There are serious outcomes of kindergarten changes at the Auckland Kindergarten Association (AKA). The following is an opinion article compiled by Dr Sarah Alexander and published on November 9, 2017.
Outcomes of Kindergarten Changes
Children’s happiness, physical wellbeing and education have been sacrificed as the Auckland Kindergarten Association (a community-based charitable organisation) focuses on growing its own financial worth.
There has been no concern expressed about how the extension of hours and weeks of attendance beyond that required of 5 year-olds at primary schools will impact on kindergarten children whose parents have chosen kindergarten as best to meet their child’s needs.
No plan appears to have been put in place to support children during structural changes that have included hours and re-organisations of attendance and staffing at the 30 of the 107 kindergartens that have already been changed by chief executive Tanya Harvey.
Parents are left to help their child cope with a worsening situation. Problems have emerged that include:
- Lack of appropriate sleeping and nap facilities for children.
- Teacher/ head teacher resignations over the changes.
- A greater frequency of teachers coming and going during the day in order to have their scheduled breaks and lunch.
- A greater coming and going of children at different times and the disruptions this causes to group routines, such as mat-times, and for maintaining a sense of community among children and parents/ caregivers.
- A tendency toward more chaos with teachers dealing with multiple things instead of a settled and more orderly/ organised environment.
- The last hour of the day becoming wasted time with the full kindergarten curriculum not always running.
- A greater frequency of relieving staff and use of relievers on a long-term basis due to difficulty in recruiting teachers who want to work for AKA now.
- Teachers taking annual leave at different times of the year – for up to four months of the year one of four teachers at a kindergarten will be a reliever.
- A small proportion only of parents taking their child to kindergarten during school holidays.
- A small proportion only of parents taking their child to kindergarten for the 7th hour in the day and more parents opting to reduce the number of days of attendance due to the long day and added cost.
- Head teachers/ teachers unable to discuss parents’ own concerns with them about the changes because Ms Harvey requires that all feedback go through her and the head office. And parents of currently enrolled children experiencing hostility by kindergarten head teachers/ teachers appointed to positions who support Ms Harvey’s intention regarding moving the ‘client’ base away from what it is now.
- Kindergarten becoming a less flexible choice of ECE for children compared to other ECE services (e.g. lack of sessional choice) but at the same cost as competitors.
The impacts experienced by children are negative for:
- Happiness and their enthusiasm to be at kindergarten.
- Energy levels and engagement – increased levels of tiredness, exhaustion.
- Physical health due to sleep/ rest deprivation and children falling asleep on chairs.
- Children’s projects and learning activities as these can be disrupted by teachers going on strictly rostered tea breaks and lunch breaks throughout the day.
- Mental state due to changes to routines and the difficulty of routines being properly maintained, such as group mat-times before children leave.
- Ability to make and maintain friendships with peers.
- Security of relationships with teachers ending due to teachers resigning.
- Ability to know who will be caring for her/ him from one day to the next.
- Possibility of having their needs adequately met with relievers and constantly changing staff not knowing even their name.
- Teacher time for responsive and reciprocal interactions with children, preparation and planning of activities, and to meet children’s individual needs – as teachers are spending more time on behaviour management.
- Stress passed on by stressed teachers due to problems that include teacher tiredness and even sometimes ructions within teaching teams caused by the changes.
- Peer group stability when the same children don’t attend all of the time together, but on different days, different times.
- Learning opportunities within the community due to greater difficulty for teachers in taking the group of children on field trips.
- Children with additional needs being sent home early and/ or unable to participate fully in the kindergarten curriculum as support does not extend to the hours that kindergarten now operates.
And vulnerable children are also affected by the decision to use the equity funding received by kindergartens as payment to cover the new fee charge for the 7th hour, instead of this money going toward additional learning resources or other things that would make a difference for these children.
Ms Harvey has explained to numerous media outlets that the change from a maximum of 6 to 7 hour day and closing for term-breaks to opening year-round was a financial decision:
“The real issue nationally is with lack of government funding and needing to adapt the service to meet the needs of parents.”
Yet Ms Harvey has also admitted that the AKA is financially well-off and records show high spending on her and senior management salaries and external consultancy services.
The primary purpose of kindergarten has been put to one side – the purpose being to provide high quality pre-school education by only qualified teachers to children, for children; while the designated or legal purpose of a kindergarten association is to control kindergartens. Changing kindergartens to join the competitive childcare industry market is what the AKA Board and Ms Harvey envisage to be most important to achieve for their goal of lifting profit and taking the AKA into the future as a strong business.
Ms Harvey and board chairperson Simon Jones say they have research that shows what the needs of parents are. The research has not been presented and shared, not even with kindergarten parent representatives.
In a letter to Ms Harvey in June of this year to which he has not yet received a response (nor to his other two letters), Kindergarten parent Christopher Barrow provided his views of the potential detrimental impacts on children of changed hours:
- Children will be at kindergarten for a longer day than they will be at school, not to mention the school holidays.
- Children will spend more time at kindergarten and have less time to engage in other learning and community experiences, or with their family.
- Children will share kindergarten with a wider age range of peers than they are exposed to in sessional kindergarten which may not prepare them for school where class is age-based.
- Children who do not stay at kindergarten over school holidays will associate with children who do stay at kindergarten over school holidays and are not starting back together at the same time.
- Parents will be encouraged to leave their children longer, affecting parent-child relationships and parent opportunity to have time to parent and develop confidence and skills.
- When children start school, parents used to the longer hours of care may struggle to cope with shorter hours all of a sudden and this in turn will affect children.
No NZ research shows a significant causal relationship between increased hours beyond that provided of a sessional kindergarten or playcentre and improved outcomes for children. International research suggests 12 – 15 hours a week to be optimal for children to gain from their preschool experience. A child attending mornings or afternoons can gain as much benefit for cognitive and social development as a child attending longer hours. Lengthening the hours increases the risk to children of attachment issues, behavioural problems, and anxiety.
To mitigate the negative effects, services that offer longer hours must have in place a strong care component alongside the educational, for example, by staffing above the minimum legal requirement and ensuring children have adequate sleep and rest/ quiet times.
Below are comments which parents have given permission to be reported here (some anonymously). Thank you for sharing.
Our Kindy has been one of the first to change, and we’ve seen significant impact. We lost our newly appointed head teacher. She’d only been in the role for 6 months and chose to leave. Some of our other amazing teachers have dropped down to part time hours in order to be able to still meet their own family obligations. We have an endless stream of relievers, who whilst lovely and obviously qualified, we don’t know them. My daughter started to not want to go to Kindy after it being her absolute favourite place because I could never reassure her about who was going to be there to care for her.
School holidays thus far have been optional, my daughter wanted to attend one day, so I said sure… turned up at Kindy to find 3 other children. During the holidays just gone a friend was helping out and said there were only 6 children in regular attendance over the normal scheduled holidays.
Parents of one transitioned kindergarten who are too scared to give their names for fear of a backlash from the Head Teacher have said:
The kids are crying in the playground and shaking the rails which form the border with the daycare next door. I’m reconsidering sending my younger one there. The Head Teacher is making out to parents that she is personal friends with Tanya Harvey (and we therefore daren’t ask any questions or raise any problem that she could take to be criticisms)
My girl goes to a kindy that now stays open during school holidays. We chose not to attend over the holidays because I feel that the kids need the break and so do the teachers. The kindy had less than 10 kids and I wonder how these ones felt when others came back with stories about what they did during the holidays.
The one-size-fits-all approach in making the changes to hours/fees has left our kindergarten in an unfavourable position in comparison to our other local ECE alternatives. We are noticing that our kindergarten now is offering the least flexible option when it comes to hours for children for the same cost as our kindergarten competitors.
Our kindergarten changed to the new hours at the end of term two, and after two terms with no holiday break for many of the children the teachers were spending a lot more time managing behaviour rather than interacting with children as they learn through play. The tiredness is palpable, and it has an impact on all children and on the availability of staff for activities and interaction.
We have noticed activities being interrupted more as the teaching staff have strictly rostered breaks to make the longer day work, so sometimes there has to be a changeover in the teacher assisting with a project which is disruptive for the children.
Mum concerned with changes showing a lack of concern for inclusion of child with special needs
The children with additional needs get minimal support from MOE and only a bit more sometimes from Ohomairangi trust and CCS Disability Action. They have to go home often once their support hours are done and can’t stay with their peers. Auckland Kindergarten Association is not thinking about these children and the importance of inclusion and belonging to a group. And the teachers are tired, the staffing ratios are poor and the teachers are often unable to give support to children with additional needs.
Mum of a 4 year-old child
For our family the changes AKA have made have been really hard and definitely have had a negative impact on our family. It’s really unsettled my daughter. We’ve experienced a huge increase of relievers, who are often different or never been seen before at our kindy. My daughter has become quite hard to settle in the mornings along with a lot of the older children who have been there a while. There is also a constant flow of new teaching assistants.
I notice a lot of equipment is packed up at 2:30pm even though kids are staying on until 3:30 and are left basically having snacks and on the playground. A lot of kids are becoming very tired come 3:30pm. The teachers seem to be tired and it all seems to be causing a visible divide in our staff which is not good for my daughter, our family or any other children.
Parent of child whose behaviour has been affected
My son has been in kindy from the age of 3 and because the head teacher was leaving and he was getting close to staring school we decided to change my son to a kindy closer to our home and school. The new kindy was one that had been changed to the new 7 hour model. We did not expect it would cause a drastic change in the behaviour of our son who is usually full of energy, happy and focused. We’ve noticed his behaviour at home and at kindy gets worse especially during the week and days he attends kindy. The new model kindy seems to have a lot of problems and I believe these are related to my son’s changed behaviour.
Routine and chaos – my son was very well used to having a routine at his old kindy, things were predictable for him, hence possibly making him feel secure and safe within his environment. I noticed from week one and so did my husband, the lack of routine at kindy under the 7 hour model, and chaos at times that the teachers needed to attend to on a daily basis. As I further observed and spoke to the teachers, I soon discovered routine was a nearly impossible exercise due to the changes in pick up times and mat times needed to be reduced, something that for my son had been a highlight as he learnt many skills as part of the mat-time routine such as patience, taking turns, respect for others, etc.
Teachers coming and going – Inconsistency in teaching staff at the kindy is a nearly a daily thing. This is due to teachers now taking holidays in between terms to get their holiday leave in. I have noticed this then affects the children by having constantly someone new to adapt to, the teacher may not be fully “in the know” about where children are at and how best to support them, or the parents for that matter.
Tired children – As the year progressed and terms started and finished, as well as holiday periods, I have noticed the behaviours of “challenging” children have become worst and believe this is due to the points mentioned above, though also the children are generally tired because of the long day the kindy operates!
Community sense – I have noticed that with there not being a set arrival and departure time for all kids parents are not enabled to meet naturally and will miss each other. There’s little sense of a ‘community’ that we experienced at his previous kindy. Also I have noticed the kindy takes little part in the wider community and field trips possibly due to many of the reasons mentioned above. Again something my son and we miss.
Teacher preparation and joint work – I have noticed a lack of “different” activities and innovative activities in response to children’s interests, etc. It was evident within conversations with different teachers, that they just do not now have enough time to do the same level of preparation that they were able to do before the kindy changed to the new model. I have witnessed teachers supporting teachers to complete tasks and activities quickly “on the spot” creating again an environment which is inconsistent for the children reflecting the inadequate time teachers have to plan and discuss as a teaching team in advance.
The challenges the changes have created have definitely taken a toll in the quality of care and education teachers can provide in the kindergarten and many teachers show clear signs of “burn-out” to me. My son used to love kindy but now his everyday phrase about his kindy day is “I’m scared of the teachers” and “I don’t have any friends”. I believe my son deserves an environment in which he feels safe, confident and enables growth, confidence and motivation. The changes have not been good to children. My message to management is please put the children first and better support the teachers.
Chris – parent and a qualified and highly experienced early childhood teacher
The changes have been terrible for my daughter. The 6 hour day of kindy was already too long and even now after approx 18mths of attendance it is still tiring. She refuses to nap and we often have an overtired child who won’t eat and she often puts herself to bed before dinner. With the 7 hour days she is expected to be at kindy longer than that of her older siblings – one of which is at high school – which I deem highly unacceptable.
On top of this she will refuse to leave kindy before mat time at the end of the day – one of her favourite times of day, but by then most of the children have gone home so learning is limited as there are often only a handful of children and mat-time then is so often meaningless. We also have to counter this by taking her to kindy later around 9 or 9.30am as she is often tired in the mornings so it takes a long time to get ready for the day.
With the longer hours parents are dropping off and collecting their children at various times so I barely see the other parents and hardly ever see her friends’ parents.
The teachers look worn out and with this terrible winter that we have just had often they are ‘missing’ (sick) so I can’t assure my daughter who will be there when we drop her off which can be challenging on one of her ‘bad/tired’ days as she wants her favourite teachers. Also they have to take leave during term times so again they are ‘missing’.
We don’t and won’t attend during the holidays but often I will drive past and see only handful of children at the kindy but yet they have to stay open with the teachers on board!
Many children are no longer doing five days due to the fee charges so often we don’t know what children are going to be there on what day – upsetting for my 4 yr old, and there are a lot of little kiddies (2yr olds) starting so you have a massive developmental gap as well.
Often now when walking in to the kindy I see little people asleep on the sofa or arm chair (kindy doesn’t have a sleep room). Something I never saw in the past at kindy.