Education and Training Act 2020: Changes relating to early childhood education (ECE) me ngā Kōhanga reo

Introducing additional licensing requirements for early childhood education services including Kōhanga reo

Early childhood education and care centres are required to be licensed before they can operate. The licensing and management of such centres are set by regulations.

Currently, if the applicant meets the licensing criteria, they have to be granted a licence, irrespective of whether the new service is necessary or desirable to the network of service providers.

The Government and some parts of the ECE sector are concerned that the ease of entry into the market has resulted in too many ECE providers in some areas, while in other areas there may be an undersupply of ECE services, impacting children and their whānau.

To provide a more active network management approach for the licensing framework, part 2 of the Act introduces an additional application stage to the licensing process (which will commence after further regulations are developed).

The first stage of this process will be an application to the Minister for preliminary approval to establish an ECE service. The Minister will assess the application against the following criteria:

  • the needs of children
  • the capacity of the network in the surrounding community to meet demographic and community needs, including the provision of different service types, such as Māori medium;
  • the suitability of the applicant. Each person involved in the governance of the service provider will need to meet a fit and proper person test specified in legislation, and to satisfy any other relevant background checks, such as Police vetting;
  • the financial position of the organisation to ensure it is financially sound; and
  • the licensing history of any existing services owned, operated or connected to or by the applicant. 

The Minister will have the ability to decline licence applications if an applicant does not meet the licensing criteria. An applicant who is declined an application will be able to resubmit their application.

First-stage approval will be valid for two years. This period will be reviewed within five years to ensure it is an appropriate length.

The commencement of the additional licencing criteria will be delayed by up to two years from the enactment of this Act to allow time for regulations to be developed. This means that providers who are ready to apply for a licence can still do so under the existing criteria, while future potential providers will have time to prepare their applications.

In the second stage of the licensing process, applications will go through the pre-existing licensing process as set out in the regulations.

Changing the structure of the penalty for ECE services operating without a licence

The offence for ECE centres operating without a licence was set at a rate of $200 per day of operation. This was a very low level of fine and was unlikely to be a deterrent.

To create sufficient deterrent, the Act changed the structure of the penalty and increased the level to a maximum $50,000. The offence provision is set out in section 28 of the Act.

Police vetting is required for all adults who live in a home where home-based early childhood education and care is being provided

The Education Act 1989 required a Police vet of every adult who lives in a home where early childhood education and care is being provided.

This wording was unclear as to whether or not adults living in a house where a service is provided, needed to obtain a Police vet even though they are not normally present when the service is being provided.

Section 25 of the Education and Training Act provides that Police vets must be obtained. Schedule 4 sets out all Police vetting requirements, including that vetting is required for every adult who lives in a home where ECE is being provided.

Enabling the Education Review Office (ERO) to obtain information from early learning service parent entities

The Education Review Office (ERO) can require early childhood education (ECE) service providers to supply evidence of their governance, management and accountability practices. This is a way to assess the quality and effectiveness of these services.

Traditionally, ECE service providers were generally the same as the organisation providing the service. However, today, an ECE service provider may hold multiple licences and run a number of services across a network. Service providers can be the organisation providing the service, or a subsidiary of a parent entity. Changes in the sector have led to some parent entities having responsibility for personnel, health and safety monitoring, and curriculum management.

Section 464 of the Act provides ERO with the power to obtain from parent entities of early learning services for which ERO has oversight responsibilities, any relevant information relating to the ECE service provider. The Act also extends ERO’s powers of entry and inspection for places occupied by applicable organisations to include parent entities of early learning services.

Enabling the Education Review Office (ERO) to enter a home where home-based early learning is being provided

To ensure ECE services are high quality, ERO must be able to conduct reviews of curriculum delivery and health and safety performance. 

ERO can enter and inspect centre-based ECE services without a warrant, to conduct a review of the service. However, until now, it has had limited oversight over the quality of home-based ECE services.

Section 624 of the Act gives ERO power to enter a home where home-based ECE is being provided. This is to ensure consistency in ERO’s reviews of different types of service providers.

Home entry is intended to be as minimally intrusive as possible, while still ensuring the necessary checks are conducted.

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