15 Oct 2015

Childcare centres: quantity over quality?

7:59 am on 15 October 2015

New figures show a boom in the number of new early childhood education services being set up in Auckland.

Preschooler on bike.

Preschooler on bike. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

This year 93 new services opened in the city, the highest number since 2009, and 50 of them are being run from people's homes - a method of delivery that has been repeatedly criticised.

Auckland's COMET education trust chief executive Susan Warren said the increase could be good news but it depended where the new services were being set up.

"Many of the services that have been just opened this year are in the higher socio-economic areas and they tend to be the areas that are better served already for early learning," she said

"So it's a little bit of a concern that not very many of those new services are in low socio-economic areas.

Quality is also important and Ms Warren noted ongoing criticism of home-based providers.

"There seems to be an indication that quality is a bit more variable in home-based services than it is in others and if the pattern is followed, we would have to question what quality those services would be."

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds is not impressed by the number of new home-based providers.

The 50 in Auckland are among 71 new ones set up nationally this year - the highest number on record.

Mr Reynolds said that was worrying given the repeated concerns about the quality of home-based providers, which are only required to have a registered teacher visit each home-based educator once a month.

"It's a reflection of the ease with which childcare services can be established in New Zealand together with the loophole within the system that allows services that one might reasonably ask the question, 'Are these really early childhood education services or not?'

"And these services form quite a large section of the home-based network that we're seeing growth come from."

Mr Reynolds said the regulations for setting up new services, particularly home-based services, should be tightened.

But Education Ministry head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said it had already done that and the requirements were more aligned with those of education and care centres.

"Changes included child safety (the condition and placement of play equipment), educator first aid training, and emergency preparedness."

Ms Casey said a lot of this year's increase was driven by new migrants.

"Of the 71 new services established last year, 50 were in Auckland. Many are responding to demand from particular ethnicities, with new services catering for Chinese, Tongan, Indian, Russian, Chinese and Samoan families."

Home Base Childcare Association president Evan Kidd said house and land prices in Auckland were contributing to the rise in home-based services there.

The ministry's figures show nationally a total of 178 new early childhood services opened this year, bringing the total number of services to 4448.

Of those, 442 are home-based providers.