More investment needed in early childhood centres?

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Every Child is worth IT
Early Childhood Education Post Budget 2016 Survey :
How a six year funding freeze is impacting on ECE

 

Investing in children as a key funding priority is one most of us would share, although our reasons may differ.

Children under five regardless of their background are vulnerable and dependant on the care of the adults around them.

Since the early 2000s parents have been told ‘quality’ early childhood centers (ECE) is far more beneficial to a child’s development than staying at home with mum or dad. But the word  ‘quality’ is paramount.

A recent study for New Zealand Education Institute Te Riu Roa (NZEI) has confirmed what others in the early education sector have raised over many years, funding cuts made to subsidies 6 years ago continue to impact negatively on ECEs and on their ability to provide ‘quality’ education.

NZEI’s survey of 264 ECEs around the country found that 87% had experienced shortfalls since the Government first froze per-child funding six years ago, and 70 % had increased fees – by an average of 29%.

The survey also found that many of the ECEs struggled to cover increasing costs of teacher and support staff wages, property maintenenance, food, and that for a majority of services, parent fees had been introduced to help cover the short fall.

The key driver of financial pressure relates to the removal of the ‘higher funding category’ for ECE with 100% qualified teachers, which was replaced by a lower subsidy with 80% or more qualified teachers in 2011. CPAG, Pg 9  NZEI’s view  is that subsequent government funding has only covered the increased ECE population, and this is insufficient to improve ‘quality’.

There are many components to providing a quality ECE experience and those components have been identified as: the employment of qualified staff (who can engage with children to interact in their environment and be able to apply theory and practice), appropriate teacher/child rations, small group sizes, and application of a bicultural curriculum [Te Wariki, Pathways to the Future; Nga Huarahi Aratak, Early Childhood Teachers’ Work in Education and Care Centres: Profiles, Patterns and Purposes.

The survey is then worrying as the findings indicate many of the centres are not providing the ‘quality’ experience parents are expecting.

Key findings from the survey include:
• 70 percent of centres increased parent fees as a direct result of the funding freeze, by an average of 29 percent over the past five years – well above inflation. This suggests fees will rise further if the freeze is maintained.
• 41% of centres have reduced their ratio of qualified teachers in favour of cheaper unqualified staff.
• 34% of centres have increased their child-to-teacher ratios (though many would have been on the maximum already)
• 55% of services have increased their operating hours/days/sessions, and 51% of services have increased teacher contact time, limiting time for individual planning, assessment and research.
• 16% of centres have cut staff pay rates, or plan to.
• 31% said that the inclusion of learners with special education needs has been affected.

NZEI is calling for  a commitment in Budget 2017 to restore quality teacher funding, and end a six-year funding freeze to improve quality, rather than just increase participation in Early Childhood Education.

NZEI members believe every child deserves the best early childhood education New Zealand can possibly provide, and a great start in life.” NZEI President Louise Green said. “But instead of aiming for the best quality early childhood education, the Government has cut funding for qualified teachers, and starved the sector of funding as it focuses on its target of 98 percent participation in ECE.“The upshot is, not all children are getting the rich, early childhood education that can help set them up for life. ECE teachers think every child is worth it.”

Quality matters and an over focus on increasing participation in ECE must be matched with sufficient resourcing to support the provision of  ‘quality’ ECE to all children.

Read the full report here.

 

 

 

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