Not all childcare up to scratch: provider

Not all childcare is up to scratch

Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft has said he was “shaken” by the 2016 Child Poverty Monitor and will ask Prime Minister Bill English to set a poverty reduction target. The early childhood education sector in New Zealand will be hoping the Government acts on Judge Becroft’s request, and that significant funding challenges facing the sector are addressed.

On paper, the Government’s target of 98 per cent of children attending “quality” childcare is admirable and has led to many new early education providers entering the market. In reality, years of underfunding and adverse policy changes threaten to erode quality in the sector.

New Zealand has many very good early childhood education centres, but I couldn’t say hand on heart that every child in them is in a quality environment.

I have 30 years’ experience in education, 15 of those in early childhood education. I recognise, through my work with educational organisations, that quality is under threat.

Many in the sector say the same thing. Many centres operate very high standards of service but every centre should be achieving those standards. The difference good early education can make to children’s lives, particularly in lower socio-economic areas, is significant.

It’s a key factor in addressing child poverty. A 2012 report from the previous Children’s Commissioner underlined how it can help mitigate effects of child poverty and disadvantage, leading to reduced child poverty in the next generation. It is estimated every dollar spent in early childhood education saves taxpayers $13 in future years.

People might say, “She runs an early childhood education business, of course she wants more government funding for the sector”. But I’m not talking about measures that make more money for providers, I’m talking about lifting quality with funding linked to requirements to ensure the highest standards.

Several issues need to be addressed to raise quality. There’s a lack of leadership within the sector, exacerbated by its rapid growth. Current pay rates mean early childhood teaching is often not a first choice career. Salaries are not attracting teachers, and applicants often lack the skills and knowledge for infants and toddlers and/or leadership.

It’s great that New Zealand ranks in the top third of the OECD for participation but as participation has increased, millions of dollars have effectively been cut from the per-child rate in Government subsidies.

Original article on NZ Herald by Maria Johnson.

Maria Johnson, a qualified teacher in primary and early childhood education, is founder and owner of the Little School group of pre-schools in Auckland and Wellington. She is an executive member of the Early Childhood Council and a member of the Education Council’ss Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal.