18 May 2020

Government reveals $278.2m for early childhood education funding

6:10 pm on 18 May 2020

The government has announced $278.2 million from the Budget will go towards restoring the 100 percent funding band for teacher-led ECE services.

Watch the briefing here:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Education Minister Chris Hipkins spoke at 3pm during the weekly post-Cabinet media briefing.

Ardern said the funding would encourage centres to keep their fully trained teachers in work at a time when they may be struggling.

"Quality early childhood education will be an important part in our response to Covid-19," she said.

The new 100 percent funding rates would apply from 1 January 2021.

Eligible centres would receive the increased payments in November 2020 with advance funding to cover January and February 2021.

Hipkins said today's announcement would allow the reintroduction of a higher funding rate for early childhood services that employed fully qualified and registered teachers, which he said was scrapped by the previous government in 2010.

He said it was very important to make sure the education sector was properly funded to help in the recovery from Covid-19.

He said the funding for fully trained ECE teachers came "at a time when Covid-19 is likely to lower demand for early childhood education... and this funding will help them reinstate their trained staff".

There was a shortage of early childhood teachers before the Covid-19 pandemic, and the government did not want see any further losses, he said.

"We particularly don't want to lose services in areas where there is already underrepresentation and where participation is already quite low - so some of our lower socio-economic areas - so we're going to be playing a very active role in that in making sure that services don't fall over as they adjust to new participation trends as things settle down."

He said about that in 2018, some 400 early childhood centres had only fully trained early childhood teachers.

He said he did not expect the move would mean untrained staff losing their jobs.

"There's no compulsion around that. What we saw previously was that centres worked really hard with their staff to get their training up to date.

"We expect now the funding is being reinstated, that proportion will continue to grow again.

"A decade of underfunding in early childhood education under National has had a significant impact on the sector, which is why I put ECE as my top priority for this Budget," he said in a release.

"In 2018, about 400 centres (13 percent of teacher-led centres) employed a fully qualified and certificated workforce," he said. "This initiative rewards centres offering the highest quality education by ensuring all of their required teachers are fully trained teachers."

'This is significant stuff' - Kindergarten Association

Mandy Couson from the He Whanau Manaaki Kindergarten Association in Wellington told RNZ's Checkpoint it was a huge cause for celebration in a field where every learning centre had spent blood sweat and tears to have only qualified staff.

She said for the last 10 years kindergartens have employed 100 percent qualified registered teachers while being funded for 80 percent which equated to around $5 million a year that the organisation has had to offset to ensure they could keep their 100 percent qualified teachers.

"We must aspire to having 100 percent of our teacher-led early learning services employing 100 percent qualified registered teachers, it's the only way we can really honour our youngest children."

She said if a great unqualified person who worked well with children, would will be an even greater qualified teacher.

Couson said if you send a child to school parents know they will have a qualified recognised teacher working with them, but that cannot be guaranteed in early childhood and so it needs to change.

80 percent of students back at school

Hipkins said at 10.30am today 209,759 students were reported as attending school, about 80 percent of students across the country.

Early learning services also reported 36,780 children attended.

"Eight weeks is a long time to be locked down at home, and it is a bit of a culture-shock coming back out of that, so we need to support our parents in that," Hipkins said.

"The more we can have kids back in school the easier it's going to be for everyone, and the better it's going to be for the kids."

"The numbers [of kids back in schools and ECEs after lockdown] are very encouraging, and we're very pleased to see the vast majority of parents sending their children back to school and confidence continuing to grow in that."

The funding announcement comes after many mothers of children at Playcentre - which educates more than 7 percent of New Zealand's pre-schoolers - expressed their anger on Ardern's Facebook page over the funding they received in the Budget.

They said the funding was insulting, and put about 100 centres at risk of closure.

Ardern also revealed an app to help people with contact tracing would be released on Wednesday.

She said it could probably best be described as a "digital diary" app.

Ardern also said she hoped to be able to expand the number allowed at gatherings - for example, churches and other religious gatherings - but suggested that would depend on continued low case numbers.

"Where we have gatherings we have risk. But what we want to do when it comes to church services is actually get ourselves to that place [that we can allow large gatherings] sooner, rather than later, and I remain hopeful that if we keep seeing days where there's no increases in cases, we will."

She said Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield would be reviewing the guidelines for religious services next Monday.

She also addressed questions over whether the interest-free loans offered to small businesses could also be extended to medium-sized businesses.

"One thing we did see a gap in was those smaller businesses where security might be an issue and there might be an issue around repayments, and we've set out to fill that gap.

"I don't think I'd write off that that isn't useful for medium-sized businesses as well."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs