24 Jun 2014

CORRESPONDENT - John Gerritsen

5:56 am on 24 June 2014

Quality is becoming the early childhood education (ECE) sector's next big issue, as the Government nears its goal of having 98 percent of children enrolled in preschools by 2016.

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Photo: PHOTO NZ

The publication last week of a report calling for more attention to the quality of early childhood education for poor children will have some people experiencing a strong sense of deja vu.

That's because much of the content of the Child Poverty Action Group report was traversed by the Government's Early Childhood Education Taskforce report in 2011.

The recommendations are not identical but there are strong similarities: more money for children from poor families, concerns about home-based care and the care of infants, more attention to quality, and increasing the minimum numbers of qualified teachers.

Others in the sector have raised those issues several times in the intervening years and there is some frustration that the recommendations of the 2011 taskforce have not yet been addressed - even it is to dismiss them.

The Government set up working groups to consider the taskforce recommendations but little action has come of their work, and Education Minister Hekia Parata says she has no plans to announce any changes.

However, she indicates any substantial change is on hold while a new enrolment system, Early Learning Information, is introduced.

Ms Parata says the system will provide the Government with more accurate information and needs to be in place first because it will provide the information that will inform any policy changes.

In the meantime, the Government is focussing on its 2016 goal of 98 percent of children accessing quality ECE before they get to school.

A boy listens to story time at kindergarten.

A boy listens to story time at kindergarten. Photo: PHOTO NZ

There is general agreement the 98 percent part of that target will be met but as last week's Child Poverty Action Group report shows, there are questions about the "quality" aspect - are all children in fact getting a good early childhood education?

Much of that debate concerns the employment of registered teachers. Currently, at least half of the people working with children in teacher-led settings must be registered teachers but many in the sector say that figure needs to rise to 80 percent. They also say regulations should ensure babies and toddlers are directly cared for by registered teachers, rather than leaving them to a centre's unregistered staff.

The Education Ministry says all early childhood services must meet quality standards and the Education Review Office reviews them against those standards.

It also says that last year, 95 percent of teacher-led ECE centres had more than 80 percent qualified and registered teachers.

That is likely to be due to a funding system which pays services more if they have more registered teachers. That incentive stops at the 80 percent mark - but clearly it has an impact.

Even so, it is clear there will be increasing calls for the Government to turn its attention to quality now that its participation goal is so close, and once its new enrolment system is up and running.

And the people making those calls are likely to be looking back to the work of the 2011 ECE Taskforce and asking which parts of that blueprint for reform the government is prepared to run with.

No caption

Photo: PHOTO NZ