By: Simon Collins

Auckland Kindergarten Association general manager Tanya Harvey has backed down on some proposed changes after a parents’ revolt. File photo

The association has agreed to retain options for parents to keep their children in kindergarten for six hours instead of the proposed seven hours a day, and to opt out of kindy in the school holidays without being charged for it.

However, 334 staff at the association’s 107 kindergartens will hold another round of meetings in the next month to decide whether to take action over the proposals, which would still require them to work the extra hour with children each day and to work in the school holidays.

Katherine Robinson, a parent at Roskill South Kindergarten who has been involved in the parents’ Save Our Kindergartens group, said parents were happy with the latest changes but concerned for the teachers.

“It is a backdown, and we are really pleased that the board is now signing letters, so our continued push will be for more transparency and more involvement, right from the beginning of the process, of parents and teachers,” she said.

“While this will make parents happy that they can keep the same hours, it doesn’t change the fundamental issues of teachers losing non-contact hours.”

The proposed changes were announced in March as a response to growing demand from parents for more all-day childcare, including in the school holidays when kindergartens have traditionally closed.

The association proposed that kindergartens would:

• Open seven hours a day, 8.30am to 3.30pm, one hour later than their previous closing time of 2.30pm.

• Stay open in the school holidays except for three weeks at Christmas. Parents would be charged during the holidays for their usual hours whether or not their children attended.

  • Offer half-day sessions, but only for three and a half hours instead of the previous four hours, and only if there was enough demand to fill both morning and afternoon sessions.

In reality, Waitakere Kindergarten parents’ committee chair Jo Jukes said the changes would end half-day sessions at many kindergartens because there was little demand for afternoon sessions.

Another lobby group, Child Forum, led by former kindergarten teacher Dr Sarah Alexander, said the changes amounted to “the erasure of kindergarten as a unique choice for families”.

“When the last remaining sessional kindergarten in New Zealand, Ponsonby Kindergarten, is changed by the Auckland Kindergarten Association to an all-day licence, then there will be no free kindergartens left in New Zealand that still meet the definition of a free kindergarten under the Education Act,” she said.

“Teachers working in childcare services say that six hours or more a day of institutionalised education is too long for young children.”

Association chairman Simon Jones and manager Tanya Harvey have now agreed to give parents options to avoid two of the three proposed changes. Their latest open letter says:

• Parents can now choose six- or seven-hour days. Fees will still be $5 an hour after the first 20 hours, but in addition there will now be a new $5 late pick-up fee for children who are not picked up at the agreed time.

• Parents who don’t want their children to attend in the school holidays will no longer be charged for those weeks.

• The session changes will go ahead as announced, except they can now be either three or three and a half hours in mornings and afternoons.

Jukes said a petition against the original changes had been signed by 2189 parents, compared with 6058 children enrolled in the kindergartens.

“We will keep that going,” she said. “I’d like to see us take the opportunity to see parent and teacher representation on the board going forward.”

Jones, chief financial officer of Aotearoa Fisheries, heads a board which Alexander described as people who are “corporate business leaders or have been shoulder tapped from outside of the AKA to provide a specific area of commercial, media, or cultural expertise”.

NZ Educational Institute national secretary Paul Goulter said his 334 members employed by the association would meet in late August and early September to discuss the revised proposals.

“The staff don’t want to see them being the only way the kindergartens can maintain financial viability. There is concern, and in a lot of places real anger, about that,” he said.

“We need to re-engage with the teachers and assess the depth of that, and put to the teachers: what are you prepared to do about it?”

Harvey said the teachers would still be entitled to 31 days annual leave and all other conditions in their national collective agreement.

“There is actually no action they can take because we are maintaining the kindergartens’ collective agreement and going above the requirements,” she said.

She said the association’s board was elected by the elected chairs of each of the 107 kindergartens, four life members, the nine board members and Harvey herself. The next annual meeting is in November.

Source: NZ Herald

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