5 July, 2005

Linda Mitchell is a Senior Researcher, NZ Council for Educational Research and founding member of the Federation of Early Childhood Education Organisations, predecesor to the Early Education Federation

I am delighted to be speaking at the launch of the Early Education Federation. It’s lovely to see so many familiar faces, and new faces too, and to know that your organisation is thriving, with a new name and a common focus on what is at the heart of your role and influence – developing a collective voice to influence and promote good quality ECE. It may seem hard to believe, but the Department of Education paid representatives of national ECE organisations in 1986 to fly to Auckland and attend the week-long course at Lopdell House where the aims and constitution for this organisation were developed. I was a participant on this course, and when we thought up the name FECEO none of us liked it much – it was one of those names emerging from committee decision-making – it wasn’t snappy and we weren’t very keen on the acronym. Early Education Federation is a great name.

Then as now, FECEO members had their eyes set on goals for children and families, and good conditions for the staff and parent educators who work in early childhood education settings. FECEO has been an advocate for good quality early childhood education since its inception, sometimes stronger in offering a voice than other times. One of the organisation’s first submissions was to the Social Assistance Cabinet Committee in April 1991 following on from the four major reviews of early childhood education funding, staffing, curriculum and properties. Reading the submission, I was struck by the persistence of the arguments. While they have changed in some shape and detail, core ideas have remained, and are now being implemented through the strategic plan for early childhood education, Pathways to the Future – Nga Huarahi Arataki. In April 1991, the organisation cautioned against increased access at the expense of quality and argued for [and I quote]:

?      the right of every preschool child to attend an early childhood education service delivered by trained competent people, and to have needs met regardless of gender, ethnicity, class, special need or location, in a specifically equipped environment which meets the child’s developing needs;

?      a funding formula linked to costs and operation;

?      weighting in the formula for aspects that now form most of the components of equity funding;

?      assistance for staff to undertake training towards a teacher qualification;

?      three age bands in the staffing regulations; and

?      greater governmental support for community-based provision to meet needs of all families, including better planning.

The submission wasn’t listened to then. Quite the reverse – I remember Crispin Gardiner, a member of the early childhood funding review team at that time publicly stating that none of the submissions were read. He left the team in protest and wrote his own independent report. And I’m sure many here will remember the “mother of all budgets” in July 1991 when the then Finance Minister Ruth Richardson cut funding for under twos from $7-25 an hour to $4-50, when staff: ratio requirements for under twos were reduced from 1:4 to 1:5, and when the blueprint goal for improving teacher qualifications was dropped.

Despite these setbacks, the basic ideas continued to be advocated by members of this organisation in the 1996 Early Childhood Education Project Future Directions, and in the Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Education Working Group. Some fundamental aspects – a greater role for the state in supporting early childhood education provision, support for teacher education, and a funding system that moves away from low levels of funding with everyone treated the same towards a better funded system based on costs – are now embedded in the strategic plan, Pathways to the Future – Ngä Huarahi Arataki, alongside an emphasis on pedagogical support.

I was asked to contribute to your celebration by “looking at where the organisation has come from, what you have been through and where you are going”. I believe your continued viability 19 years after being established, is because members have a vision for what they want that is wider than individual interests, believe in collective work to achieve goals that respect the diversity of early childhood education, are able to explain their position, and have a commitment to good quality community-based early childhood education for all children.

I can’t tell you where you are going but I do see three key immediate challenges:

?      First, to work together on aspects of the strategic plan that are currently unformulated and awaiting policy development so that your views about it are heard. And I’m thinking particularly of the expected policy development on parent and whänau –led services, so that the high levels of volunteer workload are reduced, parents and whänau are supported to take up training opportunities provided by their own infrastructure, and the contribution of these services to parent learning and support is acknowledged within the policy framework. And of resource development to support Pasifika centres, multi-cultural resources for working with a more ethnically diverse New Zealand, and the up-coming consideration of professional development and leadership programmes.

A second challenge is for ECE services themselves to offer pedagogical support for the teacher/educators who are directly working with children. There is evidence for example that centres that found it easier to meet qualification requirements of the strategic plan were those that relied on providing opportunities for professional development and staff training, rather than on recruiting new staff with the necessary qualifications. The best evidence synthesis on characteristics of effective professional development linked to children’s learning that I and Pam Cubey wrote showed the importance of centre management that value and support ongoing professional development and teacher/educators having time and effective opportunities within their working week for reflection and discussion. As national organisations representing your own membership, there is a role in encouraging responsibility for these framing conditions. These include rates of pay.

?      And, given that the strategic plan for early childhood education Pathways to the Future – Ngä Huarahi Arataki encompasses ideas advocated by the Early Education Federation, the third challenge is to ensure that the government that is elected this year will retain the strategic plan and further the interests of the early childhood education sector, because history tells us that long term plans have a habit of going astray.

Education Review Office. (2003). Readiness for new qualification requirements in early childhood services.www.ero.govt.nz/reports.

Mitchell, L., & Cubey, P. (2003). Characteristics of effective professional development linked to enhanced pedagogy and children’s learning in early childhood settings. A best evidence synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.