5 July, 2005
Good evening everyone. Thank you for inviting me to the launch of the Early Education Federation. Congratulations to everyone involved in this new beginning for you all.
For over two decades your organisation – under an old alias – has made a significant contribution to the lives of countless young New Zealanders. You’ve played an important and valuable part in helping form new policy for early childhood education and in particular you have given strong support to the early childhood education strategic plan and its implementation.
We can all be proud of the progress that has been made in early childhood education, and I would like to thank you personally for positive and constructive contribution.
As you celebrate your new organisation tonight, it’s worth looking at the huge progress we are making in early childhood education through the strategic plan.
We can all be proud to say Pathways to the Future: Ngā Huarahi Arataki is changing the face of early childhood education in New Zealand.
Changes ushered in by the strategic plan ultimately mean a seamless education system from birth to 19 years will be available for every young New Zealander.
Quality early childhood education will quite rightly be recognised as having a vital role in establishing a strong foundation for a child’s learning.
And innovative professional learning will be backed by an excellent institutional framework as the changes we are delivering through the strategic plan take hold.
Substantial government funding has enabled the progress we have made for accessible and affordable quality early childhood education.
Our significant new investment of $152 million over the next four years from this year’s Budget means total expenditure on early childhood education in 2008-09 will be $694 million, an increase of 140 per cent since we came to government in 1999.
Just last Friday the extra new funding for running an early childhood centre began.
This was a significant milestone on the road toward providing a funding system that recognises and encourages the different needs and strengths across the sector; a system that is transparent and more responsive to the cost of operating different types of services.
The new funding system and recent increases to funding rates mean a service’s child-hour funding rates can only increase between now and 2007; even where a service has few registered teachers it can continue to receive the former Rate 2 until 2007.
Our goal now and with your support is to continue improving the quality of early childhood education and ensure participation rates keep climbing.
We’ve made great gains in participation already – enrolments have increased by nearly 10,000 in the past two years.
To continue this trend we need to provide good information about the benefits of early childhood education and ensure all families have options that suit their needs.
The Promoting Participation Project will continue to support disadvantaged families who might not otherwise participate in early childhood education.
Increased funding for the Discretionary Grants Scheme will ensure new services are available in areas of need. As a result of Budget 2005 some 55 to 65 more community-based centres will be built over the next four years.
This will create many more places for youngsters in the lead-up to the introduction of the 20 hours free early childhood education for all three and four-year olds in community-based centres in 2007.
On that note, I must remind you of what my opponents have promised to do to early childhood education. National has pledged to scrap our government’s commitment to the 20 hours free policy.
This effectively means that around 86,000 children and their families will miss out, in order to help pay for that party’s tax cuts.
I believe other cuts are in store – and English is preparing the groundwork for this. Why else would you criticise widely-accepted domestic and international research that tells us how important quality early childhood education can be for children’s success in education later on.
Why else would you criticise our government’s determination to widen access to quality early childhood education, and our intention to improve affordability so more families can take part.
In contrast, I am sure I do not need to reiterate my own and the Labour-led government’s continued commitment to early childhood education, as we continue our focus on increasing participation in quality, affordable early childhood education.
Labour’s manifesto is still being finalised, but I’d like to signal some of our current thinking.
On the quality side, you will be aware that the Ministry of Education consulted on three options to improve adult: child ratios last year, and also separately on proposals to improve group sizes in services.
We’ve known for a long time that good adult: child ratios are associated with better outcomes for children, so it was no surprise that the feedback on this supported making improvements. Feedback on group sizes told us that, at this stage, change through regulation could lead to negative outcomes for levels of participation.
Going forward there is more work being done on both proposals, so I will be consulting with you further before a decision on ratios is made. With regards to group sizes, I have deferred a decision until 2009 to allow for more information to be gathered. However, we are working towards improvements in both these areas for the future.
Another important focus is improving access. We will be working with existing early childhood providers to extend services, by either growing their centres where appropriate or establishing additional centres on other sites.
Employers, particularly in the state sector, will be encouraged to establish early childhood education and care facilities on work sites.
Greater family and whanau involvement will be encouraged through targeted education programmes and improved co-ordination with health and social service agencies.
In addition, to help ensure services are working to meet the needs of the families they serve, we will move toward requiring parental and staff involvement in the governance of early childhood services. This will include providing them with good information to guide their input.
We all know the involvement of parents and whanau can work wonders for their children’s learning.
Budget 2005 also provided $16 million for Foundations for Discovery, the new information communications technologies framework for early childhood education.
This framework promotes using technology as part of a young child’s education and is also an administration tool helping services to streamline their administrative systems.
Seeing the way some of our youngsters are using this new technology has amazed me – they are taking better digital photos than me and having great fun using ICT as they learn.
This year we also released the early childhood education exemplars.
What is really exiting about the exemplars is they include the voices of parents and whanau, alongside teachers and children.
This is a ground breaking and innovative move for early childhood education in New Zealand and I believe for the rest of the world.
Finally, these are exciting times for early childhood education up and down the country. We can take a moment tonight to proudly chalk up the improvements we’ve made to date, before we get back to work and put our collective minds to charting the course for the future.
I look forward to continuing to working alongside you as we seek to improve even more the education our under-fives receive.
Again warm congratulations on your new future as the Early Education Federation.