Sunday, August 28, 2011

Trying Something new for 30 Days

I have been inspired by Matt Cutts after watching his TED talk on trying something new for 30 days, he says, “30 days is about the right time to add or subtract something from your life.”  I have heard that if you are going to try something new then 30 days is long enough for it to become a habit. Matt describes some of the things he did, which included; biking to work and hiking up Mt Kilimanjaro, with these challenges his confidence grew. He said,  ‘the days became more memorable’ and in one of his self set challenges which required him  taking a photo every day he remembered exactly what he was doing on each of those days.
With this inspiring short talk (it is only 3.5 minutes long) I had heard enough to try something new, the first of which was to cut out sugar from my diet, this was relatively easy for me, except the odd craving for chocolate, so one down on to the next. After a borderline cholesterol result I decided to give up as much saturated fat as I could. This was harder than sweet food for me as one of my instant gratifications is potato crisps! After a bit of label reading in the supermarket I have found bagel crisps are okay if I really need a snack.
My next thing for 30 days was a complete disaster, I decided to buy an Exercycle (luckily, cheaply on Trade me) as I have used it 3 times and I suspect shortly it will be on the road with a ‘free’ sticker on it!
My latest is to buy a bike and go out to ride, this is a very new interest for me and I am only up to day 3, so far I am really enjoying it. I have found the Western Cycle trail to be a great place to ride,  and today I managed 14 km! There is a certain agelessness about biking and I feel like a teenager again as I cycle along, I could say I am in my Element on the bike, but it is a bit early for that on day 3, but watch this space!
We talk about children being curious learners, trying something new, be brave and giving something a go, taking a risk, practicing and like a challenge, have you thought about how these apply in your own life? Are you prepared to give something new a go? Matt finishes his talk by saying, ‘the next 30 days are going to pass whether you like it or not so why not put into action something you have always wanted to try for the next 30 days.’

Monday, August 22, 2011

ecARTnz Special Issue

We have just added the latest issue (a special issue) of ecARTnz to the resource section of our website.

This issue provides  an overview of some of the presentations and activities offered at the 4th International Art in Early Childhood conference Art...Play...Children...Wonderment, which was held in Toledo, Ohio, U.S.A, in July 2011.

You can also download the previous 4 issues from the same section.

ecARTnz is an e-magazine of professional practice that show-cases examples of excellent visual art education for infants, toddlers and young children. Articles are written by early childhood teachers and students working in early childhood centres, academics and researchers. Articles are illustrated with colour photographs showing both teachers and children engaged in visual art learning experiences. Web-links to relevant internet sites are also included. The magazine provides information about relevant conferences for teachers. Books, websites and literature on visual art education for early childhood are reviewed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

PM signals changes to preschool funding

By Elizabeth Binning
5:30 AM Friday Aug 12, 2011
Early Childhood Centres ar subsidised so they can provide children over 3 with 20 hours of free education. Photo/Thinkstock
Prime Minister John Key has dropped the strongest hint yet there could be changes to early childhood education funding - prompting fears thousands of parents will end up paying more.
During questioning this week Mr Key said he was not committed to keeping fee controls in place for the 20 hours scheme, something that would effectively allow centres to charge additional fees on free hours of care for more than 100,000 children.

Early Childhood Centres are subsidised so they can provide children over the age of 3 with 20 hours of free care. They are also subject to controls which prevent them from charging any additional fees for those 20 hours, although some teacher-led services can ask parents for "optional charges" if they have more than 80 per cent registered teachers.

Labour's education spokeswoman Sue Moroney has been questioning National about its plans for the popular scheme after speculation there are changes coming. The party has repeatedly said it is committed to 20 hours.

However, under questioning this week Mr Key gave the first indication that might not be the case.
He initially said the Government's position was that it would be maintaining the 20 free hours policy. But under further questioning he changed his stance saying he was committed to keeping the same subsidies for 20 hours' early childhood education but was not committed to keeping the fee controls for the scheme.

Ms Moroney said the implication was that the Government planned to allow centres to start charging extra fees for 20 hours which basically meant the end to the scheme.
"The only reason you would do that is if you are going to drop the subsidy."
When the Herald tried to seek clarification on what the Prime Minister meant, his office said ECE policy was still being formulated.

"The Government continues to stand by the commitments it made before the last election in relation to 20 Hours ECE, and we understand how popular it is with parents. ECE policy is still being formulated to take into the election campaign, and the public will get a good chance to assess it when it is released."

Educational sector union NZEI said it sounded like the Government was doing a "flipflop" on its election promise not to touch 20 hours.

Mr Key's comments follow a recommendation from the ECE Taskforce to remove fee controls for 20 hours and move to a funding model where working parents pay more for care.

From Parliament's question time, Labour education spokeswoman Sue Moroney to the PM:
"Does he stand by the answer that he gave to the last question, that he is committing to keeping the same subsidies for 20 free hours' early childhood education and the same fee controls in place for 20 free hours' early childhood education?
John Key: No to the last bit.
What National's Anne Tolley (now Education Minister) promised in the last election campaign:
"While we will keep the scheme, it will be renamed '20 Hours ECE', instead of '20 Hours Free', which was patently misleading. We will retain all the existing subsidies and fee controls. But we will also make the scheme much more flexible for parents."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fears 20 Hours policy under threat

New Zealand Herald
Tuesday 9th August 2011
By Elizabeth Binning
 Education Minister Anne Tolley is being urged to a take "an honest look" at Taskforce Report submissions before making any decisions that could affect the future of early childhood education (ECE). Public submissions closed yesterday on the recently released Taskforce Report which made a number of recommendations - including a major overhaul of the way early childhood education is funded.
The recommendation prompted fears from several groups, including Kohanga Reo and Playcentre, that funding cuts would lead to their demise.
The NZEI education sector union said yesterday the biggest concern was a proposal to water down the universal 20 Hours policy, which subsidises ECE for working parents.
"That would jeopardise the accessibility and quality of early childhood education to thousands of families," national executive member Hayley Whitaker.
"We know that the 20 Hours ECE policy has made it more affordable and has pushed up participation rates. Any move to dilute it would be a big step backwards and provoke an angry response from the community."
NZEI was also concerned about possible moves to introduce a market-driven model of pay for teachers saying that would erode professional salaries and employment conditions and ultimately reduce the quality of ECE for children and families.
Ms Whitaker said the Taskforce Report also recommended investment be a priority even in times of fiscal constraint and supported a return to 100 per cent qualified teachers, low adult-child ratios and small group sizes.
"But the Government has cut funding and actually moved to halt improvement on those issues, arguing early childhood education is an unaffordable cost. We hope it can... take the submissions to the Taskforce on board. To do anything else would make a mockery of the consultation process."
Ms Tolley said the Taskforce was independent and didn't necessarily reflect Government views. More than 3500 submissions had been received and the ministry would now prepare a report for her to consider. Any major changes would be taken into the election campaign.
"Funding almost trebled under the previous Government, yet participation increased by only about 1 per cent. [So] we comm-issioned an independent Taskforce to see how the system can work better for all children."
Meanwhile, more than 1200 Playcentre mums and toddlers gathered at Aotea Centre yesterday for what was planned as a protest over potential funding cuts. However, Ms Tolley stepped in last week to reassure funding would not be cut to any parent-led services so the protest became a celebration.
The group now urged the minister to consider pay parity with other early childhood education.
* * *
Taskforce recommendations:
* An overhaul of the funding system which includes a subsidy for 20 hours of care but strongly differentiated payments for special-needs children and those from Maori, Pasifika and low-income families.
* Working parents should pay more and fee controls should be removed - meaning costs could go up for parents, especially those on higher incomes.
* Public consultation has closed. Education Minister Anne Tolley will now consider submissions before making a decision about the future of early childhood education.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Consultation on the ECE Taskforce … Has your voice been heard?

Consultation on the recommendations made 
in the ECE Taskforce ends on 8th August 2011!   

Make sure your voice is heard! 
The Early Childhood Education (ECE) Taskforce, established by Education Minister Anne Tolley in October last year, released its report An Agenda for Amazing Children on 1 June 2011. The report outlines the ECE Taskforce’s recommendations to Government on the future direction of ECE in New Zealand. 
Parents, whānau, employers and the ECE sector are being encouraged to take part in the consultation process so that Government can consider public feedback before working through the recommendations.
You can find more information on how to take part in the consultation process by visiting and then clicking on the Recent ECE Announcements section of this website.   

You can take part either by completing the questionnaire online, or by downloading the questionnaire and sending it to: ECE Taskforce Consultation Response
, Ministry of Education
, PO Box 1666
, Wellington 6140.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Reforming Funding Mechanisms - Emeritus Professor Anne Smith

Anne Smith, Emeritus Professor, Ph.D., FRSNZ, CNZM

I support the majority of the Early Childhood Taskforce Report’s recommendations for improving the quality of Early Childhood Education and increasing access to quality services for children from all SES and cultural backgrounds. I am concerned, however, that the proposed new funding system could have a negative influence on affordability and participation rates in ECE for some groups, particularly middle-income families with 3 to 5-year-old children. I therefore recommend that introducing such a system should wait until the fiscal situation improves, so that all families and children can benefit.

My Background in Early Childhood Education
I am proud to have played a part in making New Zealand a world leader in early childhood policies. I have been involved in research, advocacy, and policy-making in early childhood for almost 40 years, and was delighted by the invitation to join the current Early Childhood Taskforce. This appointment is part of an ongoing process during which various governments, departments and ministries have called on my advice. For many years, I have had personal contacts with ministers and government officials, and participated in a variety of advisory groups, working parties and committees. My career has been devoted to making New Zealand a better place for families and their children, and to advancing children’s well-being, rights and education. It has been rewarding to participate in improving the quality, status and affordability of early childhood education for families, as well as the qualifications, status and working conditions of Early Childhood teachers. My personal investment over the years proves my total commitment to a continuously improving early childhood sector.

Support for Main Body of Report
My goals are to continue to advance New Zealand’s ECE policies, building on the wonderful progress achieved in the last 10 years towards the provision of universal, accessible and affordable high quality early childhood services (ECS) for all young children and their families. Most of the recommendations of the Taskforce Report are compatible with ongoing progress for ECS, because they are based on arguments for investing in quality ECS, and introducing policies for advancing them. The bottom line is that children, families and the country all benefit when children participate in quality EC services. The Taskforce was convinced that there was strong evidence base to show that investing in high
quality ECS is cost-effective, and results in positive long-term outcomes for children and families, and I am completely in agreement with them.

Principle of Universal Accessibility
I am concerned though that the proposed new funding system may have a
negative influence on participation rates in ECE for some groups, most particularly middle-income families. It is clear from research cited in the report that affordability is a key issue affecting participation in ECE, so if affordability declines for some families, then their children are less likely to participate. According to a recent European Commission Report:
There is clear evidence that universal access to quality ECEC is more
beneficial than interventions targeted exclusively at vulnerable groups.
Targeting ECEC poses problems because it is difficult in practice to
identify the target group reliably, it tends to stigmatise its beneficiaries
and can even lead to segregation at later stages of education. Targeted
services are also at more risk of cancellation than universal ones.(1)

US researcher, Steve Barnett, shows large economic gains when all SES groups
participate in quality preschool.(2) Swedish sociologist and economist Gosta Esping-Anderson found evidence that provision of universal quality early childhood education has greatly diminished the gap in income and educational achievement between high and low socioeconomic status children in some European countries, such as Sweden and Denmark. He is opposed to targeting, because of “the high transaction costs and difficulty of identifying need”,(3) recommending instead universal levels of coverage with graduated subsidies, consistent with New Zealand’s current Twenty Hours policy and Work and Income subsidies.

Concerns about Losers in New Funding Scheme
During the deliberations of the Early Childhood Taskforce modelling of some possible funding scenarios was carried out, based on retaining fiscal neutrality.
This modelling showed that whereas some families would benefit (notably families with 2 year-olds), others, mainly middle-income families with 3 to 5 year-olds, were likely to lose funding and be unable to make up the shortfall. Essay 3 suggests that the system will be fairer and simpler than the old system, but this is arguable. Although the essay states that it will “retain universal subsidy for at least 20 hours of subsidy per week” (p. 76), it is likely that the level of that subsidy would decline markedly for parents currently receiving the 20 hours subsidy for their 3 and 4 year-olds in Early Childhood centres. While there are problems with the current funding system, it is not clear that the proposed system is simpler or fairer. It is inevitable that a fiscally neutral scenario will mean the end of the current 20 hours policy. The Taskforce proposal does not indicate that ECS for 3 to 5 year-olds will be substantially subsidised, and it certainly moves right away from free or very affordable. There is clear evidence from recent research (4) that the 20 hours policy increased affordability of ECS, with 80% of parents saying that EC was  affordable in 2009, compared to 66% in 2004. As one parent said:
It makes it worthwhile for me to work, which in turn makes me a FAR better mother. BEST thing that has ever happened to our family. The 20 free hours also helped us to decide to have a second child. (5)
The submissions to the ECT show widespread concern over the effects of the
funding cuts that took place in 2009/2010. Further funding cuts are likely to produce significant hardship for families, and decrease the viability of services.
I cannot support recommendations that are likely to further exacerbate an already difficult situation.
Since the ECT was constrained to produce outcomes that were fiscally neutral,
it was impossible to design a new funding system that retained current levels of
funding for 3 to 5 year-olds. If the funding policy included increased investment and ‘no losers’, then it could have benefits for all. Given that New Zealand spends less than half of the OECD average on early childhood and is 25th out of the 29 OECD countries in investment in the early years (6), increased investment is highly desirable. Should that increased investment become possible in an improved fiscal situation, the new funding system would become, in my opinion, much more advantageous and viable. Since it is unlikely that this improvement will take place in the near future, I suggest that the current funding regime should remain in place in the meantime.

Concerns about Identifying Children for Targeted Funding
The argument is that the new funding system will be better for low SES and
Māori and Pasifika families, but there is little information about how the new
scheme will be able to accurately seek out and identify targeted groups. It is
already possible for children from disadvantaged groups to attend ECS free (or
at very low costs) with the current subsidies. The Taskforce was informed that a
substantial number of eligible families do not access these subsidies. The solution surely is to assist families from low-income groups to access the Work and Income subsidy, because it guarantees that families will be the recipients, and that funding will not be absorbed by administrative costs (such as the costs of screening). Other recommendations in our report (in Essay 4: Achieving Access for All Children) suggesting the development of ECS as hubs that reach out into local communities, are much more likely to be successful in increasing the participation of those groups, in my opinion.

The mechanics and compliance costs of centres screening potential enrolments
to establish their ethnicity, disability and income, are quite unclear. The new funding approach will mean that centres will have to determine whether parents fit into ‘priority’ categories, a bureaucratic function previously fulfilled (and funded) by Work and Income. Work and Income involvement minimises any risk of the family relationship with the ECS being soured. ECS asking for private family information and possibly having to decline a reduction in fees could create new barriers for families wishing to enrol. ECS should have a different relationship with parents – warm and trusting - and if they have to become gatekeepers by screening parents, that trust could be undermined.

The current system actually works. In my view, its problems could be fixed with incremental changes. It is both risky and expensive to introduce an entirely new funding scheme, without any obvious widespread advantage to parents and children. Also, and just as clearly, it seriously disadvantages some families, which is unjust and inequitable. The proposed funding system may have advantages for the government and possibly for employers, but I do not see any evidence that it has of benefits for the majority of parents and children.

(1) European Commission (2011). Early childhood education and care: providing all our children with the best start
(2) Barnett, S. cited by Calman, C. & Tarr-Whelan, L. (2005). Early childhood education for all: A Wise Investment. New York: MIT Legal Momentum  Conference,, p.19.
(3) Esping-Andersen, G. (2008). Childhood investments and skill formation. International tax public finance,15, 19-44, p. 41.
(4) Mitchell, L, Meagher-Lundberg, P., Mara, D., Cubey, P. & Whitford, M. (2011). Education and Care Parent, Totara, Locality-based evaluation of pathways to the future. Nga Huarahi Arataki, Integrated Report 2004,2006 and 2009. Report prepared for Ministry of Education.
(5) Mitchell, L, et al., (2011). p. 50
(6) OECD (2009). Doing Better for Children. Paris: OECD.