I’m writing concerning a recent Ministry determination that children over the age of 6 with homeschooling exemptions cannot be present at Playcentre sessions. This position causes a number of problems which the Ministry may not have taken into consideration, resulting in families being discriminated against and their ECE-aged children excluded.
Playcentres are in their very nature and philosophy family-centric, and this is a big part of the reason that families choose a Playcentre as the ECE for their child. Quoting from the Playcentre website description of what Playcentre is:
“Playcentre is your village. See children delight in their surroundings - play with them, alongside them, encourage them to interact with others while you meet other parents and educators.
Parents are the first educators of children, and Playcentres around New Zealand foster the involvement of whānau through early childhood education.
As a family, and as a community, you’ll build your own village with Playcentre: making life-long friends along the way.”
Playcentres are run by parents, and rely on parents who gain the required qualifications in order to run sessions. It is often those parents who have a longer involvement with Playcentre through having several successive children attend who are particularly invested in gaining those qualifications and helping to run the Playcentre.
It has been common over the years for parents with both ECE-aged children and older, home educated children to bring the older children with them to sessions if they do not have alternative care available at those times. Individual Playcentres took the responsibility to have in place policies and processes that ensured that the needs of the enrolled Playcentre children remained paramount, and that any older children present did not detract from that. Usually, though, the opposite is true – older children bring benefits to the centre and enrolled children, such as by modelling skills and good behaviours, by helping out in practical ways, or by reading or playing with the younger children. Of course, some of the older children would simply be present but working on their own schoolwork etc in an out-of-the-way spot.
Several parents have sent me letters to include, and they are attached. I have also heard from a number of other families through online group discussions etc. Here I will summarise some of the main points made by these and other parents whose families have been affected by this situation:
Playcentre the only suitable ECE option: For some families, their younger children’s early childhood needs cannot be met elsewhere, either because of their geographical distance from other ECE options, or because their child’s specific needs and/or family philosophy make any other options unsuitable.
Parents must attend with their children, and older children cannot be left unsupervised: For many families, the main reason their older children attend the sessions with them is that there are no other suitable options for their care and supervision during those times – and of course these kids cannot be left on their own at home. If they cannot be brought to the Playcentre with their sibling/s, then this means that the younger sibling must be withdrawn from the Playcentre also, missing out on ECE all together, which surely flies in the face of Ministry and government policy which encourages engagement in ECE for all NZ children of that age.
Parent’s being forced to choose between their children: Parents put in this position feel like they are being forced to choose one child’s needs over the other’s, which is unfair. These are caring, committed parents who want to see ALL their children thrive and be provided with good opportunities; with one stroke the Ministry has put them in a very difficult position.
Putting the viability of Playcentres themselves at risk: If such families are forced to withdraw from Playcentre, there is significant risk that many Playcentres will be unable to run their sessions, and some may have to close, because they will no longer have parents with the required qualifications present to run them. Therefore, not only their own children, but also other local children will miss out.
Harming the wellbeing of families and communities: As is clear from the ethos of Playcentre as quoted above, the sessions are not just about the children either – they are of benefit to the whole family through encouraging relationships between the children AND between the parents and by extension their families. For a lot of young parents, their local playcentres provide the best opportunities for them to find support and make connections within their communities, and to make friends with other parents with whom they have things in common. The Ministry’s decision puts all of this at risk, thus potentially affecting not only the early childhood education of the enrolled children, but the overall well-being of their families and communities. This is particularly magnified in small or rural communities.
The Education and Training Act 2020 defines an Early Childhood Education and Care Centre as:
“means premises that are used regularly for the education or care of 3 or more children (not being children of the persons providing the education or care or children enrolled at a school who are being provided with education or care before or after school) under the age of 6 years by day (or part of a day) but not for any continuous period of more than 7 days”
This definition excludes the children of the persons providing care and education to the enrolled children from being counted in the number of children being provided for, but it does NOT exclude them from being present. In fact, it actually allows for the very possibility that they MIGHT be present, by excluding them in the definition as counting towards the number being cared for.
Likewise, if one looks at Section 19 of the Act which outlines the requirements for a licensed home-based education and care service, it discusses how many children may be enrolled in the service as well as how many other children may also be present who are under 13 and not enrolled in school. (Notably, in those circumstances it allows for ONE person to be providing for the education and care of up to 4 enrolled preschool children while also having the care of 2 or so additional children up to age 13 who are not enrolled in school, yet the Ministry would apparently argue that parents at a Playcentre where there are a number of adults present could not do the same.)
These sections show that there is a clear understanding within the Act that in some circumstances, persons involved in providing the care and education of enrolled ECE children may also have other children of their own present during sessions.
Exempt children who are present at Playcentre with their parent/s and siblings also benefit from the opportunities presented, which help them to develop in the key competencies, particularly those of relating to others, and participating and contributing.
Their own education is not being neglected, as playcentre sessions are for limited hours each week, during which students are either engaged as discussed above, or quietly working on their own work. Meanwhile, there are plenty of hours in the week for their parents to use to ensure that the exempt student’s own work is completed and all needed teaching is provided.
In conclusion: The Ministry’s decision that over 6 yo exempt students cannot be present at Playcentre with their families means that some children and their parents will be unable to have the opportunity to participate in ECE and/or the Playcentre community, to the detriment not just of themselves but of the whole family and wider community. It also means some Playcentres will be unable to run sessions or may be forced to close due to lack of suitable qualified people to run them. And it puts parents in the terrible position of being forced to choose between their children.
On the other hand, there is nothing in the law that actual prevents such children from being allowed to be present, and there is absolutely no harm being done to the education of the enrolled children under these circumstances – rather their experience and learning is often enhanced; any rare individual issues can be handled suitably on a case-by-case basis by the affected Playcentre through their own policies and processes.
We therefore ask the Ministry to urgently reconsider their position on this matter.
Government Liaison: National Council of Home Educators of NZ (NCHENZ)