Opinion: Quality versus Change - a dilemma for our sector

Under the previous government, like the current Labour-led coalition, there is plenty happening in education and in particular in the ECE space. We had the review of Te Whāriki, the introduction of Communities of Learning, the review-you-have-when-you're-not-having-a-review of Learning Support (used to be Special Education), introduction of the Food Act and Health and Safety at Work Act and the Education Council, and the ill-fated Review of ECE Funding, amongst other activities. Nowadays, we have all sorts of reviews, including the development of a revised strategic plan for the ECE sector, review of home-based ECE services; plus current issues with proposed changes to employment law, Tomorrow's Schools and more.

The previous government had a massive focus on increasing participation in ECE. They had the Better Public Service goals and within that the goal of increasing ECE participation to 98%. We got close, in fairness - 96 point diddle-diddle percent. The one criticism of the goal was the absence of any focus on quality. It was a "bums-on-seats" goal. Combined with the effect of the funding cuts, and we saw evidence of services under pressure, but with increasing numbers of children attending at an ever-decreasing per-child rate of funding.

The point of my re-describing all of this is that it is a summary of change. Change that not always has anything to do with advancing quality in our sector, but just change. The volume of change is significant and unsurprisingly, plenty of people working in our sector try to resist aspects of this change or at least struggle with it and sometimes demonstrate signs of change-related stress.

Officials and politicians need to take note of this. Change is one thing. Quality improvement is quite another.

It's not that we do not welcome change in an ever-changing world, but that consideration of the longer-term goal must be a factor. Introducing a significant number of changes in our sector does not mean quality is improving.

The last two governments have both called for improvements in quality. In many ways, this call is made without much basis on a true appreciation of what is actually happening in our sector. Sometimes the call for improved quality is based on research (such as improved ratios); and sometimes it is based on the fear of something bad rather than reality (like regulating group size).

The Labour-led coalition government is presently leading a revision of the ECE Strategic Plan. Like any strategic plan, this sets a vision for the future and how we can all work together to achieve this. The vision, a desirable future for quality ECE provision, needs to think about the role quality improvement will play, rather than just change for change's sake. To improve quality in our sector need not involve big bang ideas that are likely to be overturned by the next change in government when it comes along. It needs to be incremental; it needs to be focused on quality learning outcomes for the child, and not additional compliance for the sake of it.

What do you think should be in the ECE Strategic Plan? Do we need more big changes? Or a focus on incremental quality improvement?

Peter Reynolds