Kids must come first in enrolment debate
The best interests of children should be the major driver of any change to policies around initial school enrolments, not cost cutting or administrative simplicity, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says.
“The introduction of school cohort entry is being driven by administrative convenience rather than the needs of the child. Many other countries have children starting school much later, some at seven years old, while the New Zealand government seeks to allow four year olds to start school.
“When asked to explain why the Government had decided against allowing children to start school at the beginning of the closest term after their fifth birthday, officials provided detailed advice as to the likely cost to the education system, including the cost of children remaining in early childhood education longer.
“Clearly the policy of allowing children to start school before their fifth birthday is being driven by a desire to cut costs, rather than a desire to do what is in the best interests of the child.
“The ability of New Zealand new entrant teachers to cater for individual children’s needs as they arrive at school after their fifth birthday is internationally admired. Allowing tailored support around this critical transition has also been supported by the Education Review Office.
“No research has been presented to demonstrate that cohort entry will be better for the child. No submitters to the Education Select Committee argued in favour of four year olds being allowed to enrol in school.
“This is yet another example of the National Government cutting costs and cutting corners to the detriment of future generations,” Chris Hipkins says.
Extract from the Ministry of Education’s advice to the Education and Science Select Committee:
Can the Ministry provide advice on the implications of the following alternative approaches to the timing effects of cohort entry as set out in the proposed section 5B(2):
a) A child whose fifth birthday is after the term start date may not be enrolled until the term start date of the next term?
b) A child whose fifth birthday is more than two weeks after the term start date may not be enrolled until the term start date of the next term?
Currently, the Bill allows for children to start at a school with cohort entry at the beginning of the term closest to their fifth birthday, or the beginning of a later term (up until their sixth birthday). Mid-term cut-off dates will be prescribed by the Minister. Children whose birthdays fall before the mid-term cut-off date will be able to start school at the beginning of that term (before their birthday), which is up to six weeks before their fifth birthday in terms one, two and three, and up to eight weeks in term four. Children whose birthdays fall after the mid-term cut-off date will have to wait up to six weeks after their fifth birthday in terms one, two and three, and up to eight weeks in term four, to start school.
Under alternative approaches (a) and (b) above, there is no mid-term cut-off date for cohort enrolments, meaning a child’s school start date could be delayed up to 8 or 10 weeks for those whose birthdays are in terms one, two and three, and up to 13 or 15 weeks for those with birthdays in term four. The alternative approaches would likely result in increased Early Childhood Education (ECE) costs for parents whose children are enrolled in ECE. Concerns about the additional cost to families may unduly impact community agreement to a cohort entry policy.
These alternative approaches will result in additional fiscal costs for the Crown. More children would stay in ECE longer, resulting in additional ECE costs for the Government. There is no offsetting reduction in schooling costs, as schools with primary level students are funded for their Year 1 students based on an estimate of their October roll (e.g., regardless of when students start). Further, the alternative approaches mean that more students (those whose birthday is during term two who do not start school until term three may not progress to Year 2 at the beginning of the following year (as they might have if they’d started on their fifth birthday during term two). The overall impact of this is that these children will be funded in the school system for a longer period. This effect is ongoing (e.g. would occur every year) and so would drive up the cost of schooling. The size of this effect is reduced by the mid-term cut-off dates under the Bill as it currently stands.
These alternative approaches may also put increased pressure on the capacity of the ECE sector. This would help improve the sustainability of providers that are currently operating below capacity, but could lead to longer waiting times where providers are already operating at capacity, until the ECE sector grows to meet the increase in demand. There are unlikely to be significant numbers of children starting earlier to balance this out.