The Ministry of Education revealed recently it has downgraded more than 300 early childhood education centres across New Zealand in 2017 and 2018 after identifying operational problems.
Data released under the Official Information Act showed that each of these early childhood providers were downgraded from full to provisional licences, however according to industry sources the number of additional centres in danger of having their licences downgraded is likely to be higher.
In this article we look at what services need to do to avoid a licence downgrade and how to stay in line with current licensing regulations.
Licence downgrading explained
Currently all early childhood providers in New Zealand are required to meet certain criteria in order to obtain and maintain a licence from the Ministry of Education. Once a licence is awarded and paid for, the Ministry then reviews it every three years.
If evidence of failure to comply with regulations is identified, the Ministry will either suspend the service immediately, downgrade the centre to a provisional licence (which requires investigation), or give the centre the support it needs to bring it up to standard.
The Ministry uses the following criteria to assess centre based early childhood services:
- Curriculum - A solid curriculum designed to enhance children's learning and development and based on the regulation framework needs to be in place.
- Premises and facilities - Sufficient space and appropriate facilities are required to ensure the centre caters for the needs of all children and staff, such as quality indoor and outdoor areas, food and sanitary areas, and security gates.
- Health and safety practices - These need to comply with the regulations and relate to areas such as equipment, hygiene, security and first aid.
- Governance, management and administration - Such as good management practices, required documentation, collaboration with educators and parents, and appropriate supervision and governance of children.
Regarding supervision, in long day care centres one teacher is required for every 10 children over the age of two, and one teacher for every five children under two (home day-care rules are different). Also, if an educator leaves to have a break or do a task such as laundry, they are required to be replaced by another educator.
How to prevent a licence downgrade
Having your early childhood licence downgraded can be damaging to your reputation. It is also likely to impact enrolment numbers and staff retainment/recruitment and may well affect the long-term viability of your business.
While it may seem like a struggle to meet the many regulations set out by the Ministry, it's important to remember that they do exist for a reason - to ensure the wellbeing and development of the children under your care.
Here's what to do to prevent your licence being downgraded:
- Don't wait to be reviewed - Instead of scrambling to follow all the rules every three years, aim for a best practice approach always so that it becomes the norm. Remember, staff or parents can complain to the Ministry at any time if they suspect you're not in compliance with regulations which can result in immediate investigations, so it's important to maintain standards.
- Have more permanent staff - If you're only willing to pay casual or relief workers you're more likely to have a higher turnover of educators which can result in insufficient staff to children ratios.
- Train staff well and regularly review - Even if you're following Ministry protocol, other educators or staff members may not be. So, be sure to train staff properly on all procedures and frequently review what's going on in your place of service (especially when you're not present).
- Ask parents and staff for feedback - You may think you've got everything covered, but perhaps things such as a piece of unsafe equipment or unhygienic practices are escaping your attention. A way to help ensure you're on top of everything is to ask parents and staff for feedback in areas where you could be doing things better (especially if they're leaving the service). This will also help you identify more problem areas and improve your business in other areas too.
Moving forward from a licence downgrade
While it may be upsetting and frustrating to go from a full to a provisional (or even worse, suspended) licence, it is possible to recover. Ways to help minimise the impact and secure the future of your business include:
- Displaying your correct licence - Failure to replace your full licence with a provisional licence can result in a $500 fine. Additionally, if any staff or parents believe you're being dishonest this could have negative repercussions.
- Don't highlight the downgrade to parents - There is no legal obligations for you to explain your type of licence to parents or visitors, so don't bring any extra unnecessary attention to the fact. But it's important to be honest when asked, this is your opportunity to explain the areas you are working on improving and your timeframes.
- Rectify what went wrong, fast - If you need more staff, hire them. If you need to upgrade facilities, make it a priority. Not only will this bring you closer to getting your full licence back but showing the staff (and parents) that you're serious about improving the centre will also work in your favour.
- Change ways for good - Don't fix problems temporarily or let good protocol slip. Be sure to keep following regulations consistently.
- Ask for support – Your staff may be more resourceful and helpful than you realise, and you can also ask for more guidance and even funding from the Ministry. So, don't be afraid to ask.
- Ask for support - Your staff may be more resourceful and helpful than you realise, and you can also ask for more guidance and even funding from the Ministry. So, don't be afraid to ask.
- Use it as an opportunity - Turn your licence downgrade into a positive by using it to help you improve your offering to become a desirable and admired early childhood service.
Benefits of abiding by the rules
Remember a licence is not just a piece of paper saying you have the full right to operate an early childhood service, it denotes an important responsibility. When you abide by the regulations there is a wide range of benefits to be gained including:
- Happier children - Kids left neglected, dirty or unable to form bonds with carers are more likely to be clingy, cry, have accidents or even have developmental problems.
- Happier staff - Happy kids means a rewarding and more satisfying role for educators lower stress levels and greater productivity. This also results in fewer absences and higher retention rates.
- Happier parents - If parents have confidence that children are being cared for properly and aren't witness to any accidents or incidents (such as children being neglected), they're less likely to leave your place of service and more likely to refer you to other parents.
By ensuring you're on top of your licence requirements, not only will you help avoid a downgrade, but you're more likely to maintain stability, experience growth and increase profitability.