Sunday, May 30, 2010

Goodbye Megan (Professional Practice Manager, Northland Kindergarten Assn)

Alison writes:

It is difficult when you are very far away from home and loved ones to hear of the death of a good friend. Megan Cooke was the kind of friend that would always tell you the truth, who laughed readily and was a wise and lovely woman. I can’t quite believe we have lost her. I will miss our animated discussions about the joys and wonders of teaching and I am reminded so much to take every moment of friendship as a precious gift and that our individual strength and wisdom comes from those who we are closest to and whom we trust and love the most.
If you knew Megan you would know her beautiful singing voice, her giggle that often grew into gulps of uncontrollable laughter and her passion for sewing, amongst many other wise gifts.
It is very early in the morning here in England, already the birds are waking and I can hear the river flowing, the rhythm of nature moves on. Time to appreciate our friends and those we love, as we never get these moments back.

Goodbye Megan

Saturday, May 29, 2010

New Zealand Kindergarten Inc - News Release

Wendy writes:
As many of you who are currently working in New Zealand Kindergartens will know, the latest budget cuts around trained teacher funding are going to have enormous implications for the kindergarten service. Below is the latest response from the NZ Kindergarten Inc.

News Release


New Zealand Kindergartens Inc, the national group representing 29 of the 33 Kindergarten associations across New Zealand, says that children could be the big losers in the budget announcement made today.

Funding at the top rate will be reduced by 12.6% in February 2011. NZ Kindergartens Chief Executive Clare Wells said: “We are deeply shocked at the Government’s decision to cut funding to Early Childhood Education services. As community-based, not-for-profit organisations, kindergartens rely on the funding from government to meet most of our costs.

“The budget will strip over $12 million per year from kindergarten budgets. We will have to make up the short-fall by cutting back spending which could jeopardise the quality of our service, or be forced to pass some costs onto parents. That means children could miss out.”

Currently, Early Childhood Education centres receive government funding at different rates, depending on their proportion of qualified teachers. Those employing 100% fully registered and qualified teachers, like Kindergarten, receive the highest funding rate. The budget cuts will see funds taken away from Kindergartens and other centres where more than 80% of teachers are fully qualified.
“The decision to take funding away from centres with between 80 - 100% qualified teaching staff is really short sighted. Employing qualified teachers is a mark of quality and we know children attending high quality services are likely to be more successful at school. The Government has increased funding over the years to improve quality so New Zealand can reap the rewards in the long term. These cuts undermine the investment made to date.

“There is little doubt that the cost cutting by the Government will have negative results, potentially reducing quality and participation. Either way, it is the children and the families that lose out. The benefits of quality Early Childhood Education are proven. This shortsighted decision could actually end up costing the Government more in the long run,” said Clare Wells.

For more information, please contact:
Clare Wells Tel: 04 495 3744
Chief Executive Mob: 0272 955 044
New Zealand Kindergarten Inc

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

THE NZ HERALD Monday, May 24, 2010

Wendy writes:
It was very disturbing to read the Herald on Monday and to discover how little is understood about the critical importance of trained teachers in early childhood settings. This atrocious act is attacking those providers of early childhood education in NZ who have worked the hardest to achieve the highest quality of provision for our youngest and most vunerable members of our society. While we would applaud the Government for addressing the issues of participation, we are gobsmacked at the lack of vision that has now been revealed. It is not just participation that is critical, but QUALITY PARTICIPATION. There is significant evidence in a number of robust research studies that for every $1 spent in early childhood education the Government saves at least $8. We hope that the wider community will continue these important conversations with their Members of Parliament.

The NZ Herald Editorial: Preschool Budget cuts right move

One of the more contentious decisions hidden in the Budget last Thursday was in the financing of early childhood education. The previous Government gave childcare centres an incentive to employ trained teachers, increasing their grants as they hired a greater proportion of qualified staff.
The Budget has done away with two of the highest bands of subsidy, effectively cutting funds to centres with more than 80 per cent of their staff trained.
It expects to save $280 million over four years out of an annual allocation for childcare that has risen from $428 million to $1.3 billion since Labour introduced its policy of 20 hours a week free for 3- and 4-year-olds and imposed staff training obligations.
Fewer than half the country's 4300 centres have more than 80 per cent of their teachers registered yet. The cost blowout over the past five years would have escalated further without the decision National has taken.
While the cut-off will save $295 million, Education Minister Anne Tolley plans to put $107 million back into other early education programmes, $91.8 million of it earmarked for Maori, Pacific and low-income areas.
Plainly, National does not regard specialist teaching of pre-school children to be quite as important as Labour did. It is probably right. When the previous Government imposed training requirements, there were loud objections from childcare companies that some capable and dedicated staff would be unable to meet these. National does not want to drum them out of the industry.
From next February, no centre will be funded for 100 per cent trained staff. Those that have more than 80 per cent will have to charge higher fees if they will not reduce their staffing costs. Fees may have to rise next year by $25-$42 a week. They will release public funds for those who would otherwise miss out.
The Childcare Association calls this a "brutal blow" which could affect more than 2000 teachers and 93,000 children. The primary teachers union, which includes early childhood teachers, said the Budget threatened to "dumb down" early education and punish those most committed to improving its quality.
But did childcare centres ever need to be fully staffed by trained teachers? Or was this a classic case of "qualification inflation". There are powerful interests at stake when training requirements are decided. Training institutions can expand, unions can enlist more members and base their pay claims on the qualifications required. Arguing against them can be difficult when the subject is children.
It is easy to insist little children deserve nothing but the best. And working parents who place their infants in childcare want to be assured on that score. But "the best" at this level might not require professional training. The best could include people with an aptitude for caring but not for academic study and tests. Checks on their performance can be reliably left to a competitive industry that must constantly satisfy observant parents.
The Government is right to direct more of its early education support to areas where children are missing out. It has chosen five community projects based on successful programmes in Counties-Manukau and Tamaki.
Pre-school attendance is of proven benefit to a child's later education and no child should miss out. But once kindergartens and playschool gave way to fulltime childcare, the teaching profession took control and the cost to the taxpayer rocketed. Something needed to be done. It seems reasonable to suggest that eight trained teachers out of 10 staff is a perfectly adequate ratio. It has the side benefit of keeping some unqualified but dedicated carers in the job.
Contentious the decision may be but it seems educationally harmless, socially equitable and financially necessary.

Wendy writes:
What follows is a very thoughtful response from Annemarie Quill of Tauranga which was published in The New Zealand Herald on Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Annemarie Quill explains why the Budget is bad news for parents who want the best for their children.

Love babies? Become an early-childhood teacher. When applying for the job, leave out your degree.
A qualification will no longer be of value to centre owners if they already have their quota of 80 per cent of qualified staff. Last week's Budget cancelled the financial incentive to centres to employ 100 per cent qualified teachers.
The Government argues that 80 per cent is enough. There are unqualified childcare workers who have extensive experience. Many are mothers or grandmothers.
I am mum to a 6-year-old. I can't teach her primary school class to read. Sometimes I cut my daughter's fringe. It doesn't make me a hairdresser.
A piece of paper alone does not make a great teacher. But it should be a minimum benchmark for someone to whom we entrust our babies.
In other professional arenas we do not tolerate half-measures. We demand rigorous standards, which include both qualifications and experience.
We would decline an operation from a surgeon who learned his trade from Shortland Street.
We wouldn't choose a lawyer's practice where one in five doesn't have a law degree.
So why accept this dumbing down of standards for our youngest children?
With the number of New Zealand children in childcare mushrooming, particularly babies as young as 3 months, these children deserve care that is richly resourced.
The most valuable resources are professional staff. All the wooden blocks in the world cannot replicate teacher interactions.
The first five years of life are crucial for brain development. Poor early relationships cause devastation later in life.
While New Zealand's older children terrorise each other on the playground, drink themselves to death or stab their teachers, this Government is now committed to spending more on prisons than on quality care for babies.
The childcare sector has fought hard to be recognised as part of the education curve. Labour's funding policy was based on extensive research that children in care outside the home thrive with qualified teachers. The benefits last throughout school and beyond.
True, the Budget needed to address the spiralling cost to the taxpayer of childcare funding. But last week's cuts hurt the kids, not the industry.
The huge financial investment in the sector has not always filtered down to those it was meant for - the children.
Childcare is big business. Government funding, plus high parental fees, has made childcare the cash cow of the noughties-like retirement villages and rental property of previous years.
Witness the number of investors-many from overseas-who piled into the sector for financial motives. Their love of the alphabet is limited to the logos on shiny new Hiluxes.
These business owners will not take the Budget's hit on their bottom line. Instead, they will pass on the cost to parents in fees or "donations".
Centres may opt to focus on 3- or 4-year olds to benefit from the continuing 20 "free" hours subsidies.
This potentially leaves the growing number of under-2s in childcare with the least qualified staff. Yes, some loving and attentive. Others just cheap labour on minimum wage.
Centres who retain 100 per cent qualified teachers are likely to be unaffordable for many families. Most of our kids will be left 20 per cent of the time with the "love babies" brigade.
For those who doubt the dire human and economic consequences of poor quality childcare, a reminder of another booming industry sector which a previous National Government deregulated in the 90s.
Similiar funding cuts, a downgrade of the apprenticeship system, and relaxed regulations for 100 per cent qualified and registered professionals.
Love building anyone?

Annemarie Quill is a Tauranga writer, early childhood teacher and mother of three.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Three Professors of Education have their say!

Wendy writes:
I urge all teachers to share this press release with their families and to share their thoughts and concerns about the shifts in policy that are currently taking place in ECE in NZ. We are world leaders, and are considered by the rest of the world to be at the forefront of educational change. Our provision is regarded as one of the most outstanding in the world, we have had an enormous influence of early childhood provision internationally. We need to be talking about these issues with our local MP's. Take time to consider what you might do make visible what is currently happening to early childhood education in NZ.

Families should beware of the erosion of quality in Early Childhood Education, according to three Professors of Education

Families should be concerned about the steps that the government is taking to erode the quality of early childhood education in New Zealand, according to three Professors of Education, Helen May, Margaret Carr and Anne Smith.  The latest indication that cuts will be made to the funding for the Twenty Free Hours in the forthcoming budget, is just a further downward step in a long series of policy changes which are threatening the quality of New Zealand’s highly respected early childhood services.

Currently the discussions in the media are mostly about the cost to families. The cost of services is an important consideration for parents when they decide whether to enrol their children in early childhood education. Professors May, Carr & Smith hope the government will honour its election promise to keep the 20 Hours policy unchanged. They urge families to keep a critical eye on the quality of children’s experiences in centres, as well as on the cost. Government concerns about the 'trebling' in costs for early childhood education is in fact about the cost of policies intended to redress a long tail of: underfunding, low qualification levels, poor quality and high costs to parents. These successes are now under threat.

“Although this government has been keen to raise standards, it runs a great risk of undermining the quality of education in New Zealand by eroding some key aspects of the work in the early childhood sector. Children in quality early childhood do well at school, and this erosion is an example of inconsistent and disconnected policies” said Professor Margaret Carr at the University of Waikato. She added: “I fear that there may be more reduction of quality to come, seriously threatening the ability of the early childhood sector to work with families to provide the foundations for resourceful caring and imaginative citizens who love learning and know how to learn. Early years teachers work with children at an important time for brain development, and their work is highly skilled”.

Since coming to power, the government has removed or lowered expectations in a number of areas which influence quality.  These include:- 
  • the axing of professional development programmes for early childhood teachers to support implementing the early childhood curriculum;
  • cancelling the Centres of Innovation scheme - a project which showcased innovative practice to inspire other centres;
  • reducing to 80%, and extending the time frame, of the 100% goal of qualified  and registered early childhood teachers in all centres; 
  • reducing to 50% the requirement for qualified and registered teachers in provision for under-twos;  rescinding previously agreed improvements in the ratios of teachers to children;
  • reducing the training incentive grants

Centres which have 100% qualified staff, beyond requirements, are hugely concerned that the funding to pay teachers salaries linked to the number of qualified staff will be similarly cut back. Families will be concerned about this too.

“What happens to young children matters a lot, and if children don’t have access to top quality early childhood education during the early years, it is a missed opportunity to have a positive impact on their lifelong learning”, according to Emeritus Professor Anne Smith from the University of Otago. 

Professor Smith says that the evidence is overwhelming that in-depth teacher education is one of the most important elements of quality, which has long-term effects on young children’s learning, and she finds it inexplicable that the government is lowering expectations for early childhood training.  Under twos are particularly vulnerable to poor quality, so it’s just as important for people working with under two year-olds to be qualified as it is for older children.

Professor Helen May, Dean of the University of Otago College of Education reports that, “For some years New Zealand has been internationally regarded as a flagship in creating the necessary infrastructure of early childhood policy around issues of quality, qualifications, access and curriculum. There was still more to do, and the undermining of these policies is dispiriting, and even embarrassing, as there is continuing worldwide interest in our policy initiatives”.

Professors May, Carr and Smith are early childhood researchers who have had a major part in the development of early childhood policies in New Zealand for the last 30 years.

Professor Helen May
Dean University of Otago College of Education.

Emeritus Professor Anne Smith
University of Otago College of Education

Professor Margaret Carr
University of Waikato