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Digging its Own Hole Deeper: The AKA ongoing story

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What’s Happening at the AKA.
Opinion article.
By Dr Sarah Alexander.
October 29, 2017.

The Auckland Kindergarten Association has dug itself a hole and it appears to want to keep digging.

Operators of childcare services in and around Auckland are watching and waiting for the AKA’s CEO Ms Tanya Harvey to complete the process of joining the competition so the AKA no longer stands tall and apart as a distinctive preschool education service, highly admired, and with continuation of the financial advantages that have gone with this (such as higher rates of 20-hour ECE funding and general 30-hour subsidy rates, low or no ground rental from the City Council and the Ministry of Education, and use of free buildings gifted to it by communities that have fundraised for them).

The early response of parents to a letter on Thursday by Ms Harvey and Board Chairperson Simon Jones may be one of relief and celebration.    

Parents were told there would be a “4 to 6 week breather in the roll out process” of the Plan across the kindergarten network that sees kindergartens being turned into 7 hour day year-round operations, with children attending and teachers teaching over and above usual school education hours. The ‘breather’ was so an independent review for the CEO and Board of what’s been happening could take place.

But as ‘a breather’ and not a cessation or acceptance of any possibility of major alterations or rethinking of the Plan, this can be interpreted as Harvey’s and Jones’ way of saying that they want the mounting pressure (see below for details) to cool down in the lead up to Christmas.

Ms Harvey’s response to teacher concerns via her letter to kindergarten staff that went out at the same time as the letter to parents, may be an attempt to stall the possibility of union action put to the AKA by NZEI representatives the other week.

Moreover, Ms Harvey has admitted that the ‘breather’ is about inviting parents to come forward and say they support the changes, to counter the negative feedback she has so far received. 

It would seem that Ms Harvey intends to make the most of the ‘breather’ to pit parents who are perhaps new to the country or who do not know what a kindergarten is or who primarily want childcare against parents who understand what a kindergarten is and do not want to see the benefits for children reduced and kindergarten decimated by becoming one with other early learning/ childcare services.     

The CEO and Chairperson letter to parents and Ms Harvey’s letters to staff do not say sorry.  Not even a hint of acknowledgment that their decision to change all kindergartens could possibly have been fundamentally flawed, nor that morale is at an all-time low among teachers and there is lack of trust in the CEO.  There is no suggestion that the CEO, Chairperson and Board members have an open-mind on the matter.

The joint letter by Board chairperson Simon Jones and Ms Harvey to parents reads:

“We will be engaging an independent reviewer to consider all aspects of the move to extended hours. This will include meeting with representative groups of parents, a review of the communications and consultation processes and the research presented in support of the change. The reviewer will meet with teachers and other AKA staff involved in the programme. The findings of the reviewer will be shared with parents and teachers, and the recommendations will be incorporated into our future planning. It is hoped that the independent review will take between 4-6 weeks and will begin shortly.”

The tone was quite different in a letter signed only by Ms Harvey to staff of the kindergartens that she has so far overseen changes to:

“Your kindergarten is one of 30 now offering increased flexibility of hours and a year round kindergarten experience. The Network Review draft roll-out plan had the remaining kindergartens scheduled for the rest of this year with a plan to finish by the end of 2018. The Board and Management have now decided to take a four to six week breather to review the process to date.  For your kindergarten, nothing will change during this time though we appreciate that delaying … [the change] for the remaining kindergartens may cause uncertainty.”

A letter signed only by Ms Harvey to the staff at kindergartens that are scheduled for change next year was similarly worded, with Ms Harvey adding that she believes the “breather” will be seen as an inconvenience by them and families. 

Ms Harvey told Stuff that the independent review will include “meeting with representative groups of parents, a review of the communications and consultation processes and the research presented in support of the change”. 

Parents and teachers and kindergarten communities have not been presented the research – it has not yet been communicated or made available even though the changes have already been rolled out to 30 Kindergartens, staff have resigned over this and their treatment, and many parents have given their own valuable time to try to find out and understand what was happening and lobby AKA management to be enabled to have a say.

It is not clear if it is Ms Harvey or the AKA Board that is managing the review, but it would appear that Ms Harvey will be hands on and have influence – which then raises the problem of how independent would any review be under these circumstances. 

Nine questions the AKA Board members need to provide answers to for clarification are:

  1. What will the protocols be around issues of confidentiality and informant protection (and guarantees of emotional and job safety for teachers who talk to the reviewer)?
  2. What are the Terms of Reference for the independent review?
  3. Who wrote the Terms of Reference?
  4. How were the Terms of Reference decided and have the terms of reference been discussed, debated, and agreement reached with and between affected parties, including NZEI as representative of teachers and each kindergarten community of families?
  5. What is the definition of ‘independent’ adopted in the appointment of a reviewer?
  6. Who will decide or who has already decided who the reviewer shall be?
  7. Why is it believed that 4 to 6 weeks will be enough time to recruit a reviewer, for a proper review to be carried out, and for the review to be written up before Ms Harvey continues to roll-out the Plan?
  8. Will the reviewer’s report go to the AKA Board and CEO for editing and approval before release (if it is indeed released as other documents relating to the Plan have not been made available?) or will independence be preserved with the report shared at the same time with staff and teachers, with no parts of the reviewer’s report redacted by the Board or CEO?
  9. Will the Board continue to delegate to Ms Harvey full management responsibility? Or take on more of this responsibility itself, delegate to others, or provide better oversight itself?

Members of the board of directors as shown on the AKA’s website in August 2017 are as follows:

  • SIMON JONES (board chairperson for the last 4 years) – qualified accountant and Chief Financial Officer at Aotearoa Fisheries Limited.
  • JEREMY FLEMING (appointed 2014) – a paid consultant to develop the AKA’s financial investment strategies before appointment to the Board.
  • LEE-ANNE COBURN (appointed 2012) a former property lawyer who had worked on the AKA’s property leasing portfolio.
  • ROBIN HOULKER (appointed 2010) – has run an education consultancy business for the past 20 years.
  • SHANE HINTON (appointed 2010) – head of risks and controls at Tower Insurance.
  • CLIVE NELSON (appointed 2016) – chief executive of crown-owned organisation Health Promotion Agency that leads major promotional campaigns on behalf of the government. Recipient of 2016 TVNZ Marketing Excellence award.
  • CAROLYN TREMAIN (appointed 2016) – chief executive of NZ Customs Dept.
  • RICHARD NEAL (appointed Feb 2017) – employed at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa as leader in student support/experience.
  • RACHAEL TUWHANGAI (appointed Feb 2017) – co-owner of private company Māori and Pasifika Support Services. 

All Board members have signalled their intention to continue to run the AKA, with none stepping down at the next AGM on 30th November 2017, and those whose terms are up have put their names forward for re-election. 

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