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.

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