As the Ministry response was not satisfactory, I filed a complaint in November 2020 with the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman. The Ombudsman's chief role is to investigate complaints about government agencies, to ensure that actions, decisions and processes are appropriate and fair.
You can read about previous correspondence etc in via the posts in THIS thread.
The Ombudman's investigation took some time, in part due to the complex nature of the case and that were were challenging the Ministry's decision on legal grounds.
Today I received a letter advising the outcome. The Ombudsman found that "....the Ministry acted unreasonably in seeking to issue and impose a rule for which there appears to be no lawful basis." In other words, the "rule" to exclude siblings from being present was not based in law.
On the other than, there are health and safety and other such considerations which still need to be taken into account - work is being done on that.
You can read the decision and related expectations in full HERE. Main points:
- The Ministry has accepted that the rule published on its website does not reflect the regulations
- The Ministry has agreed to change the information on their website once there has been engagement across the [ECE] sector.
- The Ministry has noted various other obligations that will still need to be met in the ECE setting when other people, including other children not enrolled in the service, are present. They intend to clarify this in revising the website messaging. They have undertaken "to work with the sector so it understands and administers the policy fairly and without excluding children who can safely be present."
- The Ombudsman has concluded his investigation but will be keeping an eye on the Ministry's attention to this matter, as he believes it warrants "priority action given the likelihood that there are families currently deterred or prevented from attending Playcentres and other learning centres on account of the information currently on the Ministry's website."
It may take a little time for this ruling to flow down into updates to the MoE's website and for centres to be fully informed, but the bottom line is that there is now no barrier to families attending Playcentre with their young children while accompanied by their exempt students, so long as the health and safety and other regulatory considerations are met.