In the second half of 2006 the Minister of Education announced that as of the 1st of July 2007 the Government would provide up to 20 “free” hours of early childhood education and care per week for three and four year old children in New Zealand. On 31 January 2009 the Minister of Education announced that the 20 hours early childhood education programme is now called “20 Hours ECE”. All references to “Free ECE” should be read as the same as 20 Hours ECE.
What is the idea behind 20 hours ECE?Â :Â How do I know whether my child qualifies?Â :Â Can I choose where my child attends ECE?Â :Â Are there set hours?Â :Â When do the free hours start?Â :Â Whatâ€™s the catch?Â :Â Useful Websites
The education and care will be provided throughÂ selected teacher-led ECEs and selected parent-led ECEs, including (from 1 July 2010) Playcentre.
Teacher-led ECEs are services where one or more ECE qualified and registered teachers are responsible for the overall programme in the service. So qualified teachers provide the education and care. A teacher-led ECE service is licensed and/or chartered. This means they must meet standards set by the Government. Standards are set for the property, health and safety, staff, education and care programmes, and management at teacher-led education and care centres. (For more information on teacher-led ECEs see ECE â€“ Choosing a service).
It is believed that the sooner a childâ€™s education starts, the better their grounding in life. There is a concern that some three and four years attend education and care services sporadically or not as often as is needed for their participation to be of benefit educationally. Basically, the more often they attend, the more they gain from the learning opportunities offered to them and therefore the better the foundations for later learning and life.
New Zealand has a high ECE participation rate where three and four year olds are concerned, but children only attend for approximately 10 – 15 hours a week. This 20 Hours ECEÂ scheme aims to improve on this with the result of more parents earning more income (and consequently more tax revenue for the Government).
All three and four year old children enrolled in a teacher-led ECE that offers free ECE will receive the free hours. Free ECE is not income tested and has no other discriminatory guidelines.
Not all ECE service providers will be offering the free hours.
Teacher-led early education and care providers will choose to take the Government up on the scheme and receive the funding based on their individual budgets and other governing factors. This will inevitably mean that not all ECE providers will offer the free hours. In turn this could limit your choice.
If your child is already attending a service it would pay to check whether they intend to offer the hours. If not and you would like to take advantage of the scheme you will need to start looking about for a centre that does. (For more information about choosing an ECE see ECE â€“ Choosing a Service.)
For the absolute word on this it would pay to check with the ECE provider you intend to use. Generally the only set hours you should be governed by are those the service is open for.
Remember though that the scheme allows for up to 6 hours a day and up to 20 hours a week. You will be expected to pay standard fees for any hours above these quotas.
The scheme began 1st July 2007.
There is no catch but there are controversies and issues being debated surrounding the 20 free hour scheme.
Some are concerned that the subsidies Government has proposed per child are not great enough for service providers in some areas to participate in the scheme for budgeting and financial reasons. This has led to concerns that the uptake by centres may be slow or low.
This may mean that although the Government has promised to provide the free hours there may not been enough â€˜spacesâ€™ in ECEs, or in fact enough ECEs prepare to take part, to cater for the number of children who are eligible for the hours.
If this does end up being the case, the sooner you enrol your three or four year old in a centre that does intend to offer the free hours the better. It may be that shortly these centres will have long waiting lists.