ECE Q&A - Nicola Willis

Before the second Auckland lockdown scuppered plans for our ECC Big Day Out, we asked for your questions to put to Hon Chris Hipkins, Education Minister, and Nicola Willis, National's Education spokesperson, who were due to appear on our political panel lunch.  

We asked both panellists for their response to these questions - below are Nicola Willis' answers, to give you more ECE-specific information if you're yet to vote.  

ECE Q&A - Nicola Willis

What’s your view on calls to complete the full review of ECE funding sector, to bring transparency and fairness to the sector, and what are the major barriers to completing the review happening?
National supports steps to improve the ECE funding system over time so that it is fairer, simpler, less administratively burdensome and more transparent to parents. We recognise that any changes would need to be worked through in consultation with the sector to ensure a durable and practical funding model that supports them to provide high-quality ECE that meets the needs of children and families.

What would you say to parents reluctant to bring children back to ECE?

Parents should be confident to follow public health advice about the safety of ECE attendance at various COVID-19 Alert Levels.

Evidence suggests children can get a range of benefits from attending ECE before they start school and ECE enrolment can also support parents to engage in paid work.

Ultimately, parents are best placed to choose what ECE arrangements best suit their child and their family’s circumstances.

What is your plan for dramatically increasing the numbers of qualified early childhood education teachers? What is your time frame for this?

National values the role of early childhood education teachers, recognises their widespread shortage and the need to support the retention and recruitment of ECE teachers. Our goal is to increase the supply of teachers over time, by supporting measures to encourage people to get into early childhood teaching and by increasing minimum pay rates for ECE teachers each year we are in Government.

What’s your view on the recent media coverage calling for nationalising the ECE sector?
We oppose nationalisation of the ECE sector.

National supports parents being able to choose the type of ECE service that suits them – in terms of hours, philosophy, location and fees. A fully state-run system would reduce those choices with no resulting gains for quality or families. National supports diversity in ECE and thinks privately owner centres make a positive contribution to our communities.

Our focus should be on the quality of education and care a service provides, not who owns it. We should trust parents to make choices about the kind of service that best meets their family’s needs.

What’s your view on reviewing the amount of regulation imposed on the sector now, like the Person Responsible rules? How do we move toward a high-trust model between operators and the Ministry?
National supports getting rid of unnecessary red tape however we also must ensure ECE services are safe for our children. Most centres play by the rules but National will not hesitate to suspend or cancel the licenses of those that don’t. Rather than introducing more and more rules we will undertake a wide-ranging programme of “spot-check” to ensure adherence with existing regulatory requirements.

We supported the Government change to allow Primary-trained teachers working in ECE to be counted as “persons responsible” and to remove red-tape that prevents them opening and closing ECE centres, this was one of the five ideas to make an immediate difference I produced following the ECE survey I conducted last year.

National will work with teachers and ECE providers to reduce red tape and bureaucracy and free-up resources for frontline services.

Some centres are asked by MoE to rectify the inequities in teacher pay by increasing private sector teacher pay in line with higher funded Kindergartens, without a corresponding funding increase. How will you address this?
National will work with ECE providers to ensure the ECE funding system is fair, simple and transparent and that it supports both quality and parental choice. National will work over time to reduce the funding gap between kindergartens and non-kindergarten ECE services.

How would you address ECE teachers being driven out of Auckland due to the Immigration New Zealand Auckland Points system? And would you support allowing more recruitment of ECE teachers from overseas due to the shortage of these skills, when the borders open up again?
We must act to address a severe shortage of early childhood education teachers. The problems are most acute in Auckland with centres having to search too long for a teacher. National will kick-start efforts to attract more into ECE training, welcome back those who’ve taken a break from teaching and improve pathways for certification of experienced yet unqualified teachers. National will ensure the Teaching Council, Ministry of Education and NZQA give urgency to work to recognise ECE qualifications from around the world.

I felt very challenged and disheartened by inequities in funding, and rates of pay, between teacher aides and unqualified teachers in ECE, and Kindergarten teachers and the rest of the ECE sector. How will you rectify this?

National will work over time to reduce the per-hour funding gap between kindergartens and non-kindergarten ECE services. We will also ensure attestation rates for teacher pay are increased each year we are in Government.

National will improve the funding model for Playcentres so they remain financially sustainable. This will ensure funding levels better reflect the contribution these services make to supporting children’s education, as well as the role these services play in supporting families and communities.

The current funding model significantly penalises smaller communities. How will you ensure that our Tamariki outside urban centres maintain access to ECE?
National is aware of the significant financial viability challenges remote and rural ECE services can face, with roll fluctuations sometimes making it impossible for them to remain open. We want children and families to wherever possible have access to ECE and in Government will consider what changes may be needed to the funding model to ensure greater funding stability for geographically vulnerable centres. 

Are you going to honour the Early Learning Action Plan? If you are not going to use this plan, what is your alternative?
National agrees with most of the Early Learning Action plan however in Government we would want to refresh it to reflect emerging priorities, e.g. COVID-related issues, bringing forward efforts to lower ratios for under 2s, less emphasis on the goal of 100% registered teachers.

What is your plan to address issues around ratios, which were part of the Early Childhood strategic plan in 2018?
We will progressively improve the adult-to-child ratio for under two year olds in ECE - phasing in improvements over time. We will reallocate all of the 100% qualified funding band to support this. Lowering child-to-adult ratios for below the current for babies and under 2s is a higher priority for us than boosting funding for a small group of centres who qualify for the 100% funding band.

Do you have a plan in place that will provide better wellbeing in our work environment for teachers in ECE, covering physical, mental and emotional wellbeing?
We plan to work alongside ECE services to ensure they meet all of their health and safety obligations, particularly as they relate to providing a safe working environment for staff.