In April, the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, announced the terms of reference for a 10-year Early Learning Strategic Plan to be developed jointly with a Ministerial Advisory Group (MAG).
The terms of reference for the plan explain that the MAG may consider any matter relating to the early learning sector, such as policies around funding, regulation and support and the curriculum.
One of the key themes the MAG is expected to explore is raising quality.
Ask anyone what they think makes for a great early childhood education centre. The quality of the space, the number of teachers, or the number of children is pretty likely to feature in their answer.
The terms of reference expect the MAG to take account of the Government’s objectives for the early learning centre, which include:
- to ensure that community-based early childhood education services have well-maintained facilities and are able to expand to meet growing demand;
- to increase teacher:child ratios for infants and toddlers; and
- over time to achieve 100% qualified teachers in all centre-based teacher-led early learning services.
There have been a number of media articles recently about the shortage of qualified teachers in the ECE sector, funding difficulties, and the quality of the teaching environments our children are in. Only this week Radio New Zealand reported on a seminar presentation at which it was pointed out that New Zealand’s minimum standards were among the worst in the OECD.
Minimum standards are just that – a minimum. At Establish we will always encourage new centres to be designed to exceed and not just meet ministry standards for quality. Of course, in today’s funding environment that can be a difficult task.
But what if you have an existing centre? What will be the implications of the MAG’s recommendations and the Government’s strategic plan?
It is probably safe to assume that the current minimum ratio for under-twos of 1:5 will increase to 1:4. This is consistent with all Australian states. Australian states also apply either 1:5 or 1:4 to children up to three years of age – perhaps that will be considered here given the Government’s objective for increased ratios include toddlers.
Increasing the number of teaching staff will also require a consideration of on-site parking requirements. These will vary across the country, depending on which council district plan applies in your area. You may also need to consider whether any resource consent you’re operating under allows the centre to increase its staff numbers.
Space standards are less certain as the Government has not explicitly address this. But it is reasonable to expect the MAG will turn its mind to the issue. This may extend to outdoor play space requirements as well.
Another possible outcome is a recommended maximum group size. For centres and kindergartens that have an open-plan arrangement, this might necessitate changes to the internal layout in order to section off parts of the centre into smaller spaces.
Establish recommends higher than minimum internal space standards for new centre design, but again it can be a cost issue for operators due to low per-child funding levels.
For existing centres operating at minimum ratios, either more staff will be required or fewer children will be able to be catered for. Depending on the extent of any increases, centres already operating above minimum may experience little impact.
Change is afoot. At this stage we don’t know exactly what the changes will be, but we do know that it will likely affect each centre differently.