and educating and caring for our littlest citizens to light the sparks that enable the bright learning pathways to open up.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas.

Peter Reynolds

Chief Executive Officer of the Early Childhood Council