Peter Lyon’s opinion piece “Business and Early Childhood Education make uneasy bedfellows” made interesting reading this morning.
Were it not for that interest, the predictable anti-private bias would be sad. Many early childhood centre operators will tell you there’s nothing worse than an ERO review headed up by a semi-retired school principal. The lack of understanding of the ECE sector is what drives this concern, and that lack is never more apparent than in Mr Lyon’s opinion piece.
The whole early childhood education sector is private. Not bits of it. The whole thing. For the last 50 or so years. In fact, the early childhood education sector is the most successful example of a chartered school model in the country. And the sky is still up there, it hasn’t fallen yet!
Mr Lyons veiled attempts to keep the name of the provider the subject of his references anonymous are pitifully inadequate. One can only hope he respects the privacy of his students more diligently.
My Lyons appears critical of the few corporate providers of licensed childcare in New Zealand, but ignores some of the more salient facts that undermine his position.
• There are 4,500 licensed childcare services
• Of this, there are over 40 so-called corporate providers. For the sake of argument, let us define “corporate” as five or more services in the one ownership stable – not for any particular reason, but just to ensure we are clear about the term.
• The vast majority of “corporate” early childhood providers are community-owned, not privately-owned. This includes the largest single provider of childcare in the country.
• There is only one corporate provider of early childhood education in New Zealand that currently trades on the stock exchange and is therefore publically-listed. And anyone with a Kiwisaver account is likely to be a shareholder.
Is the fact that the publically-listed provider is struggling a reflection of the corporate nature of the business. I doubt that.
I doubt it because that would suggest there is no relationship with the many other childcare services in New Zealand that have struggled over the last few years and continue to do so today. We calculated that the average childcare centre has lost over $103,000 in government funding since January 2011 – per year.
Over the last ten years, government investment in the per-child rate of funding for childcare has been slashed. Inequity of funding policies have crept into the system so that some services are now paid a premium while others struggle. Licensing practices have run amok such that competition between early childhood services has risen to significantly unhealthy levels. 1970’s style collective employment agreements pay teachers on the basis of their year’s of service, not on how well they teach our youngest learners. And each individual service has over 400 specific compliance requirements to keep abreast of at all times, and the list grows.
Where in this picture is the abhorrent “corporate ethos” Mr Lyons speaks of?
It’s easy to poke a finger at the ‘nasty corporates’. Were it not for the facts of the matter that paint a quite different picture.
Finally, Mr Lyons might be surprised to learn that his view of the nasty corporates, along with many other struggling early childhood education services across our sector, continue to do their very best for our children and learners; continue to work hard every day to provide the very best early learning experience they can – spend some time reading the published ERO reports Mr Lyons. These dedicated “units of labour” need support, not brickbats Mr Lyons!