7 Aug 2015

Lack of ECE spaces predicted in subdivisions

9:07 am on 7 August 2015

Education groups are predicting shortages of early childhood spaces in Auckland's new housing developments.

They say it is too expensive for many early childhood providers to buy into new subdivisions, and the Government and Auckland Council should be putting land aside.

Preschooler on bike.

Preschooler on bike. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Education trust COMET Auckland chief executive Susan Warren said early childhood provision was being left to the market, but that did not work very well.

She said only early childhood businesses could afford to buy land and set up in new housing areas - non-profit centres generally could not.

In addition, the businesses would not set up in low-income areas because the returns were not high enough.

"If something is not done about it, we will see several years of under-provision until the ministry starts to see data that not enough children in a particular area are going to ECE and then they will prioritise it and provide some funding for new centres.

"By then, all the land will be gone, so we really do have a potential issue here."

The Early Childhood Council said its members - most of them businesses - had not noticed a problem.

But in the non-profit sector, it is a different story.

Counties-Manukau Kindergarten Association general manager Karen Shields said her organisation could not afford to buy into new subdivisions.

"In new areas, we usually go on school sites, look for school sites, because we can't afford to build the building and pay for the land."

She said the private sector could and did buy into those areas, but that meant parents did not have a lot of choices.

"The issue I have is around how we provide parents with some options around the types of early childhood services that are available - whether they're private or whether they're not-for-profit-run businesses where perhaps fees are lower for parents."

Early childhood teacher union The Educational Institute's president, Louise Green, said the Government needed to help provide land in new housing areas.

"The price of property is really, really high and what happens, if you don't have a strategic plan and support for good quality services to go into places like that, is that market forces reign and they don't always mean that good quality happens for kids."

Auckland Council general manager of plans and places Penny Pirrit said it considered the availability of early childhood services when it assessed proposals for special housing areas.

"Our understanding is, however, that there is no opportunity to direct the development of a new ECE, as it is expected that private ECE providers will move into an area and establish centres in response to population growth."

Education Ministry head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said early childhood services were independent and would work out where to operate based on demand from parents.

"As ECE is not compulsory, and there are no state-owned ECE services, with the exception of Te Kura [the Correspondence School] and those services operated by DHBs, provision reflects what parents want and is privately operated.

"Business structures vary, with some ECEs operating as for-profit services and others in community ownership and not for profit."

She said some communities had temporary over or under-supply of early childhood services and the Government was able to help low-income communities with persistent undersupply.