22 Oct 2015
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ChildForum raises concerns about NZ's early childhood education

By Catherine Knowles

In New Zealand there is a growing concern about early childhood education (ECE) and the lack of response from the Government, according to ChildForum.

Earlier this month, the ChildForum ECE Service National Network released the results of a survey on the views about quality in early childhood education centres.

A quarter of teachers surveyed said they would not want their children to be enrolled or go to another comparable early childhood centre. However, the Ministry of Education has ‘talked down’ these concerns, according to ChildForum.

An analysis of comments posted about the survey, including on three NZ ECE Facebook groups for teachers with membership sizes of more than 6,410, 3,780, and 1,900, indicates an overwhelming support for the survey findings.

Early childhood professionals, academics, centre owners and operators, members of the public, and parents have confirmed and verified the findings, with many saying they were ‘unsurprised’, says ChildForum.

However, ChildForum says the Ministry’s response inferred that the problem was not with the system or current policy, but with the fact that individuals are not reporting concerns.

Warwick Marshall, ChildForum chief executive, says there is a serious disconnect between the official view and the survey findings, including the response.

“Parents rely on the Ministry’s monitoring and assurances of quality care and education and on Education Office reports, but while teachers have said that quality in some centres for children is good it is not the case in all,” Marshall says.

“It is easier for parents not to complain or to be seen to cause trouble especially when they are reliant on a service for childcare.

“Teachers can be reluctant to inform parents if they hold concerns for a child for various reasons, including not wanting to add to a busy parent’s stress,” he says.

In response to ChildForum, the Ministry also said it is “clear and transparent about the complaints we receive and publish these on our website on an annual basis”.

However, Marshall says this was not true at the time as it had only published a summary of complaints laid during 2013, and then a week later it posted a summary of complaints for the 2014 year onto its website.

“This shows an apparent lack of priority or focus on quality by the Ministry. And, it has not provided detailed information about the complaints and the services at which the most serious incidents proven had occurred.

“However, the Ministry states that it is now doing better at recording complaints and the number of complaints has increased during 2013-14,” he says.

Marshall says that while NZ has been dubbed a world leader for its curriculum, the current education policy focuses on participation over quality.

He says policy changes such as increasing maximum class or centre size from 50 to 150 children counters the kind of quality care in education that New Zealanders see as important for children under five years.

“There is a lack of incentives for centre owners to put quality above the dollar. The unbridled growth of centre and home-based ECE has led to ECE becoming a competitive industry,” Marshall says.

Unlike other private sector industries the ECE private sector has no regular unannounced inspections, says Marshall.

It would seem existing complaint processes do not make it safe for teachers to 'whistle-blow' without putting their job, pay, and career at risk. he says.

According to Marshall, the survey results have sparked considerable attention and shows a national conversation about quality in early childhood education and solutions is needed.

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