60,000 people are not wrong about cuts to early childhood education

The 60,000 strong early childhood education (ECE) petition presented to Parliament this week represents a heartfelt message to the Government to invest in the best for our youngest citizens.

I signed the petitions ages ago and I have been attending events around the ECE cuts for some months. There is a lot the Government should be doing to make ECE better for our kids, but the most disturbing experience I have had was on a trip to Christchurch this week when I visited two ECE centres.

Both centres were struggling with the double blow of earthquake stress and funding cuts. They are both not for profit centres which means they are not eligible for the business recovery grants the Government is providing, even though they lost fees from having to close for several months and from families leaving Christchurch. No matter how often Anne Tolley says ECE centres are businesses many are not and are not eligible for the support businesses get.

The stories I was told were of centres using up all their contingency money, of being forced to increase fees with heavy hearts, some are refusing to cut qualified staff but that means being unable to fulfil existing commitments to wages increases.

Parents need an assurance that ECE centres will be stable and will be able to look after their children in this shaky city. Staff are dealing with their own household issues and traumas while still putting the care and education of children first. Some centres have had $70,000 cut since the earthquake. Unlike primary schools, their operational funding has not been rolled over to the end of the year but was reduced the day they re-opened.

People I met who were my age (50’s) and had dedicated their lives to ECE were exhausted and emotional about the potential closure of their centres and the impact on families and staff alike. Christchurch is still a bloody tough place to live and it seems the Government are treating ECE centres, especially not for profits, as if they were baby-sitting services that can be run on the cheap.

I felt deeply frustrated on behalf of ECE workers because the 60,000 signatories on the ECE petition are right. The early years are a critical time in a child’s life and we need great ECE so that every child gets the educational start they deserve. Universal provision and targeted programmes should be an essential, not a “nice to have”.

12 Comments Posted

  1. I think that’d be wiser to invest a little more on something more useful for the children. Why anybody talks about homeschooling, for example? Anyway, very interesting article!

  2. Catherine fails to address the millions of cash reserves sitting in kindergarten bank accounts, that ECE funding in NZ has trebled in recent years, and that National has targeted increased ECE funding to disadvanatged groups.

  3. Every move this govt makes against education shows their total lack of regard for and ignorance of the importance of it in th eoves of NZers. It started with the cuts to night classes which saved some pitiful amount of money, but prevented people from furthering their education at night classes, a time-honoured way for people to “get on” in life.
    The cuts to early childhood display a cavalier and careless approach to this crucial period of children’s lives, the difference for some, between growing up in a loving environment or a life of chaos and randomness.
    I wish I’d seen the petition to sign it. I totally agree with Catherine about ChCh.
    Go Greens I say.

  4. sprout says “Even if these figures are correct, $7000 per child is hardly excessive when we spend $91,000 per year on each prisoner.”

    A bit of a silly comparision when we have nearly 200,000 in ECE and less than 10,000 prisoners, and we don’t have to lock up, feed and house the preschoolers.

    Or do you suggest we should just give murderers some crayons, sit them on a mat, and tell them a story, and send them home at lunchtime.

  5. sprout asks “I’d like to see your source for this and a breakdown of the figures”

    I already gave the source – ODT editorial.

    However, it’s pretty easy to roughly check from known numbers. We know the May budget lifted early childhood budget significantly to $1.4 billion , and we have around 190,000 children in ECE, so it’s plain to see we’re spending over $7000 per child.

    For numbers in ECE see

    For total spend, quote and link
    “The amount represented an increase of 11.5% this year, or an additional $147 million in 2011/12, bringing the total annual investment to $1.4 billion, which would largely target Maori, Pasifika and low-income family children.”

    Sprout – Our GDP according to Wiki is $117billion, ECE spending is $1.4b, which means the percentage of GDP we spend on it is 1.2% – double what you claim and above the OECD average of 1% (if you other figure is right).

    $7600 per child is quite a lot – how much do you think we should spend, and where would you cut the money from?

  6. Insider-there are a number of integrated schools that have special characters and what the Minister is demanding of Steiner schools is a little like demanding Catholic schools to worship the devil. The bottom line should be that all schools should teach to our National Curriculum and to be forced to use a politically based, halfbaked and professionally questionable assessment system and throw away their core philosophy (which is internationally regarded) seems particularly bizarre. 300 state schools have refused to engage with the standards and at least 3/4 of schools that appear to be engaging are just paying lip service because of the legal requirement to do so. The Ministry have been advising schools to just use the name National Standards somewhere to appear as if they are engaging to keep the Minister of their backs.

  7. Photonz1- I have heard this figure before but have difficulty understanding it since many early childhood providers are private, their staff are generally paid less than primary teachers, their buildings are minimal compared to primary and they don’t have the expensive IT resources to fund and support. New Zealand funds early childhood at .6% of our GDP while the average in the OECD is 1%. I’d like to see your source for this and a breakdown of the figures.

  8. @ sprout

    Steiner made the choice to be integrated. The govt sets the rules for funding just as they do for other state schools. Steiner can’t pick and choose what it wants to conform to. Special character is not a licence to do what you want with taxpayer money. It has the choice of going private if that is the case. No-one tells Kings, or Chilton, or Rangi or Scots how to teach their kids.

    PS my family has been involved in steiner for a few years.

  9. This Government and this Minister are crushing the life and quality out of our education system. Early childhood teachers have been actively devalued, primary teachers spend their time trying to understand the incomprehensible and Rudolf Steiner schools have been told if they want to remain integrated and funded they must lose their special character and conform.

    Mrs Tolley, we don’t want our schools to be made of “ticky tacky” and come out all the same!

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