12 Apr 2021

Early childhood service assessor restoration provokes mixed reactions

6:32 pm on 12 April 2021

Early childhood service owners are wary of plans for a flying squad to investigate potential fraud and safety failures but others in the sector say it is urgently needed.

Early childhood centre learning. (File pic)

The Provider Assessment Group makes surprise spot checks on home-based early learning services (File image). Photo: 123rf

The Education Ministry is reinstating the Provider Assessment Group, which ceased operations nearly six months ago after a three-year pilot.

During that time, the group made surprise spot checks on home-based early learning services, and shut down about 17 sites.

Early childhood teacher and campaigner Susan Bates said hundreds of teachers had told her about badly-run early learning centres, which proved there was a real need for the unit.

She said the unit would need to listen to teachers when it investigated complaints.

"There's a group here in Auckland, it's taken a lot of courage for them to go to the ministry, and the ministry's been into the centre and not talked to the teachers at all," she said.

Bates said the reinstated unit would also need to be respectful of teachers because teachers had complained that its first iteration was too brutal in its approach.

Early childhood advocacy organisation Childforum's chief executive Sarah Alexander said the unit was good news.

"This provider assessment group is going to be utterly, totally vital to lifting both the quality and the standards of early childhood services," she said.

Alexander said she hoped the group would widen its scope beyond home-base providers and investigate a lot more centres.

Early childhood centre owner Linda Petrenko said there was evidence that some services were badly run.

"It is unfortunate that this investigative group is necessary but it is high time that those who are dishonest and incompetent are struck off from operating services," she said.

Early Childhood Council represents hundreds of early learning services and chief executive Peter Reynolds said he was hesitant to support a unit that could be characterised as a hit squad.

He said there was a place for surprise spot checks, but the group needed to focus on truly bad operators, not minor shortcomings in paper-work.

"We've seen examples of the ministry's assertiveness in this space, where they're picking on services because they've got a word in the wrong place in a policy and that doesn't make any sense at all," Reynolds said.

He said if people looked hard enough, they would find minor mistakes in most centres' paperwork.

Early Childhood New Zealand Te Rito Maioha also represents centres and chief executive Kathy Wolfe said the group needed to be fair.

"There could absolutely be benefits from a group of this nature. It will just be really how the process will be carried and what their requirements will be," she said.

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