An overhaul of the early childhood sector will raise costs and could run some centres out of business, a Cabinet paper shows.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the draft 10-year strategic plan for early childhood education launched today was aimed at improving quality and would cost $3.5 billion to implement in full.
It proposed higher minimum numbers of qualified teachers, more teachers to work with the youngest children and tougher measures againt poor-quality providers, including unannounced audits by the Education Review Office or Education Ministry.
Early childhood advocate Sarah Alexander said surprise ERO visits needed to happen as soon as possible.
"It is very urgently needed. That is the prime thing that needs to be done right now to ensure quality in the sector and ensure children's safety," she said.
The leader of a support and advocacy group for early childhood teachers, Susan Bates said teachers seemed to like the plan, but they wanted the government to move a lot faster.
"They're all saying the urgency is the key and ten years isn't urgent," she said.
"The early childhood period is so short and when damage is done at a very young age it is extremely hard to undo it and probably won't be undone."
The draft plan suggested raising the minimum percentage of qualified teachers in early childhood services from 50 percent to 80 percent by 2022 with a view to reaching 100 percent at a later date.
It also called for improving the teacher:child ratio for two-year-olds from 1:10 to 1:5 and for under-two-year-olds from 1:5 to 1:4.
At the Knox Church Playgroup in Lower Hutt where he launched the plan, Mr Hipkins said the changes would to be phased in so there was time to train more teachers.
He said the changes would not increase costs for families.
"One of the things that we want to do is actually bring down the cost of early childhood education and remove the financial barriers to participation," he said.
Knox playgroup coordinator Stephanie Polan said more teachers for the youngest children was the most important change the government could make.
"It's a numbers game. They need attention and the staff need to be able to give that attention to each individual child. The ratios at the moment are safe, that's about it," she said.
Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said some of the proposals would help raise quality, but he was cautious about others.
"There's a promise of returning to 100 percent [qualified] teachers I think by 2020 and I'd be really interested in knowing where the government proposes getting those teachers from," he said.
A Cabinet paper said the recommendations, including increased monitoring of quality standards, "may result in a reduction of the number of providers, at least in the short term".
It said the proposals "will almost certainly require significant additional funding and substantial increases in qualified teacher numbers".
The paper said a 1:4 ratio for under-two-year-olds would cost about $35 million per year, while a ratio of on 1:5 for two-year-olds would cost about $140 per year.
"Implementing the draft Strategic Plan will almost certainly require substantial increases in qualified teacher numbers, with the proposed improvements to the adult:child ratios and proportions of qualified teachers placing the biggest demands on the workforce. There is a risk that there will not be enough qualified teachers to meet the demand arising from these proposals."
The paper said the recommendations would also increase costs for early childhood services.
"The overall impact of some of the proposals across the draft Strategic Plan may result in an increase in the cost of operation for providers. However, I believe the proposals in this Goal for increased support for certain service types and structures would contribute to raised quality, improved equity and maintenance of parental choice," Mr Hipkins said in the paper.