United we stand

“We have to stick together. We have to sing the same tune so those at the top can hear,” says Teina Hakaraia. “By collegiality and working together, and helping others,…

“We have to stick together. We have to sing the same tune so those at the top can hear,” says Teina Hakaraia. “By collegiality and working together, and helping others, we can march forward together.”

It is dark days in the sector. Funding cuts in 2010 followed by a Budget this year that is effectively another cut, combined with the effects of privatisation, has left many in the sector struggling to maintain high-quality services for very young children.

But Hakaraia, kaiako at Te Kohanga Reo o Nga Kuaka, remains optimistic. “It’s a chance for us to be creative. We can improvise and devise resources. We can use our networks, take more from the beach, from the land. We will find a way forward for the children.”

Hakaraia is part of an NZEI member leaders’ group for ECE. At an NZEI forum in Auckland that looked at 20 years of Te Whariki, the mood was also buoyant.  “We have to become advocates for quality and build relationships,” said Waikato academic Jeanette Clarkin-Phillips. “We need to find ways to support teachers, and we need to be prepared to fight and advocate for policies that are supportive of children and families, and that do raise the status and importance of ECE.”

How we view children

She was scathing of the cutesy, diminutive names being used by many new ECE centres. “Look at agedcare – it’s not called ‘Closer to heaven’. These new names say something about how we view children – as little, cute animals – not as capable and competent learners, with agency in their own right.”

Professors Helen May and Margaret Carr, two of the original writers of Te Whariki, also spoke: “The policy infrastructure needs to privilege professional judgement.”

Joce Nuttall, chair of the Ministry of Education’s Advisory Group on Early Learning, asked: “What is the responsibility of the sector itself to initiate and lead change?”

Head Teacher Julie Brice from Finlayson Park Childcare spoke in support of the Joint Initiative (JI) as a way of growing collaboration and supporting transitions. She said that teachers at some centres had no non-contact time to meet and organise smooth transitions into school for children, but the JI had the potential to develop effective communities of learning.

Shortly after the symposium, came more bad news. The Education Review Office released its report, Infants and Toddlers, which found only 56 percent of very young children in centres had a responsive curriculum that supported them to “become competent and confident communicators and explorers”.

Broken promise

It follows a similar 2011 report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, which has been largely ignored by policymakers. A government undertaking to drop the teacher: child ratio for under-twoyear- olds from 1:5 to 1:4 has fallen by the wayside.

Like many community services, kindergartens have been particularly hard hit by funding cuts and the aggressive marketing of corporate providers. Despite this, the New Zealand Kindergartens Association has maintained 100% trained and qualified staffing. Most kindergartens, though, have been restructured.

Association Chief Executive Clare Wells says, “The sector must lead change and we have to find a way to do that. It presents a challenge but it’s one I think we can meet. Collaboration and learning communities create a common space where children and families are centre stage, and where ensuring every child experiences success is the focus.”

Some success

Quick action by NZEI members employed on the Early Childhood Education Collective Agreement has won them a better offer. Employers, faced with a funding cut, had wanted a 0% pay offer with clawbacks on conditions, including increased contact hours and less sick leave.

But a quick-response action by members made it very clear this was unacceptable, and a better offer was made.

Other educators, who are not organised, have not been so lucky. New operators of some centres have made hard-nosed cuts to staff conditions – despite the research being clear that quality teachers, with good terms and conditions of employment, are critical to the provision of high quality ECE.

The Infants and Toddlers report notes that services which were responsive to very young children had “a highly reflective culture where teachers inquired and regularly reflected on their teaching practice”: a very high ask for those teachers working 38 hours of contact time a week, with high ratios, and a mountain of paperwork to complete.

Success for babies and new parents

26-4-babies26 for Babies – as part of this campaign, parents and babies went to Parliament in August to advocate for 26 weeks’ paid parental leave.
A coalition of groups, including NZEI members, Plunket, Unicef, Playcentre, the Council of Trade Unions and others, make up 26 for Babies.
Under pressure last year, the government announced an increase to 18 weeks of paid leave in the Budget. Then Sue Moroney’s private member’s bill, which would give 26 weeks, was drawn from a ballot.
Given the bill’s obvious popularity, the government moved to offer 26 weeks’ paid leave for multiple births and for some children with special needs. Onward!.

What you can do

  • Join your local ECE network. Ring 0800 693 443 to find out more. Invite non-members to your local network – we are stronger together.
  • Advocate publicly for quality ECE – on social media, at meetings, with families, and in the community.
  • Visit beststart.org.nz and send a message to government