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Ministry of Education Not Properly Ensuring ECE Standards are Met

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Early Childhood Education Services Go Unchecked, Harming the Performance of the Sector and Potentially Putting Children at Risk.
Monday, 5 September 2022.

So far this year, the Ministry of Education has taken licensing action against more than 100 early childhood education services because they had not met minimum standards.

But these are just the services that came to the Ministry’s attention. The Ministry of Education, and therefore the public, has no idea how many services at any time are not complying with safety and other standards such as teacher-child ratios and children’s access to outdoor play because it does not undertake regular checks. 

The Ministry checks, through licensing processes, whether prospective services meet prescribed standards before they enter the sector. But, once a service is licensed, the Ministry of Education undertakes no further mandatory or regular checks. Instead, it waits for complaints from parents and teachers or notification of serious incidents and then it may inspect the service.

The Office of Early Childhood Education (OECE) has just released an updated list of early childhood services whose licence was downgraded or cancelled due to noncompliance with standards in 2021 and so far in 2022 for parents to check.

Last year more than 200 services were on a downgraded licence, including 36 services on suspension and 20 licence cancellations.

Dr Sarah Alexander, chief advisor of the OECE, has said for many years that the Ministry does not do its job of ensuring early childhood services meet regulated standards well enough.

“It’s so irresponsible that after licensing a service, the Ministry of Education does not do any further mandatory checks. We require vehicles to be regularly checked for safety through a Warrant of Fitness – why do we not expect the same of places caring for our young children? Most parents will not realise that their child’s early childhood service is not regularly checked, thinking that the Ministry is on top of regulation.”

Dr Alexander says the scale of the problem is shown by the fact that ERO has felt a need to actively engage in doing some checks on compliance, taking it away from focusing primarily on how well placed an early childhood service is to support children’s learning.

“But ERO must not be relied on to do the Ministry of Education’s work.  ERO is not the regulator and does not have regulatory teeth. It only does pre-announced visits to services on average every 3 or up to 5 years and may miss problems in the play and care environment as it is mostly looks at service paperwork and written policies.”

ERO has given services positive reports, and it’s not until someone speaks up and makes a complaint against a service to the Ministry of Education, or the service reports a death or serious incident as required under regulations, that the ministry uncovers serious and multiple breaches that have possibly existed for years.”

“The ECE services caught breaching standards and given licence downgrades could be thought of as ‘unlucky’ because they can be named. But at least they have been held to account while the Ministry of Education is not held to account for failing to ensure standards.”  

Dr Alexander urged the Ministry of Education to carry out mandatory checks and actively enforce regulations – and for the Minister of Education to ensure the Ministry does.

“Should it be an issue of resourcing, then the Government also needs to be held to account for not ensuring the Ministry has the resources it needs to carry out its role as regulator well.”

Further Information and Insights

Go to our Big Issues Section – find a range of articles on topics supervising children, licensing, compliance, and risks to children.

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