Paula Bennett: Not all kids need pre-school

Paula Bennett says she does not believe all children need early childhood education.
Photo / Natalie Slade
Paula Bennett says she does not believe all children need early childhood education. Photo / Natalie Slade

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says she believes some parents do not need to enrol their children in early childhood education - but concedes her welfare reforms will force beneficiaries to do just that.

Parents on benefits will have to enrol their children in early childhood education from the age of three until they attend school under a bill that passed its first reading in Parliament on Thursday.

The move is part of the Government's second wave of welfare reforms, which will redefine the existing benefit categories and place new obligations on beneficiaries.

Under the changes, parents who fail to take "all reasonable steps" to ensure their children attend at least 15 hours of early childhood education a week could have their benefits halved as a last resort.

Ms Bennett told TVNZ's Q+A programme today that she did not believe all children needed early childhood education.

"I don't think that every child actually needs to be in early childhood education, but I do think it benefits those that are most vulnerable so much, that that's why I'm doing this."

She agreed the reforms would force beneficiaries to enrol their children.

"It is an expectation for all beneficiaries, however we will only be dealing with those whom we class as vulnerable."

Ms Bennett said there were about 220,000 children with parents on benefits, about 31,500 of whom were aged three and four. Only some would be tested - about 20,000 to 25,000 children a year.

"The others we expect them to, but we won't be checking up to see if they have."

Ms Bennett said some parents were not aware of the value of early childhood education, were unsure how to access it or believed there were barriers.

There would be "very clear expectations" that the Government wanted them to enrol their children.

"But we will work with them really intensively, one-on-one case management, we'll only be dealing with those that we deem to be most vulnerable. It's really about support and encouragement - the sanction is very much at the end of what will be a long and intense process."

Ms Bennett said there had to be a "stick at the end" to get behavioural change.

"There is a stick at the end of it. Look, I have looked at this upside down, inside out, read all of the evidence, taken the best advice I can. The reality is, for a percentage of our population, their children are not achieving and getting the kinds of opportunities that they should have in life."

Ms Bennett said people who could not access early childhood education would not be sanctioned.

"If they can't attend early childhood eduction, they will not be punished."

If parents point blank refused to send their children to early childhood education, then there were bigger problems.

"So it is an absolute last resort and the reality is, without a sanction, you aren't using that kind of lever to get the kind of behavioural change that we're looking for, for those children."

- APNZ

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