Friday, 26 September 2008

Guest post: What National is planning for your littlies

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.


homepaddock said...

1) The 20 horus free policy is renamed to make it true - the existing regime is a subsidy but most centres charge extra so it's not free.

2)I don't know if there is any intention to move to a voucher system but what's the problem of parents choosing what's best for their children?

3) Not necessarily - there are no rash promsies but that doesn't mean subsidies won't increase as costs do.

4) This is to allow parents who choose, or have no other options, to use eg Playcentres and Kohanga Reo to get the subsidies. Country families often don't have professional child care centres and under Labour's policy are excluded from the 20-hour's subsidise care.

5) This conclusion is based on what evidence?

Education is one on National's priorities because it is at the basis of social and economic improvement.

Anita said...


1) There are two options, make it truly free or rename it. National are clearly not interested in truly free.

2) There are plenty of things wrong with vouchers, but in this case the point I was making was that rather than the government paying for a certain number of hours for each child it gives a lump subsidy instead, so more wealthy parents can use it to subsidise more expensive ECE, leading to a two tier and exacerbating inequality.

3) This is an election policy, it's got to be the absolute best National will ever offer. If they were going to institute annual increases, for example, they would have told us.

4) There is a difference between childcare and early childhood education. National, by your own argument, are saying that country kids should only have access to childcare. If they wanted access to education for all littlies they would aim for that, train for that, provide for that. Instead they're shifting the money to childcare, shortchanging our kids all the way.

5) To quote their policy "we will drop the requirement for childhood centres with more than 50 children to have more than one license". That is that will make it cheaper and easier to have a big childcare centre than two small ones.

Anonymous said...

While I'm sure that national are up to all sorts of weaselly things I take exception with the implication that Playcentre and Kohanga Reo are not providing education. I've chosen Playcentre for my kids because of the high standard of education they get there.

My suspicion is that the reason parent-led ECEs have been excluded from the 20 free hours thing is because if a parent is actively involved with their child's education then they cannot be out in full-time paid employment. I don't think it's anything to do with education.

Anonymous said...

Love your work, Anita, especially in the Standard's comment threads!

muerk said...

I agree that bigger centers are a bad prospect. Even the large sizes we have now can be too overwhelming for children in terms of noise and activity.

Wen ended up choosing a half size preschool which was excellent for our kids.

My good friend is an ECE lecturer, and she is not at all fond of larger centers because of the problems they create.

And I also agree with hungrymama, kohanga and playcenter are definitely good at educating their kids. And I too think that parent-led centers are being left out in the cold because if a parent is actively involved with their child's education then they cannot be out in full-time paid employment.