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A fair start in life – funding for education support workers

In New Zealand, all children between the ages of three and five have the right to 20 hours of funded early childhood education a week. Unfortunately, the full 20 hours is actually not available to all children. Children who need an education support worker to be able to attend early childhood education face limits on the number of hours they can use. How did this happen?

The Ministry of Education caps funding for education support workers at a maximum of 15 hours per week, with many children getting far fewer hours. This can limit these children to 15 hours or less of early childhood education a week. This is at least 25% below the 20 hours of funded early childhood education. The Ministry also does not fund education support workers during school holidays.

In theory, the funding for education support workers is just a contribution, with early childhood centres expected to provide additional support. In practice, some early childhood centres will refuse to take a child with high needs unless they have an education support worker for every hour they are there.

The inability to access the full 20 hours of funded early childhood education can have serious consequences for a child’s development and the ability of their parents to work. Early childhood education has important long-term benefits for children with high needs. Children with high needs are also more likely to live in single parent households and live in poverty. The 15 hour cap is not giving children with high needs and their families a fair go.

The 15 hour cap clashes with the government’s focus on vulnerable children, participation in early childhood education and encouraging single parents to work. The short-term solution would be to raise the cap to 20 hours and issue new guidelines. The guidelines should take into account the government’s wider focus on vulnerable children and the importance of giving single parents the opportunity to work.

If we are going to address the issues facing vulnerable children, policy across government needs to be coherent, flexible and contribute to the wider goals. Government departments have to move away from policies that are mostly about containing costs and limiting responsibility. Raising the cap would be a small, but important step. The cost would be minimal, while the benefits to those children affected could be vast.

Sam Murray

National Policy Coordinator

One Response to “A fair start in life – funding for education support workers”

  1. Indeed, there does seem to be an issue here. I have had feedback from some parents worrying about the amount of support thier child gets in early childhood setting. Some centres cannot afford to top up hours for education support workers. The problem is often informally resolved by parents removing thier child early from the centre.

    Aditional to resolving the resourcing issue, we also need to to ensure that in the role of the education support worker, they consistently enable participation with other children not just focus on 1-1 educational acheivements. I wonder, does it have to be an educational support worker in this support role the whole time?

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