Families are learning that not all ECE services are safe 

Another ERO report confirms what most in the sector already know – that problems of poor quality are endemic.  The new report, Meeting requirements for children’s safety and wellbeing in…

Another ERO report confirms what most in the sector already know – that problems of poor quality are endemic.  The new report, Meeting requirements for children’s safety and wellbeing in ECE, found that only 43 percent of services met current legal requirements.

Some 17% of services were seriously non-compliant, including having centre owners who were not police vetted. Unsurprisingly, the report indicates that services led by registered teachers were more likely to meet the law. It follows an ERO report last year that found 46% of services did not offer a responsive curriculum to infants and toddlers. A number of problems appear linked to working conditions.

 Speaking up

Auckland academic, Dr Andrew Gibbons, wonders just what has to be done to get the government’s attention. He wrote a letter outlining concerns about working conditions to the Ministry of Education, ERO and the Education Council last year.

“There seems to be a range of responses to calls for a sectorwide campaign to address working conditions – either there isn’t enough evidence, or there isn’t enough reason to gather more evidence. We also see some evidence being discredited rather than seen as a signal to work together.”

At first Gibbons had wondered if what he was hearing was just the occasional horror story. So he went out and began questioning former students who now work in centres. “Not one of them, not one, said there wasn’t a problem.”

An associate professor and ECE teacher educator at AUT, Gibbons is particularly concerned at the silencing of teacher voice.

“One graduate who went to a centre and challenged their bicultural programme, and she was told it wasn’t her place to have a say. But the whole point of being a teacher is having a say.”

“The government is undermining its own agenda around protecting children, and developing confident explorers, by failing to support teachers. They talk about vulnerable children – but seem unwilling to address the vulnerability of teachers.”

It is very difficult for teachers to safely make a complaint about a centre they work in, and there are no spot checks on services.

At the same time, Gibbons is concerned that zealous policing isn’t unleashed on the sector, which could also be counter-productive.

NZEI Te Riu Roa members have been calling for a wide-ranging public inquiry into ECE. Gibbons says that when he asked a politician about the possibility of a Select Committee hearing at Parliament, he was told “It won’t happen without more evidence.”

The two ERO reports were based on notified visits to centres, indicating that services either didn’t know about regulations and guidelines or they were prepared to flout them.

No accident register, no portfolio. Not good enough

Nishi* arrived here five years ago and the family is settling in well. But her new job as a trainee ECE teacher sees her questioning some early experiences.

Two years ago, and pregnant with her second child, she placed her twoyear- old son into a centre in South Auckland that was close to her home for three mornings a week.

“One day, I called in at morning tea and a staff member just sat on a mat in the middle of their room and handed out sandwiches to a few children from an old ice-cream container. My son stayed in a corner and didn’t eat anything.

“Now I’ve been doing some work in a kindergarten, I see the importance of having rules for eating. At kindergarten, the children sit at tables and chairs. They are all offered food. They stay until they are finished eating. If they want more food they can have it.”

She also now realises that the service, part of a commercial chain, should have kept an accident book. “My son had a scrape on his knee. He was scratched on the arm. He had bruises on his leg. But no-one could tell me how he got the injuries. They said, ‘It must have happened at home’ – it didn’t.”

After three months, she decided with her husband to remove her son. “There was no portfolio when he left. I never saw anyone read a story to the children. They just played with the same old equipment every day.”

Now Nishi drives 20 minutes to take her two children to a small, community-owned centre with 100% qualified teachers. “There are lots of stories, lots of different activities. They go swimming. They go into nature. My son has learnt a lot there. We go to the beach and he tells us what is happening at the beach – how it all works.”

*Name has been changed to protect identity.