ECC CEO Peter Reynolds blogs on recent calls for nationalising Early Childhood Education.
You could be forgiven among recent negative media coverage around early childhood education for thinking our entire system is broken. Yes, the funding model is broken - but nationalisation isn't the answer. New Zealand is blessed with an excellent early childhood education system, one of the world’s best. Te Whariki is a great curriculum. The quality of our ECE-qualified teachers is equally world class. Most of the services providing a quality early learning experience for the 200,000 or so preschool-aged children do so at a standard that is a testimony to the dedication and passion of the service owners, managers and their teaching teams. Does this mean our ECE system is without fault? No. The centres I talk to all agree, we are a “work-in-progress”. No-one is satisfied with where we are now, and there are areas for improvement, as in any sector. The trick is knowing what's working and being able to prove it; and knowing what you want to improve and having a plan to do so. The Early Childhood Council has been saying for a long time that the ECE funding system is broken. Community and privately owned centres, Playcentres and home based care providers have all spoken out about the financial constraints they're facing. Our position is that the ECE funding system is not child-focused and incentivises the wrong drivers. Like paying services for the number of teachers they employ, instead of what a child actually gets for their experience, and how it helps their development and learning. We claim the ECE funding system is unfair, because it pays kindergartens 16% more to do the same job as centres, and significantly less to Playcentres, whose funding level almost put them out of business. Calls to nationalise ECE miss the point. We don't believe the case stacks up to move the sector to the kindergarten model when parents are voting with their feet and enrolling their children at the alternatives. Nationalising would cost the taxpayer billions and is no guarantee of improved education outcomes for children or conditions for teachers. Let's not go there. The current funding model is hard to understand for parents, providers, teachers, officials and journalists alike - we should fix that first. A funding review that focuses on the child and brings openness, transparency and a fair outcome for everyone is well overdue.