The decline of sessional kindergartens.
By Dr Sarah Alexander.
June 30, 2010.
In 2009 Free Kindergartens provided a sessional preschool service to around 56% of children enrolled. This represents a considerable reduction from only a small number of years ago in 2007 when a sessional preschool service was provided to 97% of children enrolled. It has declined even further and nearly all kindergartens are licensed for and offer capacity to offer all-day care and education.
In 2007, 1,215 children attended a Free Kindergarten for more than 4 hours a day (all-day care) and this jumped to 16,822 children in 2009.
In 2007, 39,362 children attended a Free Kindergarten for less than 4 hours (part-day sessions) and this number dropped to 21, 710 children in 2009.
In 2007, 3,118 children attended a Free Kindergarten that provided a mixture of full-day and part-day options and this number dropped to 814 children in 2009.
So What’s the Problem?
The Free Kindergarten supported by the State as an education service with teaching staff and managers employed under the State Sector Act was set up to prepare children for school by providing morning and afternoon sessions for all children in the year or two before starting school. However, today, when parents talk about their child attending kindy – it literally means that kindy starts in the morning, goes over the lunch-hour and ends in the afternoon.
What has been the cause of this massive and sudden decrease in the number of under 4 hour (part-day) places in kindergartens?
The 20 Hour Free ECE policy in 2007 provided a lot of extra cash to kindergartens if children were enrolled for more than 4 hours a day and up to 6 hours a day. Kindergarten associations were attracted to this – as would be expected.
Given the shift of the Free Kindergarten model to a commercial one demonstrating competitiveness with community and private childcare services the question is: will Kindergarten Associations be able to maintain for much longer their privileged status within the early childhood sector, as the only service whose staff are covered under the State Sector Act, and having access to government land (often within or adjacent to school grounds) and sources of funding not available to other services?
Many Kindergarten associations are also expanding into other childcare areas, running childcare centres and operating home-based ECE schemes.
If this is a concern it may not be too late for kindergarten associations to conduct a review of their direction and to lobby to retain the uniqueness of Kindergarten. Government policy could be challenged and government could be open to representations from the Kindergarten sector and others on this matter (we have seen a glimmer of this in the government’s recent Budget announcement that sessional Free Kindy’s will continue to receive the 100% teacher registered rate of funding per child per hour, whereas all-day kindy’s and other types of childcare services won’t).
In 1985 the Labour Government hosted a national early childhood forum. At the forum the Minister of Education likened the early childhood sector to a mosaic with each early childhood service being valued for its individuality:
“Mosaics are comprised of individual pieces – like the early childhood world. As pieces of the mosaic you differ in size, in composition, in colour, in philosophy and in texture, and no one would want to change your individuality.”
But in the same breath the scene was also set for government to take charge of the future characteristics of the mosaic.
“… Yet an assortment of pieces does not make a mosaic. A mosaic must be planned, designed, ordered and made” (Hon Russell Marshall, 1985, p. 20)
This was the beginning of a dream come true for childcare lobbyists who had argued for many years before that daycare centres should have education status and be funded accordingly. But it is clear now that the particular path of change started back then has had consequences for the retention of what is special and unique about the kindergarten system today.
The 20-hour Free ECE policy has proven itself to be the nail in the coffin for kindergartens as we know them.
The main reasons for change in kindergarten were:
- To enable families to claim the whole of 20 hours of the 20-hour Free ECE (although for many families it now costs more in fees to attend than it ever did especially if their child is also attending family daycare or another childcare because Kindergarten used to be free and donation based only).
- Kindergarten associations wanted (or found it hard to resist changing for) the higher rate of government funding per hour per child who attends for more than 4 hours a day (hence many associations have changed from providing 3 or 3 1/2 hour sessions to 4 1/4 hour sessions or to the maximum of 6 hours a day permissible under the rules of 20 Hour funding).
In addition, most kindergarten associations have embraced the childcare model by also operating childcare businesses – competing alongside other community and private childcare services.
The NZEI Te Riu Roa’ teachers’ union Collective Agreement Claim in 2007 included options for teachers to remain at their kindergarten, to be transferred to another kindergarten or to take redundancy when their kindergarten changed its model.
If you believe the Free Kindergarten sessional model is a relic of the past because full-day childcare is what all parents want or that longer hours are better for children, then you are likely to question the continuance of kindergarten teacher salaries and conditions of work being covered under the State Sector Act. But if you think the sessional Free-Kindergarten model has value, then you are likely to want the choice of sessional pre-school education service for children to be retained and for government to require this of Kindergarten Associations or drop them and recognise other community groups who will provide a distinctive preschool education service.
Free kindergartens have operated in NZ for over 100 years. Kindergarten Associations are/were government funded organisations, set up as charitable trusts/incorporated societies (though some today are companies). They are controlled by kindergarten associations recognised by the Government for the purpose of running a kindergarten or kindergartens. They are governed by a management board made up of a number of kindergartens within a geographical area, with each kindergarten having its own committee to attend to the day to day running of the kindergarten and raise any additional funds (though today the committees of most kindergartens play no real role in management decisions as kindergartens are centrally managed by Associations).
Kindergartens were set up originally to provide a gentle introduction to education for “any child who attains the age of 3 years but has not attained the age of 5 years” (Kindergarten Regulations 1959, p. 6). Children learn how to act and behave as members of a group or kindergarten class, they are introduced to structured activities, they learn independence, and teachers provide a smorgasbord of play activities designed to support and enhance their development.
The idea behind the first public kindergarten founded in Dunedin in 1889 was a philanthropic one after Rev Dr Waddell expressed concern about the number of little ragged and unkempt children he saw. Free kindergartens were opened subsequently in other parts of New Zealand also for philanthropic reasons. Purpose-built facilities were considered desirable right from the start and this helped to define kindergarten apart from nursery schools and crèches which more often were set up in houses and halls without government building money or subsidies. While there was some reluctance in the very early years of the NZ kindergarten movement to accept government funding because of the possible strings attached, by the 1960s kindergartens were part of the public education system.
Being part of the public education system “no fee” was “payable in respect of the attendance of a child at a kindergarten” (The Kindergarten Regulations 1959 reprint 1973/243, p. 6). The weekly schedule for kindergartens constituted five morning sessions of 3 hours for children approaching school-age, three afternoon sessions of 2 ½ hours for the younger children, and one afternoon reserved solely for the teachers to work with parents including home-visits and pre-entry sessions for new families and one afternoon for maintenance and administration.
Kindergartens operated during term times and children got school holidays. Kindergarten staff were trained specifically to work with the preschool age-group and were conversant with the philosophy of Fredrich Froebel the founding father of the kindergarten movement.
A key characteristic of the quality of kindergartens was parent support; teachers had time to get to know parents, introduce parents to one another, and involve parents in fundraising and committee work more for the purpose of building relationships and working together than for financial reasons.
Parents chose kindergarten knowing that they could also be involved, that they would make friends, and they would have a say in their kindergarten. Kindergarten was not a childcare service.
Public Policy Shifts Affecting Kindergartens
The integration of kindergarten with childcare training from 1988 and the introduction of a national curriculum by the Ministry of Education called Te Whāriki for all early childhood services in 1996 resulted in a coming together of philosophy and teaching practices across kindergarten and childcare services. Changes in legislation have opened up the possibility of kindergartens operating longer-day programmes and charging fees.
The Education Act (1989), clause No. 80 defined a kindergarten as a free kindergarten “whose licence permits no child to attend for a period of more than 4 hours a day”.
The Kindergarten Regulations (1959) Clause 14 stated “No fee shall be payable in respect of the attendance of a child at a kindergarten”.
Clause 314A was inserted into the Education Act on 1 December 2008 and reads “fees may be charged in respect of the attendance, of any child at any kindergarten (whether or not it is known or described as a free kindergarten)”. An Amendment Act dated 21 Dec 1990 reads: “Fees may be charged in respect of the attendance, after the commencement of the Education Amendment Act(No. 3) 1990, of any child at any kindergarten (whether or not it is, or is known or described as, a free kindergarten) within the meaning of the Kindergarten Regulations 1959.” It added: “Regulation 14 of the Kindergarten Regulations 1959 is hereby consequentially revoked”.
By 1 July 2007 when the 20-hour Free ECE policy came into effect most kindergarten associations had experienced a decline in financial viability and found the gap between actual operating costs and government funding was increasing. For example, in March 2006 the Southland Kindergarten Association reported that it had
“… changed its fee structure in light of the new Government funding through Working for Families, which gives families up to $3.31 per hour for child care depending on their weekly income. We intend to increase our fees from 25-30 cents per hour to a uniform fee of 50 cents per hour (averaged over a term) from term two 2006. This increase is the first since 1997. Over 80% of our bulk funding currently goes on teacher salaries, and we will have a shortfall this year of over $100,000. The child care subsidy and increase in fees will help us ensure we can take the edge off any future financial uncertainties”.
Hutt City Kindergartens annual report 2005 further explains the kind of difficult financial decision-making situation they were in, and this situation was common across kindergarten associations:
“Since 2002 we have seen an increasing percentage of our bulk funding being needed to cover the costs of our professional staff. (From 74% in 2003 to 78% in 2006 – representing a reduction of about $130,000 in funding available for non-salary costs). The Board considered a number of options and proposed the delivery of 8 additional teaching sessions in 2006 (bringing in approx. $90,000 in additional funding) … [but] The teachers were clear about their rejection of any proposal involving the delivery of more sessions. … Adjustments were made through a reduction in the operating grant to kindergartens (from $1500 pa down to $500 pa per kindergarten) and through cutting the maintenance budget back by 50% for 2006. … We are anticipating that the introduction of 20 hours of free ECE will contribute to a reduction in our financial pressure through the provision of a funding rate that adequately covers our costs”. (pp. 7 – 8).
Associations that had wanted to remain ‘free’ were now making it clear to kindergartens that they should follow up requested donations and request parents to pay or risk kindergarten closure or a decline in the quality of their child’s education. Parents who could not afford to pay were told to ask Work and Income (WINZ) for childcare support. WINZ recognised kindergarten donations as fees and parents who met the criteria were eligible for fees support. Thus while many associations initially had reservations about the 20-hour Free ECE policy, they also expected it to be a light at the end of the tunnel to ensure the financial sustainability of their kindergartens into the future.
In 2008 20 Hour ECE funding rate for services enrolling children for more than 4 hours a day was $12.26 compared to $7.20 an hour per child in sessional services. Kindergartens received $5.06 more per child, per hour by re-licensing as all-day services, employing an extra teacher and reducing rolls to cope with children attending longer hours.
It was not organisationally feasible for kindergartens to run two 4 ¼ hour sessions a day – that’s an 8 ½ hour day minimum of contact time with children for teachers. Thus the best option for associations concerned with the financial sustainability of a kindergarten was to change to have either a combination of a 4 ¼ hour session plus a shorter session of around 2 hours in the afternoon, or have a single daily session of around 6 hours or more.
The 4 ¼ hour session option enabled kindergartens to obtain full-day funding whilst still remaining sessional in terms of NZEI’s collective agreement. For kindergartens in areas where the population is growing older and there are fewer younger children resident it made sense to change to a 6 hour day plus model. It allowed for the total roll size to be halved by taking one and not two groups of children during the day. The downside of this for parents keen to get their child into kindergarten was that capacity to offer places to children was reduced and parents if they wanted to get their child into kindergarten were forced sometimes to travel outside of their community to where they could get a place.
The Table below shows that while the number of Kindergartens has continued to increase slightly over the years, the number of children that have been enrolled in kindergarten is now a lot less. So while most kindergartens have waiting lists, their capacity to accept children has reduced, and the costs to parents and taxpayers has gone up.
Enrolments and number of Free Kindergartens as at 1 July (2000 to 2009) Ministry of Education statistics
All-day services are required by regulation to have an adult-child ratio of 1:10 and sessional services are required to have 1:15. A positive of changing to the all-day model in kindergartens was the opportunity to offer more teachers work and that a higher staff-child ratio would mean better educational outcomes for children. But what was often not talked about was the fact when children attend for more than a few hours a day, teachers must necessarily do more of the childcare – thus taking up any benefit of having an extra teacher in the kindergarten.
Is the Kindergarten Model Out-of-Step with Changing Social and Economic Times?
The traditional sessional model was originally designed for children and not to meet the needs of working parents for childcare or for Kindergarten Associations to make money and grow other childcare services, or for the purpose of supporting teacher employment.
The kindergarten sessional model therefore is not about supporting women’s labour force participation and enabling more mums to be in paid employment. The 6 hour kindergarten model is also not about this as these hours are still not particularly convenient for working parents. This is generally recognised within the kindergarten service. For example in a brief to the Waikato Kindergarten Association on 24 July 2008, the CEO wrote:
“This Association has been around for over 60 years and must ensure it is around for the next 60 years. Shortly most of our kindergartens will be School Day operations; we believe our preferred SD model will have long term sustainability for ‘stay at home’ families and possibly part-time working families”.
There is no evidence that changing kindergarten hours has a direct impact on the employment patterns of the primary caregivers/parents of children at the kindergarten.
The impact is on the length of children’s day in kindergarten, the reduced time that children can be doing other things with their families or having other experiences in the community, and on the amount of taxpayer money that goes to fund each child’s attendance at kindergarten.
Were Sessional Kindergartens Serving Children Poorly?
To answer the question of whether the sessional preschool model serves children poorly we can look at the opinion of teachers, parents, and the research evidence.
There exists no research evidence that children attending NZ Kindergartens have better or worse educational outcomes compared to children attending other early childhood service types. International evidence looking at the effects of longer duration of attendance on children’s outcomes suggests that the cognitive and language benefits to be obtained from participation in an early childhood programme can be gained from as little as 12 – 15 hours a week.
Research does not support the political proposition that more time = more benefits for children, rather it is the opportunity to participate in the preschool experience that matters.
However, for parents in employment or who need help with childcare an early childhood service can provide fantastic support to the family and an educational safe haven for children.
“I left school when I was 16 and didn’t have many skills or a qualification. Then I met a girl that was working (prostitution) and saw how much money that she was bringing home and thought about how easy it would be. Then I fell pregnant with my son … After I had my son things were even harder … when my mum left town and left me with my teenage brother that was a bombshell!! I had a 10 month-old and a 15 year-old and myself to support and very little income. So I went back to work as a prostitute to have enough money to be able to provide for my family … I found what you would call a “normal job” in a café out of town. It was hard though having very little time with my son as I started work at 9am in the morning and finished at 5pm, but really I was up at 6am to drop my son off at 8am and .. then sometimes not getting home till half past six after I picked him up … I kind of felt ripped off with the lack of time I got to spend with my son.Fleur, p. 16, in ‘Children’ a Newsletter from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2008, No. 66.
But not every parent wants or needs childcare support. Some parents want both childcare support from family daycare or a nanny so their child is in a homely enviornment for most of the day and the ability for the nanny or family daycare to access kindergarten preschool sessions for a small number of hours.
It seems that many kindergarten teachers and parents also think that the free sessional kindergarten is good for children and is not an outmoded service model. In 2005 kindergarten teachers went out on strike
“… not for their own sake but the sake of communities and families. They say the industrial action, which affected about 46,000 pre-schoolers, is about keeping freedom of choice alive. New Zealand’s 1,700 kindergarten teachers in 22 cities and towns don’t want kindy to be an all-day event either, nor do they want parents paying fees. While kindergarten bosses say the changes will modernise the organisation and will meet the needs of parents, parents like Dianne McArdle joined the teachers in opposing the new regulations. “No one has asked me if I want this change and no one has given us information about the possible changes.”
TVNZ ONE NEWS, Kindergarten teachers go on strike, Dec 8, 2005 6:12 pm.
Concluding Thoughts on Sessional Kindergartens
Kindergartens have traditionally provided a community hub and a link between new families. As kindergartens reduce their rolls to enable families to claim their 20 hours or to have longer hours of childcare, regardless of whether this is what the parent community at the kindergarten wants, the sense of community ownership of kindergartens is being eroded.
The value of the kindergarten sessional preschool model is that is what defines the Free Kindergarten – change this and the Free Kindergarten has lost its distinctive edge and should not be able to claim any special treatment over other early childhood services.
Parents want arrangements that best suit their child and family and these needs differ at different times. The traditional preschool service of the Free Kindergarten is unique. We have just about lost this. Is this right? Should something be done?
Shouldn’t the national bodies that represent Kindergarten Associations have been concerned enough to advocate for and ensure the retention of the sessional preschool community-ownership model of the Free Kindergarten?
Now we have a new Government – will this Government be like the last and see how far it can push Free Kindergartens further into morphing into operating like commercial operations?
When this article was first published in 2008 a number of comments were received.
Plea to Retain the Traditional Goodness of Sessional Kindergartens
Please keep our kindies the same. Earlier and longer days for our children? Do we want to move the responsibility of raising our children again? Our children love going to kindy as it is now, without the long hours. There are childcare centres for children with working parents. I am appalled that it is not an open debate by the government to see what the parents and teachers who are dealing with our children have to say about this. (Santjie Stols, Parent)
Need for Policy and Professional Commitment to Keep Sessional Kindergartens
I found the article on kindergartens place in the sector very interesting. The most disquieting thought was that “today there is no indication that the government wants to retain the Kindergarten as a unique ece service.” Exactly! As teachers we need to question the government’s intentions and hold them to account for the impact of the 20 hours free policy on the kindergarten system.
After working across a great many private childcare centres in South Auckland I find the kindergarten’s with their sessional and all day models offer a unique option for parents to spend time with their children and also to become more involved as active participants in their children’s educational journey, and in the Kindergarten learning community. Private centres which are for profit do not offer the same levels of parental involvement or participation at variable daily times. This sector difference is a wonderful opportunity for parents and often grandparents, and entire families to be involved daily, sessional, or weekly. I agree all politicians, kindergarten educators, and the governments should be backing the uniqueness of the kindergarten sessional model. In Sweden parental time with children is given a high priority by the government with maternal and paternal leave options available. As a professional educator, having seen many infringements of children’s rights across the private sector, I wish to see mothers and children having the important option of sessional times in a unique, not for profit Kindergarten system. This is crucial for mothers, fathers, children’s and extended family members well being. (Marion Mason, teacher)
Let’s Breathe Life Back into Kindergartens
Things have changed, due I believe to a political agenda that has seen the introduction of 20 free hrs and the greater funding rates if you are on an all day licence. These have sped up the change from sessional to school day or longer. Sometimes I feel that parents and communities have just fallen into line with the idea that putting children into early childhood centres as soon as they can for as long as they can is the best for their children and if they don’t their children will miss out. Going to a school day creates an extra teacher and less numbers of children for teachers, one group of children, and more money for kindergartens. These benefits for some seem to outweigh what is best for children (at least in my opinion). I believe the introduction of 20 free hours has made kindergarten freer than it ever has been. But the 20 hours now seems to be a minimum for children rather than the maximum. Some people view kindergarten as a dead horse but if there is any way to help breath a little bit of life back or even revive it to the showcase it once was then this should be done. (Dave Mudford)
Changes Not About What Works Well For Children
My worry is that 5 sessions of anything in a week with my 3 year old is a big ask. She loves kindy and has been desperate to get there after seeing 3 big brothers have their time there. In our community we mostly have a choice now of either kindergartens that run five x 4 hours a.m and five x 2 hours p.m – or 5 school day hours. We are told by our association that this model gives greater choice. It does give another option that is certain. BUT I have heard parents being told that they will have to go somewhere else if they want less days. If this wasn’t my last child I would also be concerned that my younger kids won’t now get in for a long time or I would have to go elsewhere, but in some areas you can choose what afternoons you want to do. I am still not sure this is great. The new model only accommodates a maximum of 60 families or a minimum of 40. Potentially this could mean that if the starting age is 3yrs then only 10 – 15 children are going off to school every 6 months and that makes the waiting lists longer and families will search for ECE that they can get into at 3 yrs, or else wait until their child is a 4 yr old before there is a chance to get in to kindy. There needs to be reasonable time at kindy for kids to settle, feel safe, gain independence, and blossom for school. I thought I was the only one who felt as though I didn’t like the way the future was looking for our kids and families. I believe there are a lot of questions and some tweaking needed at govt and local level. The 20 Hours Free seems to have been a big factor that has affected the expectation in the community that children should start ECE at 3yrs. In my day 3.5yrs was normal starting age and while I couldn’t wait for my kids to be gone for a couple of hours in retrospect I see that this was the right age for them. They were better equipped at that age to handle separation from me, interact with others and conform to social expectations in their learning environment. When thinking over this issue I also wonder if the funding stopping at 5 yrs is a bit abrupt. I am sure many children and families would benefit greatly by having funded extended to 6 yrs. For my eldest he was just getting confident when school time came around. He could have done with another 6 months at kindy but the fees were more expensive per term than a year at school. (Helen Eyeington, Parent)
That Community Ownership Feeling Has Almost Gone
We live in rural NZ and I have been involved (as a parent and on the committee) with our local kindergarten for the past 5 years. That lovely community ownership of your ‘local kindy’ has been broken. Since the 20 free hours scheme, our kindergarten and those in our wider rural area, have seen the availability of placements drop for 3 year olds. The move to full days from sessional has affected the 3 year olds moving into kindergarten. They are now more likely to be 4 before they are offered places at kindergarten. They then go straight into one merged kindergarten class and there can be huge differences (developmentally) between a just 4 year old and one nearly ready to turn 5 and off to school. The sessional arrangement worked well as it was including 3 year olds and as a result MORE children were accessing the kindergartens. Politics gets in the way of the natural flow of a good and effective kindergarten. The move to longer hours took a lot of time away from fundraising and other kindy involvement due to the situation being so politically charged. The power-plays of management were at times unbearable and stressed our great teachers. In my role as Committee Chairperson – I contacted the Ministry of Education rep for our region and the CEO should be answerable to that person. The UnionSHOULD be representing the teachers and from memory I seem to recall the need for teachers to fight to have those meetings etc. We were finally pushed through to the crèche model by the Area Manager appointing a teacher that was sympathetic to these changes. It seems they have pressured so many great, reliable, highly experienced teachers and they have left…this allows them then to appoint a more newly trained teacher who will bring in the ideals of the Ministry. (Sue Reid, Parent)
Who Listens to Teachers?
I have been told that as a teacher I am not allowed to place items on the agenda for discussion at board meetings, in fact our CEO laughed at the suggestion. We have not been consulted about the long-term plans of the Association. In fact they have tried to keep us in the dark as much as possible. Our CEO can be very intimidating and she did a good job on me yesterday, I am still shaking and bursting into tears. I am totally opposed to all kindergartens changing to the school day model, our kindergarten has a full roll and a waiting list and all the parents I have asked want to stay sessional. At the moment we are told if we remain ‘sustainable’ we can stay sessional. We have not been told what ‘sustainable’ means, but assume it means full rolls, though I am sure we could be financially viable with numbers less than 45/45. I do not believe for a minute that we will remain sessional. Our CEO plans to have us all school day, then all-day and the kindy’s with enough land for further building will become full childcare!! She told me that I had better call in the union. I took this to mean that she is threatening me with dismissal for daring to communicate with other teachers about our concerns. My reply was to tell her I was giving a months notice and she would have it in writing. I know I have the support of my kindergarten families and I will tell them exactly what the CEO has been saying to me – I do feel that I would be letting them down if I back down. Several teachers have told me how our CEO has layed into them at various times for such things as allowing their parents to write to the trust board, or to question anything the Association is doing, but I doubt whether anyone will speak up about it. Just my luck eh? So in answer to some of the questions:
- No I do not feel that teachers can safely question the changes. I have been bullied and verbally assaulted by my employer. I literally felt like I had been physically assaulted after experiencing the CEO’s wrath.
- Who do teachers have to support them being heard? No one!!!
- What opportunities do teachers have to voice their concerns? Not many. I have emailed the Minister of Education, but doubt that will help.
- I feel very isolated and helpless. (name withheld)
On the Path to Becoming Just Another Full-day Childcare Service
I have grave fears for the kindergarten service as we have known it over the past many decades. I have been heavily involved in kindergarten at all levels now for 30 years but it is fast losing its special character, its community focus, and its “charitable” status. The service will, in the next 5 years be no different from those offered in all-day centres and even NZEI (our union) accepts this. I’ve always been very proud of the difference between kindergartens and other centres and with what had been a service that could focus on quality education, on families and not on generating profit for the owner. If we extend the length of the day, reduce team non-contact time, and sacrifice the professional support of our teachers in the generation of profit, the service will not be worth hanging onto. It seems such a waste of everything that we have worked for in the pursuit of a quality service over the years; but I really doubt if kindergarten will exist in 5 years time. It will certainly receive another nail in its coffin if National wins the election as we are sure to be thrown out of the State Service again. Sorry to sound so morbid but many of us in the kindergarten service are expressing these views at the moment, especially within the senior teacher group. Many, however, are quite accepting of the changes and see this sadness as a waste of energy and a sign that some of us are simply dinosaurs and need to get real. It would be great to open up this debate as most of us are unfortunately reminded constantly that we are simply employees, that the service has to be financially viable and of course many of our Board members these days do not have contacts with kindergarten. They are business people. WE are the ones in our service, we and the teachers. We are the ones who are so committed to hanging on to the historical quality of kindergarten but our voices are not represented in most associations, on the decision-making boards and so the associations change their direction and their priorities. So, what to do??? Where to from here?? It’s certainly not looking good as far as the retention of quality is concerned, but our GMs are trying to ensure the financial viability of the service and so the dilemma exists. (name withheld)
Big Problems in Accessing Kindergarten for Children in Home-based Education
One of the issues for children accessing two services is that parents are expected to pay for both services. In our Home-based service when the educator does the drop off and pick up from kindergarten and is the person responsible for the child during the kindergarten session, the educator is paid by the parent. (The MOE bulk funding goes with the child). This means that the parents are paying twice – for our service and for the kindergarten service. This is a significant cost to parents. Also if parents can’t afford to pay for both services, then generally the payment goes with the child. This means that the educator doesn’t get paid, but also can’t fill that space while the child is attending kindergarten. It seems a shame that we are worried about the effects of the new arrangements in terms of money and not, as you put so succinctly in your article, about the well-being of the child. Home-based services and kindergarten have had a complementary relationship in the past. Kindergarten gives our three and four year olds a large group experience for a short period of time during the day. When the kindergarten closes the children come back to our service for a quieter end to the day (Jane Couch, Director Hutt Family Day Care)
Costs of the 20-hours Free ECE Scheme for Kindergarten Operation and Teacher Stress
In my opinion the 20 hours free scheme has been disastrous in that it has encouraged overuse of day care facilities, which has led kindergarten associations to play ‘catch-up’ in order to retain numbers and funding. I can only imagine what the day-care generation will be like 10 years from now (although perhaps good primary and secondary schooling can counter these effects.) I am also concerned that kindergartens (in an effort to be economically viable??) have such large roles. Kerikeri has recently adopted the 1:10 ratio (which is great) and we now have 40 children down from 45. I guess that is a step in the right direction but I think it is still a disservice to children to have so greater number competing for time, space and energy. My ideal centre would have 20 children enrolled. While the infrastructure costs are obviously a problem, I wish that instead of having four teachers in each kindy (as many of the Northland Kindergartens now do) we could have doubled the number of facilities and had two teachers in each. (Or just have two sessions of 20 children a day instead of 2 sessions of 40 children.) Other problems I see are an over-provision of resources and an attitude that ‘more of everything is better.’ I find that the role of Head teacher (in particular) has expanded to include an immensity of duties other than teaching. (Emma Nelson, Kindergarten Teacher)
Providing Long Hours is Inconsistent with How Kindergartens Can Best Serve Children
I have worked in four different kindergarten associations in recent times and it is my understanding that many teachers feel great concern that the concept of kindergarten and what it stood for, is being lost. Kindergarten teachers studied for Teaching diplomas that enabled them to teach children in a daily time-frame that was appropriate for their age. The same teachers respected the importance of children experiencing stability and spending time with parents. However, in regards to the changes kindergarten now is facing, I believe not all teachers appear united on opposing what is happening as they were back in 2006 when they went on strike. It is my perception, that some accept “we must change to meet families needs” (cliché) and indeed have commented “we also need to accept this change, to ensure getting paid”! Others reflect from an educational perspective, are visionary and feel real concern as to whether this is all in the ‘best interests of young children’. I believe as educators we seriously need to ask ‘in whose best interests are we adopting these changes for?’
In an introductory session to one Assn, I heard the General Manager say, “we need to change to meet the needs of families. There is a need for daycare and the association would respond to that need by providing a good service to families. (and ‘be known for this’) “While this may have been well-meaning on behalf of management, at the time I realized this philosophy would bring big challenges for teachers who have a different perspective. I have also seen another association very positive and committed to retaining the concept of Kindergarten with sessional times. I understand that recently it has changed ‘some’ of their kindergartens operating hours due to the government’s funding formula. At the beginning of this year I negotiated a term’s Head teacher position at a kindergarten that had a negative ERO report and worked to lift the standard there. Attendance was lower for a variety of reasons. The Assn. was in the process of proposing a change from sessional hrs to all-day care. This, I understood could involve bringing very young children into the operation. At a public meeting, I recall one parent being really adamant about what the concept of kindergarten meant for her and it was this: her daughter was attending an educational session with children her own age and she did not want that learning environment having to cope with the implications of 2 year olds running around. She also stressed the importance of children spending time with their parents and did not believe in long hours for pre-school education. My perception was, the Association management of that time, was holding a public relations exercise to promote daycare in that kindergarten. This was due to the government’s funding formula, producing more revenue for longer operating hours. Sadly, it is easy to see why early childhood education now feels like a business. I believe history will show 20 free hours and its implications have not been in the best interests of young children and indeed for society as a whole. I would strongly support any new and independent research. I can resonate with a comment made by a kindergarten teacher recently. She put it this way. “Since the introduction of the 20 free hours it would appear that parents are doing what is only natural and making the most of what has been allocated to them. Whilst we can appreciate why the human psyche feels the need to take everything that is offered, I think educators are also acutely aware that in the case of the 20 free hours, ‘taking everything you can get and more’ is likely to have a detrimental impact on young children. Sarah Alexander also made a valid point at her seminar ‘Childcare/ECE is like Ice-cream’. “For individual children and their families ‘Centre’s and home-based services can be delicious, they can also be bad, you can have too much of a good thing, and you can have too little’”. I feel like getting this printed on banners and tee-shirts around the country! (Julia Sowerby, Teacher)
Mixed Age Groups Creates a Paradox in Delivering the Programme
I see a paradox in the programme. Current teaching practice promotes collaboration with children, the socio-connective approach, following strengths and interests, co-researching, encouraging enquiry, higher thinking, problem-solving and taking children to the next level. 21st century E.C.E. thinking also embraces the Reggio approach which involves project work with children and engaging the environment as ‘the third teacher’. Now, all this is ‘quality educational involvement’ as Kindergarten teachers work with the age group they gained teaching qualifications to work with (over 3 yr olds). But in the same programme, it is now expected that teachers ‘may’ have 2 yr olds. In general, these children have different needs and call for a different level of teacher involvement. (I realise there are exceptions to the rule.) For example: Children may be doing some wonderful model work on horses as I saw happening recently. These artifacts were on display with meaningful documentation. Learning was made visible, the environment played a big part and so, further learning was stimulated. Will a 2 -3 yr old understand about a display? It will be viewed as play material (as is entirely appropriate for them to think that way) and highly likely dismantle work in progress. So the older children are disadvantaged by this intrusion and the younger children are disadvantaged because how can a teacher be free to work with their needs. (Julia Sowerby, Teacher)
Parents’ Want a Choice of Shorter Hours to Remain Available
My Daughter is just over 4 and while I would like her to attend Kindy now, I don’t want her to HAVE to attend it 5 days a week. Which has been virtually the only option to her because of Kindy’s not wanting to do split placement because of the extra paperwork for them and the 20 hour policy funding rules. I think that this is wrong. After reading through the comments – Isn’t it sometimes scary? What is happening to parents that they feel they must put their child into Daycare, Kindy for such a long time? What happened to being able to hang out at home with Mum – working hard at playing! I know that Mothers complain that they don’t get time to themselves, they will eventually and it’s so possible to get so much done when they are at home, not all the time but most of the time. My two girls played ‘on their own’ and with me for about 2.5 hours this morning, while I mulched and dug in a watering system! Is life that busy that we can’t put aside 5 years or at least the first 3-4 to be with our children? (Sally Herbert, Parent)
Very prophetic … I’m wondering just how many kindergartens are still operating with sessional licenses, and what effect the Govt. funding cuts will have on those, and on kindergartens / Associations that have moved to all day licenses. What a disaster. (Yvonne Gray)