19 Nov 2018

Govt announces $3.5 billion early childhood plan

12:15 pm on 19 November 2018

Early childhood centres are facing surprise audits and higher minimum staffing requirements after the government unveiled a $3.5 billion overhaul of the sector.

Education minister Chris Hipkins launches the draft early childhood strategy at the Knox Church Playgroup in Lower Hutt.

Education minister Chris Hipkins launches the draft early childhood strategy at the Knox Church Playgroup in Lower Hutt. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

The government's draft 10-year strategic plan for early childhood education also suggested regulation of early childhood teachers' pay and greater restrictions on where new services would be allowed to open.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said quality was the focus of the plan, which would be open for consultation until 15 March 2019.

Mr Hipkins said a top priority was the reintroduction of a higher government subsidy for early childhood services where all teachers were qualified.

He said another priority was to raise the minimum ratio of teachers required to look after the youngest children.

"At the moment the ratios for under-twos are one-to-five, but also in the two-year-old age bracket it's a one-to-10 ratio at the moment. The plan aims to get us to a one-to-five ratio for the two-year-olds and then moving down to a one-to-four for the under two-year-olds," Mr Hipkins said.

The draft plan suggests raising the minimum percentage of qualified teachers in teacher-led early childhood centres from 50 to 80 percent by 2022, and to 100 percent in the longer-term.

Education Ministry figures show 79 percent of children attend teacher-led early childhood services where 80 percent or more of the teachers were qualified.

The plan calls for a tougher line on poor-quality providers, including the ability to stop services with a history of problems from opening new centres.

"It is proposed to introduce a consistent and rigorous programme of monitoring, including unannounced visits by the Ministry of Education or the Education Review Office," the plan said.

"Where a service is repeatedly on provisional license, the regulations could be amended to allow the service's licence to be cancelled. Serious concerns around one service could trigger an automatic review of all of a service provider's other licences."

RNZ's Insight programme reported serious complaints about the quality of some early childhood services last year.

The plan calls for a mechanism "to support more consistent and improved teacher salaries and conditions", but did not provide any detail about how this would be achieved.

It also suggests developing a new funding systems for both Kōhanga Reo and Playcentre, as well as providing more governance and management help to community-owned centres.

Mr Hipkins said the plan would cost the government $3.5 billion if all of the proposals were adopted at once.

New Zealand Kindergartens said the plan showed determination to provide high quality early childhood education.

The Early Childhood Council said it agreed with the goal of raising quality, but warned that it would be difficult to find sufficient teachers to fill improved teacher-child ratios for the youngest children.

"We wonder where the increased teaching staff will come from given there is currently a significant shortage of teachers," the council's chief executive Peter Reynolds said.

The proposal

  • Moving towards a 100 percent qualified teacher workforce in early childhood education centres
  • Improving the adult:child ratios for babies and toddlers
  • Increasing the consistency and levels of teacher salaries and conditions across the sector
  • A more planned approach to establishing new services, greater support and increased monitoring.

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