Here's a guest post from Anita, who has also guested on The Standard and No Right Turn, and is frequently to be found fighting the good fight in comment threads on various blogs of note.
National's Early Childhood Education policy – while appearing to be no more than a few tweaks to 20Free – signals an intent to shift away from professionally provided quality education for all children toward subsidised play groups for the middle class.
There are five key clues in the policy document:
1) The renaming of the policy (20Free becomes 20ECE) – not hard to tell where that's going :)
2) "Make the scheme more flexible" – clear code for moving to a voucher-style approach, a child is assigned a certain value of subsidy and the parent spends it wherever and whenever (and for whatever) they want.
3) "Maintain existing subsidies" – ok, so as costs rise subsidies stay the same and fees have to rise, over time people on benefits and low wages can no longer afford to pay for their children's education so while the current wave will get education, in the future the children of the poor will have no early childhood education.
4) Encouraging on-going use of unqualified staff – it's not education (at least unless you can pay the extra) just a partly qualified play group. Sure it's great that ECE students get an opportunity to experience the classroom, but we don't use student-teachers in the place of teachers (and count them in the teacher:student ratio) or med students in the place of GPs.
5) Making it easier for big centres to operate – factory production line style childcare for the low-middle incomes earners who can afford it, while the wealthier get focussed education and attention.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly we can see in here how little value National places on kids, parents, teachers, and families; ECE should be real education with real skills for all our kids, not a semi-skilled drop-in play group for a few.