Mixed reaction to early-learning reviews

By Genevieve Helliwell

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Bay parents are supporting changes to the way early childhood centres are reviewed but local education professionals are divided on whether the changes are beneficial.

The Education Review Office (ERO) has changed the way it writes kindergarten and playcentre reviews to make it "easier and clearer" for parents to understand them. Parents spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times said they supported the change but the Early Childhood Council (ECC) did not.

Mount Maunganui mother Esther Goldsworthy said the changes were a good thing. She and fellow parent, Donna McTavish, said they had relied on reputation and word-of-mouth when choosing Gwen Rogers Free Kindergarten for their children but clearer ERO reports could make it easier for parents to make informed decisions.

The changes, which came into effect at the beginning of the term, will see early childhood education (ECE) centres given one of four judgements. Top performing centres will be reviewed every four years while centres at the other end of the scale would be reviewed in consultation with the Ministry of Education.

This would make it "clearer" for parents to understand, ERO acting chief executive and chief review officer, Diana Anderson, said.

Until now, ECE centres were reviewed between 12 months to three years, depending on how they performed.

Peter Reynolds, chief executive of the ECC, , which represents 1100 centres nationwide, said the changes would create a two-tiered system, where kindergartens and playcentres were reported under the new system and home-based care and hospital-based education and care services were reported under the 2002 system. Kohanga reo has a separate review process. This would make it difficult for parents to accurately compare education providers, he said.

He said home-based services did not have to have qualified teachers and were "much more lightly regulated than centre-based" and the new system could make it harder for parents to see the results of this.

"If the point of the new ERO system is to make quality more transparent for families, why exempt those parts of the early childhood education sector in which quality is most in question," Mr Reynolds said. "If the point is to make quality more transparent for families, why have two systems?"

President of Home Early Learning Organisation (HELO), Jenny Yule, said the new ERO reporting system should be applied to home-based education as well.

The new reporting system was piloted in Tauranga last term and some centres had already been reviewed, said Tauranga Region Kindergartens principal Peter Monteith.

Few parents were aware of ERO and anything to make it easier for them to understand how centres performed was a good thing, he said. The new reporting system would put ECE centres in line with the school sector.

Donna Palmer of the Western Bay of Plenty Playcentre Association praised the move to extend the review time to four years for well-performing schools.

"It's just a waste of time if they come back every two years if a centre is doing really well so I think this is a good thing."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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