Taskforce calls for big changes at pre-school

An independent taskforce report calling for big changes to early childhood education - and its funding structure - has been welcomed by Education Minister Anne Tolley.

Chaired by Dr Michael Mintrom, the taskforce recommended higher subsidies for children aged under two or with special needs, and tougher sanctions on low-quality early childhood centres.

A core subsidy in the funding system proposed for the first 20 hours of a child's enrolment would be higher for children aged under two, children with special needs and those from Maori, Pacific Island or low-income families, but after 20 hours would drop to a much lower rate.

The report called for a "cross-government investment strategy" to shift existing Government funds to high-value investments, such as early childhood education and that the new system should be in place within four years.

The Government now subsidises every child who attends an early childhood education centre by an average of $7600 each year, compared with $6700 for an average secondary student and $5500 for primary students.

Mrs Tolley - who established the taskforce last October to review the effectiveness of such spending and to make recommendations - said it had done a thorough job.

Taxpayers are due to spend $1.4 billion in the coming year on the sector, which received a $550 million boost over four years in this year's budget.

Mrs Tolley said the Government had been concerned about variability across services, a perceived lack of accountability, poor access for many children, and the need for a more targeted funding system.

The taskforce recommended 80 percent of teacher-led services used registered staff, a lift on the present level of 67 percent of qualified teachers now being used.

She said the Government would seek consultation on the 65 recommendations, which Dr Mintrom said added up to a system which would be "quite drastically different".

And education sector union, NZEI, said the report by the taskforce indicated the Government is on the wrong track with its present early childhood education policy.

"It is ironic that at a time when the government continues to argue that early childhood spending is unaffordable, the report clearly states that early childhood education must be considered a priority even in times of fiscal constraint," said NZEI national executive member Hayley Whitaker.

A separate report released today by Prime Minister John Key's science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, said that though all children gained from quality early childhood education, society benefited most from the investment in children from low-income or disadvantaged homes.

It noted that considerable amounts were spent on single parent benefits which lasted until children were into their teens even though there was little evidence that these boosted child well-being.

The report, Improving the Transition, said high-quality early childhood education affected school success, though effects decreased over time. For effects to carry through to ages of 15 and 16 years in both behaviour and scholarship, low income families needed high quality interventions combined with both parenting support and education.

"Participation in just any early childhood education is not what makes the difference," the report said.


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