From 1 July 2010 all three, four and five-year old children are able to go to early childhood education (ECE) services for six hours a day, 20 hours a week at no charge. 20 Hours ECE applies to all teacher-led ECE services, kōhanga reo and Playcentres.

What is the idea behind 20 hours ECE? : How do I know whether my child qualifies? : Can I choose where my child attends ECE? : Are there set hours?

The education and care must be provided through 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 – Choosing a service).

What is the idea behind 20 hours ECE?

It is believed that the sooner a child’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 ECE scheme aims to improve on this with the result of more parents earning more income (and consequently more tax revenue for the Government).

How do I know whether my child qualifies?

To get this support, your child must be enrolled in and going to an ECE service offering 20 Hours ECE. You will have to decide which of the enrolled hours will be covered by the scheme. You can choose any hours your child is enrolled to attend, and you can’t have more than six hours a day, 20 hours a week.

Can I choose where my child attends ECE?

Yes, but 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.

Are there set hours?

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.

Fees and optional payments

ECE services can’t charge fees for the hours of 20 Hours ECE, but they can charge for your child’s other enrolled hours. If you child is attending for more than 6 hours a day, you will, most likely, be required to pay additional charges.

Optional charges

ECE services may request Optional Charges for additional features above regulation, or items you could provide for your own children. You can choose whether or not to pay Optional Charges. ECE services cannot refuse your child 20 Hours ECE if you don’t agree to pay them.

If you agree to pay a regular Optional Charge, you are committing to continue to pay that charge, and the ECE service can enforce payment. If you do not agree to pay an Optional Charge, you are agreeing that you do not want the ECE service to provide this additional feature. The ECE service must give you opportunities to review your decision.

More information

The Ministry of Education website explains the 20 Hours ECE in more detail.

The application of the 20 Hours ECE policy varies greatly from centre to centre so you’ll need to speak to specific centres to find out how it is applied in your situation.

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Kylie Valentine is a qualified secondary school teacher, trained journalist, and the mum of two fabulous children.

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At the kindergarten we are on the waiting list, we must attend min. 3 days. Can they enforce that?

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