Funding call from playcentres

Carole Gillions
Carole Gillions
The loss of three Otago playcentres in the past two years has prompted the Otago Playcentre Association to call for a Government funding review.

Otago Playcentre Association president Carole Gillions said Kaitangata Playcentre had gone into recess, Saddle Hill and Waldronville Playcentres had closed, and several other playcentres were ''on the edge''.

Saddle View Playcentre, in Fairfield, has since opened, drawing from the

Saddle Hill and Waldronville centres, but Ms Gillions said it still meant the region was down two playcentres in total, and more could be lost.

She declined to say which other centres were at risk of closure.

''The number of playcentres has reduced by two in the last 18 months.

''There are now only 36 playcentres in Otago.''

Nationwide statistics show 15 of the country's 483 playcentres have closed in the past two years.

Ms Gillions said there were a number of reasons for the losses, but one of the major issues had been increasing employment costs.

Unlike other early childhood education facilities which employ qualified teachers, playcentres are parent-led facilities predominantly run by volunteering parents.

But because so many parents were now going back to work, playcentres did not have the same number of volunteers, she said.

''It's especially noticeable in our rural areas, where you need to have quite a significant number of children coming along ... to give you enough funding to pay your regular operational costs.

''We're having to pay for a lot more hours to employ people as opposed to volunteer hours. ''We've got more employed people now across the Otago region.''

Unfortunately, playcentres often did not have enough funding to pay for the increasing employment bill, she said.

''We would like more equitable funding from the Ministry of Education. We want a funding review.''

Ministry of Education early years, parents and whanau deputy secretary Rawiri Brell said playcentres were an important part of early childhood education in New Zealand, with a philosophy of children learning alongside their parents.

Despite a decline in playcentre enrolments, he said funding per enrolment had continued to increase, and the ministry was supporting the New Zealand Playcentre Federation to work through the issues they had raised.

The Government was investing more than ever on early childhood education, he said.

Spending had almost doubled from $860 million in 2007-08 to $1.5 billion in 2013-14.

''More children are participating and the number of hours they are attending is going up, too.''

Parents had a choice as to the type of service their children attended.

''These days parents often want an early childhood education option so that they can work or study,'' he said.

- john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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