Changes to ECE size raises concerns

A teachers' union says having larger early childhood education centres (ECEs) will be unmanageable but the Government says a size increase will not make any difference.

Education sector union NZEI said today a Government decision to increase the size limit of a centre to 150 instead of 50 children would led to a "supermarket-style" system.

Under current regulations, ECE services can have a maximum of 50 children on one ECE licence. This has meant services that cater for the needs of more than 50 have had to hold multiple licences.

About 460 ECE services catered for over 50 children and held multiple licences, the Ministry of Education said.

NZEI national executive member Hayley Whitaker said 150 was an unmanageable number which would compromise the quality of children's care and learning.

"All the evidence shows that small group size is critical to a child's sense of belonging. Quality early childhood takes place in a warm caring environment where teachers know children and their families well, not in large, impersonal institutions," she said.

"Fifty children is already a large number for a licence and expanding that to 150 just doesn't make sense. Having services with large numbers of children goes against the basic principles of good quality early childhood education. Economies of scale and early childhood education are just not a good fit."

Education Minister Anne Tolley said the 50 limit was arbitrary and didn't make sense.

"It's been 50 for as long as anyone can remember, no one can tell me how the 50 came about but it was an election promise that we made (to increase the size) and there was quite a lot of requests from the sector itself," she told NZPA.

She had visited places where three different centres operated on one site with separate fencing and grounds to meet requirements.

"There are a number of centres around the country that are larger than 50, this formalises it. They've still got all the other controls, they've got to have ratios, space requirements, but it's just this arbitrary 'you can't have a centre more than 50', that we've raised."

She disagreed the size would be unmanageable and said schools managed with large rolls.

"We've not dropped any of the requirements. In fact, we are looking to strengthen some of those requirements around the under-twos in particular.

"It was just a bureaucratic imposition on centres."

The change comes into effect on July 1.

The current cap of a maximum of 25 under two-year-olds will be retained with exceptions, for example for providers that cater mainly for under-twos.

Amended regulations would require one person was responsible for 50 children.



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