This is the first in a series of short articles to break down, analyse and question the implications of Draft Strategic Plan for Early Learning – hereinafter referred to as the ‘Strategic Plan’. I’ll be tackling this from the point of view of existing centre owners, future centre owners and those that own an ECE building, purely because that’s my wheelhouse and I’m sure others will cover areas relating to teacher pay, funding and curriculum with greater insight than I can. This first article looks at pages 1-21 of the Strategic Plan and covers the introduction and overview sections.
Five Key Points from this Section of the Strategic Plan
- This is the first big review since 2002 – looking at raising quality across the board;
- Consultation period open until 15 March 2019;
- More children attending ECE, starting younger and attending for more hours;
- The Strategic Plan contains 5 Key Goals;
- Changes can only happen with subsequent Cabinet and Budget approvals – not guaranteed.
The Strategic Plan is the first big review of the vision and direction for Early Childhood Education (ECE) in New Zealand since 2002 when the Ministry of Education launched Pathways to the Future, which outlined a vision for the future of ECE. In business terms – this Strategic Plan is a proposed set of objectives, strategies and tactics aimed at raising the quality of ECE across the board over the next 10 years.
The Strategic Plan has been developed by a Ministerial Advisory Group working with a Sector Reference Group with support from the Ministry of Education (MoE). The Ministerial Advisory Group is made up six academics from five universities, with five females and one male. The Reference Group is made up of 27 members representing a mix of service providers, industry organisations, universities and the teaching council. The gender diversity mix of this group is 24 females and three males.
From my high-level assessment of the composition of the groups, I can’t see any significant knowledge-base with in-depth experience of ECE centre development in terms of centre design, construction or commercial property background. Whilst the members appear to represent a broad base of service types and stakeholders, members with a detailed understanding of the development process and how the ECE property market functions would surely have been an asset – particularly when this Strategic Plan proposes regulated control and restriction of new centres based on some new form of demand modelling.
The Strategic Plan has been issued as draft for consultation, with this period ending on 15 March 2019. Anyone is able to provide feedback on this plan through an online survey (conversation.education.govt.nz), by attending one of the hui to be held across the country, by email (email@example.com) or by writing to the Ministry of Education. It’s going to be critical for anyone with interest in the ECE sector to get up to speed with the proposals and to make a submission.
The Strategic Plan has provided guidance on the proposed phasing of each initiative within each goal – breaking these down into Short, Medium and Long Term. For example, one proposal is to regulate for 80% qualified teachers with an implementation date of 2022 (Medium Term). Another proposal is to regulate for 100% qualified teachers with an undefined implementation date (Long Term).
Context of the Strategic Plan
The Strategic Plan recognises that New Zealand’s ECE services are diverse and include education and care, kindergartens, nga kohanga reo, playcentres, home-based, hospital based and playgroups.
The document broadly recognises that each one of these services provides for choice for parents, whanau and caregivers .
The most interesting participation statistics from the Strategic Plan are:
- Over 5,500 ECE services in NZ – up 30% from 2000;
- The largest growth service type has been Education and Care, followed by Home-based. All other services types have reduced in participation numbers compared to 2000;
- Over 98% of children aged four attend an ECE service;
- Children are attending for longer hours, with the averages hours spent at an ECE service increasing each year.
With more children attending ECE, starting younger and attending for longer hours, there is no question that access to high quality ECE services for all children is fundamentally important. The Strategic Plan identifies that there are shortcomings with a number of ECE services in the areas of oral language and communication. It also identifies there is a “lack of responsiveness to Maori and Pacific children in many services.”
The Strategic Plan seeks to address the above issues through changes in policy and practice using the concepts of quality, equity and choice as underpinning principles.
Structure of Strategic Plan
The plan is separated into five goals which set out the policy intentions for the next 10 years.
Goal 1: Quality is raised for children by improving regulated standards
What it means – More teachers, smaller group sizes, changes to indoor and outdoor space standards, higher teacher to child ratios, closer monitoring of centres, low quality operators banned from opening new centres.
Goal 2: Every child is empowered through timely access to the resources they need to thrive
What it means – Equity funding, making sure funding gets to where the needs are the highest, development of a formative learning assessment tool, provide more centres with wrap around social services.
Goal 3: Investment in our workforce support excellence in teaching and learning in all services
What it means – Get teachers on a salary scale model so conditions and pay are the same, requiring student placements in quality ECE services, increase professional development for teachers, find more teachers.
Goal 4: Planning ensures that provision is valued, sufficient and diverse
What it means – Introduce regulation of where new centres are allowed to establish, increased management support for community-owned centres, new centres on school land, new funding model for te kohanga reo and playcentre, set up state-owned ECE centres.
Goal 5: The early learning system continues to innovate, learn and improve
What it means – Contract out the creation of innovation and research hubs, encourage collaboration between services, create service self-assessment tool.
The Strategic Plan has been developed on the following assumption, and it’s a big one - that the Cabinet will approve the individual proposals (in Goals 1 – 5) and that the funding required for these proposals will be approved through subsequent budget processes. Clearly the proposed changes are going to require significant increased and sustained investment from the government. The obvious question is where does this investment come from, particularly if there is already nothing left for Primary and Secondary teachers in their current pay negotiations.
My Initial Thoughts
There’s some great aspirational vision statements and underlying principles in the Strategic Plan that seek to improve the provision of ECE services across the board – and that’s great. The key is going to be turning aspirational statements into policy, regulations and strategies that deliver the results but avoid adverse unattended consequences. I some have concerns that the Strategic Plan seems to put a lot of emphasis on further regulation and tends to lean toward favouring community-owned services. The danger of further regulation is the unintended market consequences that deliver the opposite of the desired outcome. For example, regulating where centres can establish may decrease the need for services to constantly improve – as they are artificially shielded from healthy competition through a protectionist policy.
I will look at this issue and others in greater detail as we review each of the Five Goals individually over the next few weeks so keep a look out on LinkedIn and through the Establish Facebook page.
I invite you all to share your thoughts, it’s critical that we all have our say – no matter if we agree or not. Most importantly, make sure to share your thoughts formally during the consultation period.